Sculpting has always fascinated me. How can stone be made to look as soft as a human face, or as supple as folds of cloth? The artistry of the Pieta or David is so extraordinary as to seem almost magical, far beyond anything I could ever hope to achieve. Yet somehow the sculptor takes a misshapen block of marble and creates a stunning masterpiece that looks as if it could come to life. And it all started by chipping away. What a good theme for Lent.
In this age of internet envy, where we are inundated by images of seeming perfection on blogs, Pinterest boards and Facebook pages, much has been written about accepting that we cannot be perfect and that is ok. It is good advice as far as it goes, but as a rallying cry it lacks a certain something. “You can’t have that, so don’t bother!! Huzzah!” Because the fact is, while we can’t be perfect, and we should be realistic about where we are, striving for perfection is a good thing. That’s why envy is the right word for hand wringing over the false realities we see online. We aren’t admiring what others have achieved so much as wishing they hadn’t, or at least not so in our face. We aren’t aspiring to be like them so much as despairing that we ever could. One of the dangers of this kind of envy is that we give up on striving for things it really is good to want. I’m not a great housekeeper, and that isn’t the end of the world, but being one would be better. The principle applies equally to all facets of life. I could always have a better spiritual life, be more patient , do more works of mercy, read more to my children, watch less tv etc. etc. To look at perfection and say, “I’m not there yet” is reasonable, but the yet is important. We need to keep getting better a little bit at a time. We need to keep sculpting.
Lent is a great opportunity to start chipping away at the rough, unsightly edges of one’s self. We can’t be perfect overnight. In fact, if we tried we might shatter into tiny shards. But with perseverence we can chisel away one small flaw at a time, carve out one pleasing feature. Choose one new prayer that will become a permanent part of the day long after the forty days are over. Set yourself to do one chore impeccably. Maybe put away the folded laundry as soon as it is done. Or clear the table as soon as the meal is over. A tiny change, small enough to master, but important enough to make a difference. Perhaps, at the end of a lifetime of work there will be something to show for it. We may never be masterpieces. The marks of the chisel may always show, but not all great statues are smooth. Maybe we’ll be a little more Romanesque than Renaissance but, we can aspire to become works of art, and recognizably saints.