Several months ago I came across a photo of a beautiful sculpture, Expansion, by Paige Bradley


Bradley describes Expansion in this way via her website:

“From the moment we are born, the world tends to have a container already built for us to fit inside: A social security number, a gender, a race, a profession or an I.Q. I ponder if we are more defined by the container we are in, rather than what we are inside. Would we recognize ourselves if we could expand beyond our bodies? Would we still be able to exist if we were authentically ‘un-contained’?”

Authentically un-contained. Free. Forgiven. Brave. Loved. Redeemed.

As an educator, I have been taught it’s never a good idea to label students and subject them to a default classification, i.e. “the gifted one,” “the one with the learning disability,” “the one whose father is in prison.” And yet, I often find myself placing others and even myself into a little container that has just enough room for expectations, labels, and judgement.

Four-hundred plus years before Ms. Bradley created her sculpture, there was an Italian guy doing something similar.

The Atlas Slave
Michelangelo, The Atlas (marble, c. 1530-34)

In my travels, this ranks among the favorites of art I have had the privilege of seeing. Housed at The Academia in Florence, The Atlas is one of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” or “prisoner” sculpturesHis philosophy when sculpting was to reveal the creation from the inside out, rather than simply chisel away to see what emerged.

“There is no feeling of equilibrium here, only an eternal battle of forces threatening to explode in both directions.”

Sometimes this eternal battle does, in fact, break us apart. And if we, or others, are subjected to this brokenness, what will shine forth? Something of light, substance, and value? Or darkness, despair, and worthlessness?

These two examples encourage me once more to “add to the beauty” (Sara Groves) and to look at myself and others beyond the external defining circumstances that weigh us down. Instead, a view more like this:

(Originally blogged November 9, 2009)

And like this:

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:16 (NIV 1984)

“The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~ Galatians 2:20b (NIV)

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7, The Message 

Thus, another day, another opportunity to look beyond the container and seek more of the “incomparable power” within. Yes and amen.


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