Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Faith Works 9-1-07
Jeff Gill

Craft and Patience, and Faith

Out at the Flint Ridge Knap-In this weekend, you’ll see plenty of quiet focus, silent diligence, and mutual respect all at work and on display.

Is it prayer?

To some degree, that would be up to the artisan. I wouldn’t want to impose that perspective on anyone who didn’t have that intention. My question is on behalf of those who would, intentionally, see their work as a spiritual discipline.

When you do flint knapping to make a “point,” or arrowhead as folks mistakenly call them (since bow and arrow wasn’t used around here until fairly recently in historic terms), you have to quiet yourself, settle your mind, and find a non-distracting posture.

The idea isn’t to put on a show, a flurry of activity; you need to only make the motions that contribute to each step, going from flake blank to final projectile point.

Your work is steady, but slow – at least in modern terms – and you have to work with the materials. If a beautiful piece of flint has a crease or bulge of crystals, you can’t force it in the direction you want the shaping to go, flake by flake.

But when you let yourself learn from your materials, you find yourself making something unexpected, but all the more fascinating for how you become a part of a larger process, something beyond your own plans and intentions.

That sounds very close to prayer for me, or at least a worthy discipline for entering a prayerful state.

Many people who work with their hands on artisan-type projects report that they feel closest to God when they are creating something. Woodworkers, quilters, blacksmiths, and yes, flint knappers; farmers working the fields at harvest, and bakers at home or at a bakery. All say that the act of creation, the simple repetitions and shaping gestures, brings them to a place where their prayers are not only more personal and clear, but their sense of God’s presence is more real.

“Created in God’s image” would mean we’re created with an aspect of that creative urge, right? “Sub-creators” as J.R.R. Tolkien said in his writing about the meaning not of his literary creation, Middle Earth, but of the act of creation itself – the task of writing and correlating and molding character and plot and landscape, which he went on to compare to . . . woodworkers and quilters and blacksmiths.

Labor Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the nature of work; our work, the work of others that shapes our lives, of the place of work in God’s purpose for our lives. The union movement that gave birth to Labor Day as a holiday is itself rooted in a desire to see work honored and respected, no matter how humble; unions ask laborers to come together to protect the workplace as a setting for more than simply economic purposes. We shape our souls as we choose how we approach our work, whether it’s our attitude as we scrub the grill at closing time, or how carefully we attach the spade lugs to the power supply. A casual, careless attitude toward work as just a set of hours on a pay stub leads inevitably to a casual, careless value of life itself, and all manner of ills, social and personal.

So take a trip out to Flint Ridge off Brownsville Road this weekend (they’re out there chipping away through Monday), and walk about the knappers and reflect on their work, and your own, whatever Tuesday holds.

Can your work be prayer? Is prayer in your work?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s worked closing and scrubbed more than a few grills in his time. Share your story of work and faith at

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