A few weeks ago I was walking in downtown Rio. I had the afternoon free, and was taking advantage of it by visiting one of the free art exhibits at the Federal Justice Cultural Center. The featured artist, Sergio Chavez, uses cardboard, trash, and found objects as a medium to sculpt objects and scenes from the lives of the common people of Brazil. It’s beautiful, and I like it.* As I walked through and SAW what he made, I was reminded of the lines from U2’s song “Grace…”
~ “Grace finds goodness in everything… Grace finds beauty in everything… Grace makes beauty out of ugly things…”
I love the praxis of Sergio making art – beauty – out of trash.
Later that afternoon, I walked up Avenida Rio Branco, heading for a coffee shop and a quiet place to write. As I darted across one of the streets, dodging cars, bikes, trucks, taxis, and the occasional rabid pigeon (you might think that not being mammals, pigeons can’t get rabies… Let me just say you’ve never met Rio’s pigeons. Rats with wings… but I digress), I saw her walking ahead of me. I don’t remember what she was wearing, or much about what she looked like. The first thing I saw were the scars. Across half her neck. On one of her arms. Her back. Her leg. One of her cheeks, moving up the side of her face towards her temple. Thick, ropy scars that, though faded and softened with time, still traced livid tracks across her body.
I’ve always been attracted – maybe even captivated – by contrasts. It’s one of the things I love most about photography – and seeing the contrast of this young woman, her scars in tension with her poise, smile, and evident grace, was a thing of beauty. Her grace was beautiful – no self-consiousness, no covering up of her scars, but an acceptance and transcendence of them.
Our kids on the street have many scars – knives, broken glass, razors and rocks will slice through skin and muscle. Cars and busses, soccer games, fights, and abuse by drunken parents leave broken bones, sprained and swollen arms and legs, bruises dark and tender. And then there are the scars you can’t see – the scars of being unwanted, unloved, rejected by society, or just plain ignored. People are afraid of them. People don’t want them around. People pretend not to see them. Scars from those wounds last just as long.
Yet Grace takes these broken lives, and finds the beauty in them. We sit with them on the street because we love them. We break up fights because we love them. We bandage their wounds, listen to their stories, remember their birthdays… because we love. We want the best for them – to leave the streets, the drugs, the addictions and poor choices… because we love.
Ultimately, I am a creature of hope… I want to believe that as they soak up grace, change will come. I want to believe in redemption, in the future day when God will make all things new. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of it… but I am still thirsty. I will keep walking towards the well of water that won’t run dry though. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll all find it together… Until then, such glimpses of grace like the girl with the scars and the smile help keep me living and loving…
May we find beauty – or learn to make beauty – out of everything as we learn to see through grace-stained eyes…
*For more pictures of Sergio Chavez’s work, go here or here. For an article in English, with a bit of analysis of his work (as well as a bit of Paulo Freire-ian subtext, which brings joy to my heart) go here…