Thunder answers thunder in a vaulting discourse above. Not another soul is at the river this day. None but the man with the weathered hands. He strides in with steady purpose, undeterred as the current froths a vortex about him.
His treasure is here, and he won’t leave without it.
Expert eyes dart from mussel to mussel in the Highland shallows where the clamped shells lay. Gathered together, pristine. Waiting to be harvested for pearls within.
He walks right past.
Deeper in, a jagged dimple on the surface signals rocky peril beneath. Where most would tread with care, alter course, avoid… he locks in. His eyes flash with recognition as if to say– there. The reason I’ve come.
Arms reach, strong with time and trial, and surface water curls around as he bends low to search. He lifts a rough-hewn stone– but uncovers nothing.
He shifts his stance, lifts another, and another– repeating this search again. And again. No frustration registers on his features, though by now, his own muscles must surely ache against the ceaseless waters.
If anything, his eyes only narrow with building determination, lighting with the fire of a singular quest.
One need only watch him a moment to see: this is everything to him.
The sky is churning now, like the water beneath, but he will not leave. Heedless of the way his hands must scream with the cold, smart with a raw mark crying crimson from his palm, he reaches in again, right where the water leaps as if to push him away. Something has caught his concentration. As he stands slowly, that utter determination shatters clear away and–
Joy. Complete, unbridled joy lights his entire countenance.
He cradles something between those weathered hands. Opens them ever-so-slightly to behold his treasure:
A solitary mussel. He runs a thumb gently over its scars. Reads a tale from the twist in its shell: the river has not always been kind to it. Cast out and away from the rest of the mussels, it took shelter in that rough terrain to anchor itself away from a world even rougher. He traces a bruise on its side- probably the very place the parasite first entered the shell, keen to live off of it, only to be transformed, moment by moment, in the years that followed.
The man knows, as all pearl-fishers do, just what such markings mean. This mussel, held and seen for the first time in decades…there is treasure within. Priceless treasure sought after by emperors and queens. Living treasure that will be cared for, kept warm in the presence of the envied recipient. Shined luminous–literally–by the company it keeps, for while unattended pearls grow yellow, those held fast against the owner’s heart gleam more every day.
The shell, hiding there in the dark, is what science calls Margaritifera Margaritifera — “bearer of pearls, bearer of pearls”. Once for each shell. Some say the word comes from the Persian word Murwari. Child of the light.
The light deepens in the man’s eyes.
Those weathered hands, they clasp gentle and strong around the sought-after treasure. He breathes deep and the air settles around him– He has found what he came for. His treasure. His beloved.
Many years ago, my Grandma Jean wrote me a beautiful note about pearls. About the transforming ability of the nacre around an invader. She likened them to the trials of this life, and what they can become in the hands of one who can transform. Since that day, pearls have had a special place in my heart, always with a story to tell.
This past winter, in research for a novella, I began to learn about a people with a rich history– the pearl-fishers of centuries past. While the short selection above is fictional, these are the people who braved the river waters in real life as long as it was permitted, and from whose stories I learned so much about my own redeemer, the One who transforms.
In an interview, one of these fishers– a man named Eddie Davies, said:
“In the river, what you look for is an ugly shell. I know which shells will have a pearl as soon as they come out of the water. What I look for is a crooked shell, a deformed shell, bruised-up like on the side, a twisted shell.”
Glory. How my heart skipped a beat when I read that. Is that not the very heart of our God for us? His devoted pursuit of our hearts– the way He treasures and redeems us, bringing beauty for ashes?
For these were the shells– the margaritifera margaritifera– that held the best promise for containing a pearl. Often hidden beneath rocks, and yes- cast away from the others.
Jesus said it better than I ever could– in the parable of the lost sheep. The pearl of great price. In the way he reminded us he came to heal the sick. I’m so thankful for His words, and for the way His creation truly does proclaim His glory.
Now for you and I– each of us battered in a different way by the current of life– what joy, what deep joy, that we are called children of God. That it isn’t our scars that define us, but His redeeming work through them, and in His name for us: children of light.