So as part of settling in to our new home, we’ve started to visit places around our village. Recently we went to Chiddingstone Castle. Inside is the antique collection of Denys Eyre Bower and his ancestors. They collected items from around the world. (I’m always a bit wary about ‘collections’ and the ethics of how they may have been aquired. I am not qualified to lead that discussion in regards to this particular collection.) Mr Bower lived in the castle-shaped stately home from 1955-1977, and when he died, asked that the home be open to visitors to come and see the beautiful things he had collected in his lifetime.
As we spoke with one of the museum volunteers and heard how excited she was about the collection, I was reminded of my Great Uncle. My Great Uncle was a collector of antiques. He didn’t live in a castle-shaped stately home. He lived in a small, one-level home in the countryside of Virginia. A family home passed down from one generation to another. My Uncle kept his collection in a shed on the front lawn, and he called it an ‘antique store’. As a child, it was one of the most amazing places I had ever been – and I had been to Disney!
One day, I saw this little perfume bottle in the shape of a pony. I loved horses and anything French. Since the bottle once contained perfume, I was convinced it must be French and therefore very rare. So this little bottle soon became my most prized-possession! In reality – I learned as an adult that this bottle was not a horse, but rather was a donkey. And it was not a rare bottle from France, but rather was a mass produced by Avon! So my fancy little french pony was not fancy, not French, and not even a pony! However, I still cherish this little donkey perfume bottle because of the man it reminds me of my Great Uncle and his generous heart.
Exploring Chiddingstone Castle and remembering my Great Uncle’s ‘antique store’, I was reminded of that saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Or to put it another way, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” At the end of the day, whether beautiful Japanese lacquer or a little donkey-shaped perfume bottle – these are things, objects, as pretty as they are and as unique as some may be. The donkey was valuable to me because of the person who gave it to me.
In the gospels, alabaster jars of perfume poured on Jesus keep randomly appearing (see Luke 7:36-50 and Matthew 26:4-13). Each time people don’t get it. They don’t understand why Jesus allows this to happen. In Luke, the main point is God’s generosity in forgiving sins. In Matthew, the emphasis is on Jesus, who He is, and foreshadowing His death. In both stories, people are focussed on the perfume, but Jesus points them towards the giver of the gift and the reason for the giving.
For me, the true gift of Chiddingstone Castle are the gardens. There is a bridge over a river, with gorgeous views on either side that if there were a bench to sit on I would just sit there all day. Such a peaceful place, full of natural beauty. Thankful for a place where I can step out of the people-made town and be reminded of what God can create. Having my senses flooded by God’s natural canvas helps me to spot God’s creativity when I return to town. My eyes refocussed on God’s creation, I see life springing up in unexpected places, especially in the people I meet in town.
And that’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from the alabaster jars…hearts being changed in unexpected places. God’s beauty springing up in people we are least likely to expect to ‘find God’ at work. The key is to know what God’s work looks like in the first place, then you start to notice God at work not just where you expect but especially in the places you don’t expect. God often surprises and exceeds our expectations!