Saturday, February 23, 2013


The man in the photo at left is my great uncle Charlie, shown in his retirement apartment at Friendship Haven in Ft. Dodge, Iowa in about 1950. Charles Richards, my grandfather's sister's husband was a retired Methodist minister, who found pleasure and contemplative value in carving wood. He also gave away many of his carvings to family members, so I grew up seeing his work in our home.

Today I'll be writing, finishing some sketchup illustrations of boxes on my computer and attempting to balance that with some time in the shop, attending to small details in making boxes. Hand work, offers a balance to more cerebral efforts. It offers contemplation.

Perhaps you are missing something. Would some kind of direct hands-on application of attention and skill bring some kind of reward to your life? Contemplation of the object as it is being made brings many rewards. Getting started can be simple. but I offer a word of warning. Wonderful work like that done by uncle Charlie with a stick and a knife does not happen overnight.  Your first efforts may look like crap. Part of the challenge is that the mind can race to other things. The hands and the work at hand require that one be present in the moment.

Most Christians and 12 steppers are familiar with the "serenity prayer" though most have forgotten that it was written by Reinhold Neibuhr, about the time my great uncle Charlie was carving the items shown. The prayer is  known in a much shortened version, but this is the complete prayer:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Most of us will not know in this life, whether or not there is a God or the life after death that my Uncle Charlie no doubt believed. But when we take matters into our own hands, "one moment at a time and accepting hardship as a pathway to peace," and engage in our own creative exercises, our own lives can be brought to a place of contemplation and sense of wholeness.  I suggest that we put aside those matters which are not yet revealed to us. That we engage directly in life using whatever tools and materials are available for our use, and engage in contemplation of reality as we can see it directly unfold in our own hands and their developing skill.

I sent my apprentice home yesterday afternoon with an extra copy of the latest Fine Woodworking, along with the warning, "Do not let all the fine work you see here, undermine your confidence." It takes time to develop skill. But the rewards are great.

Make, fix and create...


  1. He looks so formal, carving that stick while wearing a coat and tie.


  2. Yes indeed! Great post! Jesus was a carpenter...