17 October 2019
We were sitting on a pearl lugger which had plied the pearl fields of the Torres Straits waters in Northern Australia. She had worked the “Darnley Deeps” ,commonly called the diver’s graveyard, down to depths of 40 metres and held the record for amount of pearl shell collected. She also had been used to take the Olympic Torch on part of its trail in 2000.
A few large shells softly gleaming with iridescent colours lay on the hatch. A blister, a huge milky natural pearl attached to the shell, showed the size and beauty of the pearls and pearlshell that had been taken over the years.
But pearling has always been dangerous. One wondered, as we tried the pearl meat handed around. [for the record it was chewy and tasteless], what made people risk their lives to reach the pearl. The Biblical story of the merchant in Jesus' parable who found the perfect pearl and sold all he had to get, it did not risk as much as those who hunted the pearls. Even relatively recently the job was considered so dangerous that it was said one could only have five years,: two to learn the trade, and three to make money. If one was still alive after that, their luck had probably ran out. A pearler needed lots of luck.. They constantly risked their lives to sharks, fever, lung infections and the bends,. What was it about pearls which attracted so much passion?
Money was certainly one motive , enough people thought them so desirable that they would literally pay a fortune for them. Maybe Jesus' story of the merchant was not so unusual, a beautiful pearl, or string of the elusive natural matched pearls was precious enough to give everything else away. Was Jesus trying to tell us that God's kingdom was about someone seeking, who had the depth of passion pearls produced in those who sought them
As we sailed into the setting sun, the dangers of the pearl divers seemed far away. I reflected that the ship we travelled on was called Anniki, -a Hebrew root for God is gracious. But grace is costly as well as free.
Pearls, unlike other gems, are formed by a living animal. Natural pearls form because a parasite or irritant gets in between the shell and lining of the mollusc and the creature reacts by wrapping it with secretions to make sure it does not harm. As the shell grows so do the number of layers placed around the irritant. The threat is not rejested but enclosed with layers of pearl shell. After a few years growth, every now and then, the pearls shell hunter opens the shell to find a pearl. A perfect pearl is the result of how the animal reacts to an irritant.
Shells with no stressor, just provide pearl shell but those which have the pearl have had that irritant to deal with.
Is that not also the way of life? People and communities who have faced enormous difficulties and suffering, can reveal a beauty and strength of character which inspires and gives others hope. That which has been a costly path, hidden and endured, has been formed into something priceless.
We don't seek suffering or difficulties, but Paul in his letter to the Romans says "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, …We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. " Romans 5
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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