Although he was walking straight along the pavement, his body was twisted towards the other side of the road. I clocked it as unusual. I found it intriguing. As he came closer, I noticed that he had one hand up in the air. As we passed each other, I realised he was holding a cellphone.
And at that point it made more sense. I realised he must have been taking a one-handed photograph. As he walked along the road. On a frosty morning. He was taking a photo of the sky above Te Pukenga.
That made some sense, although I did not understand why he would be doing so. Having walked on, my curiosity got the better of me, and I retraced my steps so I could see what he was photographing.
Looking up, I discovered a stunning piece of art that I had not noticed before. I’ve since learnt that the art piece (by Andrew Dalbeth) is appropriately named Skyweave and is made of acrylic, mirror tiles and aluminium. It has also been there since 1995. Unnoticed, by me.
Skyweave weaves the sky beyond the art together with the sky behind the viewer. Negative (open) space forms the warp, revealing the sky beyond. The sky behind the viewer is reflected in the weft of mirrors. The colours of each appear different, reflection and reality, interconnected into a woven taonga. The art piece was commission for the 125th anniversary of the Dunedin School of Art, aptly drawing on the weaving traditions of both Maori and Scottish settlers.
I don’t think I would have seen the art if the man hadn’t been pointing his phone camera at it. If I hadn’t become curious as a result of his apparently strange antics as he walked sideways towards me.
I’ve been sitting with this experience for the past few days. Because sometimes we can miss good things that are quite obviously there in front of us. We can miss them until something happens to make them noticeable to us.
This reminds me of several things. First, it reminds me of the importance of noticing good things. This is something that I aspire to be good at.
Foundational to my faith is what missiologists call the missio Dei, the mission of God. This recognises that mission is not merely, or even primarily, something that Christians do. Rather, mission is an attribute of God. God who wants and works to see all things made right and good, reconciled and transformed.
This God is at work in our world and the role of Christians is to participate in the missio Dei. Not to be superheroes or saviours, but to be participants in the goodness of God, already at work in our world.
One of the tasks of a Christian, therefore, is to pay attention, to watch for God’s goodness and grace at work. And to seek to be involved in those good things.
Because of this, I aspire to be someone who wanders around with my eyes open, looking out for good things, wanting to notice the presence of goodness.
But I had missed this art piece. I don’t know how I would have ever noticed it, unless it was pointed out to me.
This was a helpful second reminder for me. We need to point to the good things that we see. To help make them noticeable to others. To not only notice goodness, but to point it out to others.
This might be as simple as pointing to a piece of art. It might be elevating the good that you see on social media. Giving airtime to good things and no oxygen to things that are not working towards goodness, flourishing and reconciliation.
My third realisation was more personal. When things get busy, when I’m stretched, I can forget to pay attention. I was grateful for a colleague whose wise comment reminded me of this experience, unknowingly inviting me to reflect further on it. Again, we need others in our lives to point us back to ourselves and to our values.
So what do I learn from my experience of encountering this art? I’m reminded of the importance of noticing good things. I’m reminded of the importance of pointing to good things, even if we sometimes look a little odd doing so.
I’m reminded of the importance of stepping back even in the midst of busyness to remember our values and purpose: one’s own frameworks for living.
As a University of Otago staff person, I’m sure I’m not alone in that final need. It can be easy among the busyness and the stresses and the uncertainties to lose sight of why we do what we do. So there’s a fourth invitation to think about our own direction and values, some might even call it vocation.
For me, I see the work that I do as being towards the good of the world. It is good to remember that.
■Lynne Taylor is Jack Somerville Senior Lecturer in pastoral theology at the University of Otago.