The Lone Tessera

It’s hard to pick a cover photo, isn’t it. Some might just pick a pretty landscape shot or some man-made marvel. Many choose from the pictures that the theme comes with. That’s OK I guess, but I want the picture to say something about the blog. To say something about me. I’ve had a few, but I’ve settled on one that may in fact be worth a thousand words, at least to me. I took the picture, but it wasn’t staged. It was a happy accident and I think it probably gets missed by the majority of readers. I want to explain why it means so much to me.

Where the picture was taken.

It was the summer of 2008 and I was volunteering on an archaeological dig in Israel, Tel-es-Safi to be precise. One of my favorite activities were the trips that we had a few afternoons after work. These were little guided tours, usually led by the head of the archaeology department at the university. We went to Ashkelon, Lachish, the newly-discovered fortress in the Valley of Elah, Beth Shemesh and the lands of Samson, Bar Khokba caves, and the locations related to the Goliath story. It was the last trip (in my non-chronological list) that ended at a place called Khirbet Hanot which is the “traditional” location of the tomb of Goliath. But more interesting to me were the ruins near this location.

Yigal walked us through the opening in the wall. Maybe it used to be the entrance, it was hard to tell. It was a small little place, not much bigger than a single-car garage. The floor was sand and oddly there were brooms leaning against the side wall. At his instruction we started brushing the sand away and what was revealed was a beautiful mosaic floor.

This wasn’t the prettiest mosaic I’ve ever seen and it wasn’t the oldest, but it is to this day the only (old) one I’ve ever been able to walk on. It was the floor of a Byzantine church, around the 6th Century. That’s 500s folks, pre-America, pre-Reformation, pre-Islam even. This mosaic wasn’t just a pattern either, it had pictures of flowers and bunches of grapes. There were Greek letters across the one side. This is just a small section.

I listened to Yigal talking about the church and it’s excavation. The sand was meant to cover the floor and protect it from the sun and maybe some tessera thieves, and we had to cover it back up before we left.

I went around trying to get decent light to take pictures. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time I snapped a dozen or two, hoping that a few might show the faded colors of the design. Looking through them later is when I saw the picture. This is the full picture, before I cropped it for the cover.

I liked it immediately because it showed the colors the best and had a nice design in view so I put it among my favorites from the trip. It wasn’t until years later when I sat and pondered the picture that it really started to move me.

The symbols and the substance.

I always thought the picture reflected the story well. It has the sand along the sides, remnants of what was meant to hide the work. It has a single tessera which survived the vigorous sweeping by the archaeology students and remains near the center of the floor. But it was that tessera that kept drawing my eye. And then it was the shadow. Such a long shadow for such a small piece. And that made me start to think.

Where does that tessera belong? It has a certain shape and a certain color. It was crafted to fit into a grand design on this floor. It was meant to go somewhere and I don’t know where. Could it have come from that damaged spot above it? Maybe, but this floor has been exposed and swept for 25 years by visitors. And it’s over 1500 years old in total. Who knows? The designer would know. At least he would if he knew each tessera by name and had made each one for his own purpose as part of a grand design.

I don’t know when I started thinking of myself as that tessera, but I do now. I know I have been created for a purpose, not just in a vague sense, but a particular calling in a particular place. I don’t know where and I don’t know when or how, but there is a place for me in the designers great work.

I don’t mean the world. Listen, I can find my own place in the world. I’m talking about finding my place, the place I am called to, in the great mosaic of the Church. That mosaic with different sizes, shapes, and colors. All individually formed and fashioned to work together for the glory of God.

But it is an immature, an unfinished work. There are some holes and some damaged areas. There are other pieces that must be found. Maybe I’m stretching the metaphor a bit, but you get the point.

This is where I find myself. Searching for a proper fit in the kingdom of God. I know I’m there. I know I’m swept clean, but maybe God needs to reshape me a bit before he places me where he wants me. It is my experience that these things become evident only with time, so maybe I’ll be telling the next chapter of this story in a few years. Maybe. Probably.

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