A nurse named Melanie was on her way to work when something in the trash bin caught her eye. She was immediately taken with the possibilities in the discarded treasure. It was a cello, slightly cracked in several places, but nonetheless a discard of great character, a piece quite charming to the eye. Her boyfriend, who is a cabinetmaker, also saw the cello’s potential. Together they thought it could be turned into a beautifully distinctive CD holder.
At first glimpse, this story seems to evoke a mantra commonly upon artists’ and antique-hunters’ minds alike: “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” With a mother as an antique dealer, I have an endless bank of similar stories. Yet this one was deemed newsworthy and is thus worth retelling.
The discarded cello was indeed old and it in fact had really been abandoned, though authorities are not sure why or how it ended up in the trash that day. But a most shocking revelation to the nurse (and possibly to the thief as well) was the fact that it was not merely an old, interesting cello. It is a one of only 60 like it in the world, made by master craftsman Antonio Stradivari in 1684. The 320-year-old masterpiece, valued at 3.5 million dollars, was stolen from a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra just weeks before it sat rescued in Melanie’s apartment with dreams of becoming a CD holder.
In the music world, “Stradivarius” is an untouchable description. Neither scientist nor musician understands the difference between the voice of a Stradivarius versus the voice of modern violins and cellos, but the distinction is real—and costly. They are the most sought after musical instruments in the world—works of art in their own right—coveted by collectors and players alike. To be in the presence of a Stradivarius is to be in the presence of something great, whether it is recognized or not.
What I find so compelling about this story is that Melanie knew for sure that she had found a treasure (and there are countless people overwhelmed with thanksgiving that she felt this way). She saved a magnum opus from landing in a truck of garbage because she saw the potential in a piece of trash. But she had no idea how true her thought actually was, until reports of the missing cello transfigured the precious masterwork before her eyes.
Hearing this story, I wondered if our relationships with God do not sometimes hint at something similar. Like the disciples on the mount who fell on their faces as Jesus became “like the sun” and “as white as light,” it seems God can bring us again to that place where we are awed by God’s glory, goodness, or mercy—even fearful existence. And like the disciples, like Job and Isaiah, we can be unexpectedly reminded that we are in the presence of the Father in all his glory, or remarkably present with the Son, or suddenly aware of the Spirit. Yet whether we are aware of it or not, God is always near, God’s glory declared day after day, the work of God’s hands proclaimed night after night.
A poem penned by Augustine of Hippo utters the lament of a soul who has realized belatedly that God is there, while he himself was not aware of it. Writes Augustine, “Slow was I, Lord, too slow in loving you. To you, earliest and latest beauty, I was slow in love. You were waiting within me while I went outside me, looking for you there, misshaping myself as I flung myself upon the shapely things you made. You were with me all the while I was not with you, kept from you by things that could not be except by being in you. You were calling to me, shouting, drumming on deaf ears. You thundered and lightninged, piercing my blindness.”(1) His words remind us to taste and see the bounty of God today, presently, in this very glimpse. There is surely rejoicing in being found at all times, but perhaps, too, lament in not seeing sooner how near God was all along.
Like Melanie who saw beauty but did not see the true splendor of all she was holding, like the thief who held a masterpiece but saw fit to discard it, we are often unaware of how near we are to God and all within God’s kingdom. It is like “treasure hidden in a field,” taught Jesus, “like a merchant looking for fine pearls.” In finding the pearl of great value might we recognize it. In finding the God who is there, might we fall on our faces treasuring our find, thankful that we ourselves have been found.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Garry Wills, (New York: Penguin, 2006), 234.