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Mosiacs: Piecing together the story

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In life, that “big picture” everybody keeps talking about is a mosaic.

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A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small, uniform or irregular pieces held in place by mortar or glue. Usually used to decorate walls or floors, the art form has been around since three thousand years before Jesus.

The first murals were made of colourful stones, shells, and ivory, and the ancient Greeks and Romans specialized in intricate patterns and pictures. In 2000, archaeologists in Libya, Africa unearthed a 9-metre, 30-foot long collection of five mosaics from the 1st or 2nd century.

Considered a mosaic masterpiece, the collection once decorated the walls of a bath house inside a Roman villa. They show a warrior fighting a deer, four young men wrestling a wild bull to the ground, and an exhausted gladiator staring at his slain opponent. At the time, that was the stuff of life.

Eventually the mosaic art form was embraced by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. From the fourth century on, larger churches and basilicas were decorated with wall and ceiling mosaics, with the best work done by artists from Venice, Sicily and Ukraine. At a time when most people were illiterate, mosaics were a powerful way of illustrating stories from the Bible.

Today, mosaics are still telling stories, but they’re made from a wider range of materials, including glazed tiles, stained glass, beads, and even bottle caps. One of my favourites is a mosaic mural at Toronto General Hospital put together by Tilda Shalof, who worked for almost three decades as a nurse in the intensive care unit.

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Back in 1987, she started taking home some of the brightly coloured medicine caps, tube connectors, vial lids and syringe coverings that were usually thrown into the garbage once her patients were treated. She gave the sterile plastic pieces to her two young boys for crafts or for sorting and matching games.

But. even when the kids outgrew all that, Shalof couldn’t let go of her growing collection. Each bit of plastic reminded her to lives saved and lost.

Then an artist friend suggested they use the plastic to make a giant piece of art. The two worked weekends and embedded 10,000 colourful pieces in clear resin, making a mosaic mural measuring 1.2 metres high and 2.7 metres long. It now hangs in the hospital.

“For families, it can be a cheerful, joyful thing to look at,” Shalof told the Toronto Star. “For nurses, I think it shows that all the little things we do every day add up to big things for each person we treat. Any one of those pieces… by themselves is meaningless. But all together you can create something with a lot of meaning.”

Like I said, the “big picture” in life is a mosaic. Each small gesture we make, each personal trait we develop, each relationship we forge, and each day we live may not seem like much on its own. But step back to see a fuller perspective and it’s clear all of those things come together in something bigger and much more important.

Those things aren’t just part of our life. They are our life. As author Annie Dillard put it: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

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So we’re making our mosaic one day at a time, and nothing about that day should be insignificant. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so we may grow in wisdom,” says Psalm 90:12, which is attributed to Moses. The truly wise recognize that, in the mosaic of life, the picture is one of memories made, people loved, and service rendered.

Like Tilda Shalof’s creation, we should let nothing go to waste.

The good news is, we, too, have an Artist friend to encourage us, and guide us as we fit together the pieces into something bright, bold, and beautiful — a testimony to the relationships we shape, and that shape us.

Even things that others might be prone to dispose of — like failure — can be used by God to depict a powerful story of His love and care. Our mosaic is a reminder of our own recovery from the life-altering condition of sin, made possible by the grace and forgiveness of the Great Physician.

Like the hospital mosaic, our individual ones are about life and death, both physical and spiritual. We must make the most of our time, living to the fullest by loving and serving those around us. Being the hands and heart of Jesus adds depth and richness to our everyday experience, and brings hope and healing to others.

From a wider perspective, the church is a mosaic, too. Each of us is a vital piece making a unique contribution. But we can be — and do — so much more when we come together.

By comparing individual Christians to parts of the human body, Paul could just as easily have been talking about a mosaic: “[It] has many parts, and God has put each just where He wants it… Yes, there are many parts, but only one whole. [One piece] can never say to another, ‘I don’t need you.’

“This makes for harmony, so that all the parts take care of each other.” (1 Cor. 12:18-25) That’s the Christian’s “mosaic” law.

So treasure your experiences, relationships, and days. But give them over to God. He’s make everything fit.

Share your thoughts with Rick Gamble at info@followers.ca A former TV reporter, he pastors a non-denominational church in Brantford, Followers of Christ (www.followers.ca), and teaches media at Laurier Brantford.

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