A fragment in life’s mosaic doesn’t define the whole picture

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 3:27 PM

“Every tessera matters.” That’s what Matteo Randi, my mosaic instructor said to the eight of us gathered around a work table in Chicago a month ago.

He said that each one (each piece of glass or stone) is as important to the finished mosaic as every other one. It sounds simplistic, I know. It sounds like a no-brainer. But until you’ve sat with a handful of cubes of stone that you’ve spent hours cutting, it’s hard to grasp the deep significance of Randi’s dictum. Cubes of stone, no two of which look alike; no one of which is perfect. Each one matters.

Of course, in a “religious column” like this one, cubes become more than just cubes (although they are that first.) They become metaphors. Cubes as humans. Cubes as thoughts. Cubes as actions. Cubes as events or flowers or sea urchins. To the whole, each one matters. We forget this to our detriment, and I don’t mean just the detriment of our survival. We forget it to the detriment of our souls. (If you don’t relate to the word “soul,” try your “essential nature.” Either works.)

But that’s not all Randi said. He also spoke about the andamento of the tesserae, how they are placed. Their flow. Their relationship to one another and to the final mosaic. He spoke about the sound the flow creates. The music that comes from how we position each piece. At first I wondered if he wasn’t being overly artsy-fartsy for the sake of drama. Stones and shards of glass making music? Really?

But then he had us do an exercise. We were to think of a sound. One person in the class chose the sound of wind chimes. One chose a string bass. I chose the tinnitus that screels in my head day in and day out. We were to consider the quality of the sound and how it makes us feel. Then we were to express that feeling with glass or stone. Color could be a component of what we created, but it was the andamento of the tesserae, how we placed them, that was to evoke the feeling.

And what we found was that every tessera did matter. Each one’s shape and size contributed to the feeling, but it was the andamento that mattered most. The andamento created the feeling which then evoked the sound. Whether it was steady, chaotic, repetitive, building, or diminishing, without that flow the feeling was elusive and the sound just was not there.

How we live each moment of our lives, what words we speak, what actions we take, how we relate in every single encounter with who and what is in the world around us matters. It is the stuff of which the whole of our lives is made. And the patterns we lay down whether for just a season or for a life-time cannot be erased. Once they have happened they are, as it were, cast in stone.

Much of the time we are so distracted, we are so on autopilot, that the last thing we do is tend to how we are living those moments. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in Biblical scripture Jesus says to “stay watchful.” But you don’t have to be Christian to know the wisdom of the tesserae. Buddhists know it. Muslims know it. Jews know it. Humanists know it. Wisdom is wisdom. The moments of our lives may be discreet, but they are not isolated. At one and the same time they exist in a multiple of relationships. We may think the mosaic that is our life is made of just what we think and say and do. The truth is, in the end it is made of the relationships within which we have lived … how we have chosen (or failed to choose) to be in those relationships.

Irregularities in a mosaic do not “spoil” it. Wasted or failed moments don’t have to ruin the whole of our lives. But patterns … of thought, of speech, of action or inaction … they will make of us music or noise.

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or