The Work of Our Hands

This weekend my husband and I spent a quiet day making wonderful things for our home, sharing in activities like sewing new valances for our kitchen and dining room, baking two loaves of homemade bread, rolling out a fresh batch of homemade pasta, and baking blueberry muffins. We spent the day laughing and talking, and even got in a walk to the local grocery store. It was one of my favorite days in recent memory, and there have been a lot of good days lately!

One of the beautiful values of this day was the opportunity for us to create, and to see the fruits of our labor. In our meal, we enjoyed our hard work. On our wall hangs the benefit of hours of labor and love. It was fulfillfing, but even more than that, we accepted the invitation to create, and enjoy the creation. God’s little metaphor for the day.

Of course, I recognize that there is one Ultimate Creator. But in Catholic spirituality, we also understand that we are given the opportunity (and the challenge) daily to become co-creators with God. This notion doesn’t suppose that humanity is the source of anything, but that we participate in God’s eternal act of creation by becoming the instrument for the fulfillment of that creative act. Yes–once again, it’s about fulfilling our potential.

This made me think a little bit about what it means to truly appreciate the work of one’s own hands. How often do we do this–acknowledge the potential that we have within us, and then, upon the creative act being completed (whatever it may be), take a moment to sit back and appreciate…to give thanks? How often do we recognize the value of the work of our own hands?

Perhaps one of the reasons that this process is no longer as common is the constant availablity of things that are not the work of our own hands. Prepackaged food, store-bought clothing (often sewn continents away), gardeners and housekeepers. None of these things in and of themselves are necessarily bad, but I wonder if they slowly strip away our appreciation of the act of co-creation.  In addition, because of the instant availablity, our society has lost the appreciation of the work that goes into the final product. Once that appreciation is lost, we are one more step from those who labored to create those goods–and that removal causes a distance that makes abuse easily ignored.

What about the acts of co-creation as a means to connect with God? Psalm 138 says, “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands!” Through this Scripture, we pray that God doesn’t leave our fate to the hands of someone else, but that he continues to participate in the eternal creative process. We ask that he doesn’t bow out of that relationship…and yet it seems like American culture tempts us to do the very thing we beg God not to do.

What is a practical solution here? Not everyone has the talent, time, or inclination to sew their own clothes, grow their own food (or even cook their own food), and sometimes people don’t even have the time to clean their own houses or mow their own lawns. How does someone caught in the throes of the non-stop American life return back to a relationship of co-creation and appreciation?

I think the first step may be the hardest and most uncomfortable: slow down. Just slow it down. Take on one less project. Enroll the kids in one less sports team. Watch one less TV show. Make at least an hour of free time during your day, and don’t fill it up with emptiness. Then, spend that hour doing something that gets you back in touch with peaceful gratitude. This could be taking a slow walk at sunset with a spouse. This could be sitting with your kids, painting. This could be sitting on your front porch. But I think the first step has to be one of radically pushing back against the constant bombardment of stimulation and activity.

I think that once one gets comfortable in this place of gratitude, it is inevitable that he or she craves more. But, if done in a healthy and prayerful manner, it will also blossom into more than that: it will grow into an awareness of the relationship with God and God’s creation. And, like in any good relationship, the person will begin to wonder, “What can I do for the one I love?” 

Benefiting from the work of our hands is not pleasureable or valuable because it is a source of pride or a means to show off a talent. Rather, it is an opportunity and a reminder that all creation comes from and through God, and in order to be a co-creator, we must inevitably recognize and respect that relationship.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ProudHusband on January 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    An amazing post. I especially liked your note about stepping back to appreciate the work of your hands when you are finished. Isn’t this another way of looking at Sabbath? Surely, an omnipotent God didn’t need to rest after the act of creation. But it’s possible that God simply set aside the seventh day (both for God and ourselves) as a chance to be thankful and appreciate the fruits of creation.


  2. Posted by ProudHusband on January 21, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    PS. I love that one of the “possibly related posts” offered by wordpress is “Is Shaq Bored With Twitter Already?” Perhaps he could use an hour out on his front porch.


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