Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hands to work and hearts to God

It all started with the question "is a Shaker spool a religious artifact?" A seemingly benign question that led to days of conversation as we worked out the answer as it relates to our own lives. The Shaker philosophy about work so closely resembles ours that I was taken aback when I read it, "Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow." I want the things that I create to be things that I can be proud of, I don't like looking at something I've created and wish that I had taken the time to do a better job. If a dress takes 3 hours but a better quality dress takes 4, is not the extra hour one well spent if it yields a thing of greater beauty? Since we see our lifestyle choices as a way of living a life that allows us to focus more on God and less on popular philosophy, all of our work indeed becomes a religious act. As we tend the garden it is so easy to see that our daily bread really does come from the hand of God. Every garment sewn becomes a religious artifact because of the spirit in which it was undertaken. Every jar of jam or pickles reflects the ultimate and eternal provision with which we've been blessed. Every day is then a communion with God.

Aleks bought a new scythe recently which came without instructions. He called the company to make sure he was assembling it properly and they told him that the upper handle should be screwed or nailed in place. Screwed or nailed? No, he whittled a peg and used the bit and brace to drill the hole. Every step with the knowledge that it was a tool he will use for a lifetime and pass to his own children. He then proceeded to finish it with many coats of linseed oil, a time intensive process that meshes well with the scythe itself. Is it a religious artifact? Yes, I think it is.

I have been fashioning tiny garments for our eagerly awaited baby. Miniature chemises and gowns, coats and tiny caps. I think about the little one as I take each stitch, what a wonderful thing it is to welcome a baby! Every garment that touches his body has been lovingly made by the people who will love him the most, isn't that exactly as it should be? Mr. G has been preparing the cradle that the little one will nap in, it will be next to the stove where it's the warmest, right in the center of household activity where he will be looked in on as every one passes by. My Mother has said truthfully that the baby will not spend too much time alone as there are too many arms that want to hold him! ;-)

To look at our labors in this light makes the mundane holy. An act of worship instead of a chore. The Shakers eventually died out due to mass production, their hand crafted items could not compete with the new cheaply produced competition. Today we esteem what they made because anything hand crafted is such a rarity, most of us have rarely seen anything lovingly constructed by a true craftsman. Each step we take toward ease and convenience leaves us less able to provide for ourselves as knowledge is invariably lost. We yearn for what we know should be and are unsure of where to even begin to retrieve it.