There is a Maori Proverb Tiakina te ātaahua o te pāua, Cherish the beauty of the paua. Taken ecologically it means be a kaitiaki (guardian) of pāua, that is take what you and your family need and don’t be greedy! In that way, the tasty kai that pāua is will be reserved for when you are next hungry. The stocks will be there when you return next week or next year. Look after the beautiful food sources that you are gifted with.
The proverb may also mean Cherish the startling beauty the pāua brings out. We have all seen that, maybe when we come across a gleaming piece of pāua shell in the wash of the beach or when we notice all the brilliant pāua ornaments in a place like the Pāua Shell Factory at Carterton.
There is a purakau (legend) about the pāua which we can learn from. Pāua did not always have her shell. She sat miserable and lonely on the sea bed – jet black! She watched the colourful rainbow and other fish flash by. She complained to Tangaroa: ‘Hey, Tangaroa, how come I’m here all ugly and black on the bottom of the sea whilst you have made all those colourful rainbow fish?’ Tangaroa heard pāua’s cry and made a beautiful shell for her with all the sparkling colours of the rainbow. Well, pāua was so pleased she got over-proud and started boasting. ‘Ha, ha, hee, hee, I’m the most beautiful fish in the sea!’ Tangaroa heard this and returned. ‘Because you have not truly appreciated your beauty and simply boasted about it, I will cover your beautiful shell with a white crust and people will only see your beauty when they eat you!’
So, how are we ensuring there is beauty in our lives and cultivating that beauty? I believe it is a mark of being fully Christian to cherish beauty. Take for example Philippians 4:8 which outlines the virtues that should shine forth in us and our lives. Finally brothers and sisters, fill your minds with everything we love and honour. Do all you can to preserve all that is good and beautiful…
So how beautiful is my room, my office? How beautiful is our community room? Time for a coat of paint? A tidy up? I recall a confrere commenting on the complete lack of any pot-plant or growing fern in the home where he lived. Well there was one, but it was dead! Mmmm? Oh yes, I am busy and the computer is my work-desk – no room for flowers. Flowers? Hey, hold on, we are men and male religious aren’t we?
I recall spending time at Loppiano, the training centre for the Focolare movement. I recall walking over to the women’s building about 6:30am for Mass. Rounding the crest of the hill, I was transported back in time. The multi-story house was alive with women cleaning windows, polishing glass, sweeping, dusting… all before Mass! One of Chiara Lubich’s tenets was that cleanliness and beauty were vital for Focolare members. This is an enlivening balance to the self-emptying spirit they follow. Beauty shown in colour, a flower, a drape, an icon, a garden, a plant, a picture…
Talking of gardens, see the life and energy and beauty such as Noel Delaney pursues in his chrysanthemums!
Do we find beauty in Scripture? Do you have a favourite ‘beautiful’ text? One of mine is from the Benedictus. The loving kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high. (Luke 1:78). I am always grateful to Mick O’Meeghan who explained the loving kindness in terms of hesed, the beauty of God’s boundless Mercy which we follow as part of ‘Mary’s work’. What is your text of beauty? Where do you find beauty? Do all you can to preserve all that is good and beautiful.