One of the things I noticed during my trip to Japan was the beauty of…
I noticed it because while there are aspects of nature that we can all appreciate as beautiful: new babies, beautiful athletes, breathtaking sunsets, majestic forests, intricate flowers, peaceful beaches, awesome lions, etc…
… there are other, corresponding, aspects of that same nature that we do not find so beautiful: dirty diapers, cadavers, the darkest new moon night, endless deserts, dead trees, frozen tundra, dead carcasses of antelope, and so on.
Generally, we do our best to hide, ignore, or otherwise minimize the presence of these more disturbing aspects of nature. And yet… there simply would be none of the beauty of nature without the more unsightly aspects of nature.
Paul had such an idea when talking about the body, as a metaphor for the church. He spoke of “presentable” and “unpresentable” parts.
Maybe it’s because, in the US, we do our very best to isolate ourselves from “unsightly” things that I took notice of these sewer covers. In fact, y friend Dennis (who wrote a book on grief, entitled Mourning Journey) once pointed out to me how dramatically rituals about death had changed in our culture. At one time, bodies were prepared for burial, cleaned, dressed and laid out, by the family and in the family home. Now, that entire process is professionalized: people die in hospitals, their bodies are taken to funeral homes. Moments after our loved one’s death, we leave the room and don’t see him again until in a casket (perhaps itself closed). We want to sanitize life and sanitize creation.
But death, rot, excrement, dirty water are also part of creation.
And while I realize it’s no profound insight, I was touched by the fact that the Japanese culture seemed to draw attention to sewer covers by such decorative covers. It’s as if they were saying, “look here, under this, there are torrents of sewage… didn’t want you to miss it!”. And, to me, the ornate covers also stated, simply, “yes, and this too is part of, a by-product of this beautiful creation.”
I thought to myself, that on a small, heavily populated island like Japan, you simply have no choice but to exercise great care in dealing with waste, trash, sewage. So, at the risk of reading way too much into them, the decorative covers are a reminder to take care, to tread lightly, and to stay conscious of the beauty of creation as we deal with the inevitable, “unpresentable” and unsightly aspects of our civilization: our waste.
I’m one who thinks we could use substantially more reminders, especially pretty ones as these, to be more eco-friendly as we walk and live in this creation whose very Creator called “very good”.