Recently I started watching a new show called “Blown Away”. It’s a competition show about the creation of glass art which has always amazed me. When I was younger, I visited a local glass shop, and I was so excited to get this little ball of glass with beautiful purple shapes inside. I kept it for years. Now, that little ball seems so simple compared to some of the intricate designs these artists can create!
Throughout the episode I learned there were many different tools and techniques that people have used through the centuries. I also learned the science behind how a pile of what looks like dust could become these amazing pieces of art. This “pile” as I so inelegantly put it, is a combination of different chemical compounds that must be in the correct ratios for these artists to get their desired results. First, all glass is made of silica, scientifically called silicon dioxide but commonly known as sand. This compound has a very simple structure, but in larger quantities can create crystalline structures such as the rock known as quartz.
Silica is the base of all glass, but then you also need the compound sodium carbonate. This compound is often used in cleaning products, but in glass it helps to lower the melting temperature of the overall mixture. The final necessary ingredient for basic glass is lime, also known as calcium carbonate. When eaten this compound is a great antacid, but in glass it adds to the durability. You wouldn’t want your glass windows to break at the smallest wind and you wouldn’t want your glass art to crack any time you touch it.
At this point when you combine all of these compounds together it just looks like a pile of white dust. To add color, different metal compounds are added. Then, to transform these raw materials into glass, the compounds must be heated to 2400ºF. Then, in order to shape/blow the glass, it is cooled to a range of 1350-1900ºF where the glass is still malleable, but not pure liquid. This is where the art is formed. This red hot piece of melted glass is usually attached to a long pipe and the artist blows into it, shaping the glass as it goes. Unlike many other forms of art, glass blowing requires a part of the artist, their breath, to be incorporated into their art. Their breath will forever be a piece of their work.
For the past week, the first readings each weekday have been from the beginning of the book of Genesis. Monday through Wednesday each told of how God created everything and called it good. I’ve often talked about the awe I feel when looking at the beauty of God’s creation. I think it is fair to call Him the greatest artist of all. In Wednesday’s first reading (Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17) we heard the second story of the creation of man. In this version God formed man out of the clay of the ground and He blew into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life”. It is in this breath that we are made, made in the image of God. Just as the glass blowers put some of themselves into their creations, God makes us special with this breath of life, this soul, that He has given us. The soul is not a physical thing that we can measure. It is supernatural. It is of something greater. God put His mark on each and every one of us at our conception.
Thinking about this amazing miracle honestly makes me feel so special, thinking about how I was set apart. Then we get to today’s holy day. It is Ash Wednesday. Today we start our 40 day journey toward Calvary, and we start it by being told, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Well… that makes me feel a little less special. I thought I was special, but I’m just dust?!? What did we just learn about the “dust” that turns into glass? It may have started as plain old dust, but when the artist, the creator, blows into it, it becomes a work of art, a masterpiece. The same is true with us. Because we have the breath of our creator, we are not merely dust. We are so much more. As we begin this Lenten journey, I encourage you to spend the next 40 days reflecting on the amazing work of God the artist, of how we are so much more than dust because of our creator.