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The Parable of the White Tile

[Excerpted from my book, Odd Lots, 2021]

Centuries ago, during the Age of the Great Cathedrals, a mighty church was rising against the rolling green hills of a distant Christian land. The king of that country had retained the world’s greatest architects, masons, sculptors, and artists to build the church, which would be a task of many years, perhaps decades. The greatest of all the artists that the king had employed had come from far away, and made his home in the shadow of the church, knowing that he would be pouring most—and perhaps all—of the rest of his life into its completion.

He was an artist of a special skill, the creation of mosaics. With nothing but colored tiles he could paint scenes and landscapes so real, so luminous, that they seemed to have a life of their own, as though they were windows into the ineffable realms of Heaven itself. His task in the building of the church was a mosaic above the main altar, sixty feet high, depicting Mary, Queen of All Saints.

The mosaic would require tens of thousands of colored tiles. The Artist made each of the tiles himself, alone, by hand, at a small bench behind the main altar. Each tile was precisely what the mosaic required. Each one was shaped individually in the Artist’s hands, and no two were alike. His skill was great: No more than were needed were made, none were ruined, and none were thrown away. After the tiles had been colored and fired, the Artist took them up on the scaffold himself, and cemented each tile individually and precisely into its place in the great mosaic.

The Artist was the greatest that his craft had ever produced, and he had promised Jesus and Mary that this mosaic would be his masterwork. God saw how the Artist loved the tiles he had crafted, just as God loves all of His children, and in a special way God allowed the tiles lives according to their natures, and made them recognize the Artist as their master, because tiles have neither minds nor souls with which to recognize God. The Artist spoke to the tiles as he shaped them, fired them, painted them, and positioned them in the mosaic. As the years went on and the mosaic took shape, the tiles would speak to one another and to the Artist, who praised each of them for its part in the greater work that was unfolding. The tiles listened to the Artist, and they were happy.

All but one. At a particular place within the mosaic was a white tile. The tile knew the tiles all around it, but no more than that, because a tile within a mosaic cannot see the picture of which it is a part. The white tile looked to its neighbor tiles, and realized that all of them were made of gold. The white tile was large, and its angles were irregular. All of the surrounding tiles were smaller than the white tile, and of compact and regular shapes. Where the golden tiles had neat corners, the white tile had sharp spikes. This made the white tile unhappy.

One day, as the Artist was positioning new tiles into their places in the mosaic, he heard the white tile calling out to him: “Master! Master! Why am I so strange and ugly?”

The Artist heard the white tile, and stepped down a few rungs on the scaffold to where the white tile was, so that he could speak to it: “You are not strange and ugly, my child. You are precisely what I needed you to be.”

The white tile was not convinced. “But all the tiles around me are made of beautiful gold! I have no color at all!”

The Artist shook his head, and smiled. “White is the greatest of all colors, dear one, because it contains all other colors. Every color of the rainbow lies within you.”

The white tile was still not happy. “But I am huge and gross, and have no shape. All of my angles are sharp, and nothing about me is regular. I am nothing but a jagged, ugly, spiky white blotch. Why, master? Why?

The Artist leaned forward toward the tile. As his eyes grew closer to the mosaic, he reminded himself that he could see the tiles the way they could not see themselves, and that he could understand their places in the heavenly image in a way that none of them could ever understand. So it was with great tenderness that he reached out a fingertip, and gently touched the white tile while he replied:

“Because, my dear child, you are the dazzle at the center of Our Lady’s golden crown.”


  1. Rebecca Snow says:

    Jeff, this is absolutely Beautiful and a wonderful Christmas to the Ultimate Artist💖

  2. Lee Hart says:

    Jeff, thank you for the beautiful story!

    I have one to offer as well. Everyone knows “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. But did you know he wrote *five* holiday stories, of which that is only one?

    The second is “The Chimes”, which concerns the New Year holiday. You can read my abridged version here:

    Happy holidays!

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