Monday, November 18, 2013

Patina in Heaven?

In the 21st Chapter of the book of Revelation, at the 5th Verse, we read:
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
I was sitting in a Coney Island restaurant a little while ago, and I happened to look over at the blue neon sign which marked out the Men's Room, and these words of St. John came into my mind.  "Why?" you might ask.  Well, because the neon of that sign, and indeed all the neon in the joint was brand spanking new.  And when I thought of these words from the mouth of the enthroned Christ, they struck terror into my heart.

"All things new!  What if I like antique things?  Weathered things?  Things with a definite patina on them?  What if I don't want all things to be new?

I briefly imagined Jesus borrowing a page from President Obama's playbook and telling me:

"If you like your patina, you can keep your patina!"

But I immediately dismissed that possibility.  The words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ seemed all to clear, all too immutable.

Let me be clear:  I hated that neon sign!  When I go to a restaurant to eat an omelet and hash browns and rye toast, I want the neon to be faded and chipped, and to buzz loudly.  If possible, I would like it to sputter and blink intermittently.  Why?  I don't know; it's just more beautiful to me that way.  It's the same reason I prefer the look of a real, flesh-and-blood woman sitting across from me in the restaurant than some airbrushed model in a slick magazine that smells of haute couture perfume.  It's just more real.  Flaws make a thing beautiful to me, as does age, antiquity.  There was a move afoot to clean the soot-stained exterior stone work of St. John's Episcopal Church, Detroit, a few years back. I and a few others staunchly resisted it.  My friend Jim made an eloquent speech at the Annual Parish Meeting, as to why we dare not squander the hard-gained patina of our building.  I think his speech swayed some.  In any case, the soot is still there, and the building is 100 times more beautiful for its presence.

So, I got to thinking:  Is it a sin for me to love soot, buzzing neon, and imperfections of many other varieties?  Shall I grumble against God when He comes to make all things new?

I was speaking of this matter to a friend at lunch the other day, and he said that I was taking the word "new" too literally.  But I really only know one meaning for that word.  I take some comfort from the fact that the same book of Revelation describes the Christ (the Lamb) in words that indicate the eternal presence of His wounds:
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. (Revelation 5:6)
Furthermore, the resurrected Christ displays his wounds to St. Thomas (as chronicled in the 20th Chapter of St. John's Gospel).

So, I think that a strong case can be made that the promise to "make all things new" does not include a reversal of damage which is freighted with meaning, does not necessarily indicate a return to a pristine original state.

On my way out of the Coney Island restaurant, I took a good close look at the blue neon sign.  It was perfect.  Horribly perfect.  It mad no sound, had no flaw, and made nary a flicker.  It was like something out of one of the paintings of the worst sort of "hot rod culture" painter.  And I shuddered.

"I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Patina of the world to come.  Amen."