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. 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.
In this age of online envy, where we are inundated with images of seeming perfection on blogs, Pinterest boards and Facebook pages, much has been written about acceptance. We are reminded that we cannot be perfect and that 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!”
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.
I think 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, it’s OK, 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 an important word. We need to keep getting better a little bit at a time. We need to keep sculpting.
We can start chipping away at the rough, unsightly edges of our selves. We won’t become perfect overnight. In fact, if we tried, if we were to hasty or aggressive with the chisel, we might shatter into tiny shards. But with perseverence we can smooth 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. Set yourself to do one chore impeccably, even if it is just putting away the folded laundry as soon as it is done. A tiny change, small enough to master, but important enough to make a difference. Then pick a new one. 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.