Lately, I find myself wrestling the urge to withdraw—quietly slip out to the wood shop and, if nothing else, just get lost randomly cutting and sanding. It as if I’m compelled to embody some deeper need to smooth off the burs, dings, and scratches that living in these days and times seems to leave all over me: the sore, bruised remains of life in a world where fracturing rhetoric, divisiveness and cultivating intolerance ensure that the work continues for justice-seeking, anti-empire, intersections-tending rabble rousers like me. But, then, maybe those scrapes and scuffs I feel are really on the inside.
Either way, I’m not aware of there being a sand-paper for smoothing the scrapes and scabs of a battered spirit. It’s like I’m needing to embody some kind of soul-sculpting objective correlative where a sawdust-blowing, wood-chip flying, wood-working frenzy changes things, makes something more just, and true…perhaps even beautiful—where shaping pieces of wood reshapes me. Reshapes the world I inhabit—which, of course, isn’t true. Still, the wood shop makes for a kind of sanctuary.
There, at the least, I can salvage fallen remains woodland growth could not sustain, cut and shape them into something new. Something that looks nothing like the culture-boxes and exotic-trinket shelves collective fear and insecurity build to bend us all into something shaped like sameness while simultaneously showcasing the more eccentric of us as amusing oddities …something that looks nothing like the wildly overgrown wilderness planted with us-and-them rhetorical parasites grafted to the seedlings of survival, choking out our fecund roots. I can reach for draw-knives, saws, and sanding blocks and dream-work wounded bark and broken limbs, liberating the woody spirit longing to be seen. I can push against the grain and imagine I am healing splintered edges, revealing the storied lines etched on the tender skin of our collective humanity. I can tend and smooth the scars left by the ravaging winds of racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia and trans-phobia, and all the other systematized “isms” that threaten our needful hope for thriving. In my small, but comfortable 10 x 15 space, I can physically engage the embodied work of imaging—envisioning as I work an entire flourishing forest, rooted in the realities of interdependence and interconnectedness, where every human being has a sense of being a person, a place and a purpose in community together; where transformative showers of a just coexistence fall as water on growing things, and the light of eternal love shines, feeding generation after generation. In the work of mind, body and hands, I can imagine a vibrant living thing some have called Zion. Others might call it the beloved community.
In the end though, I’m really just cutting, shaping, and sanding wood.
Still, I can work and imagine. And, I think of another worker of living dreams, a fellow who followed the way of the prophets and tried to show us how to do the same…it seems I recall hearing in my childhood that he, too, was a carpenter. I don’t know. I do know the stories we’ve been given tell us that he imagined a particular kind of human coexistence rooted in love of neighbor—a vision he was willing to work for, invite others into, and risk his life for. Maybe he, too, was just cutting, shaping, and sanding wood. I don’t know.
But I wonder. And in the meantime, I live as we all do in the world we have both inherited and somehow allowed to emerge—a dark threatening thing crawling up from the stagnant water of a nearly forgotten past and lurching, awake, fear-formed and defensive, into our present. We contend with the now distorted fledgling we have dreamed into being, but have yet to raise—a more perfect union in which all of us are recognized as created beings, equal in value and apportioned some measure of freedom to pursue selfhood, happiness and purposeful living in an ever-evolving dynamic collective. Such is the dream we have dreamed. And so it is, for me, the imagining that persists—that, perhaps, itself saves me from the otherwise sure aimlessness of my own trans-marginalization and delivers me into the depth of my whole-bodied belief that all life is sacred and created in freedom. Service to this, this dreaming the beloved community, is the only way I know to make a living prayer.
So, side by side with strangers and with kin, I march, attend rallies, carry signs, and sing freedom songs. In the company of others, I add my voice to the groundswell of voices. In the spaces in between, I am learning to listen more deeply—to the soft sound of sandpaper on grain, to the voices of those who are different from me. I seek to do my part. I dream dreams, in wood shop and in world. And, I pray.
In the end, it may be that all I’m doing is cutting, shaping, and sanding wood. Perhaps, all this sawdust-blowing and wood-chip-flying work is really only reshaping me—soul-sculpting my own wounded skin and woody spirit. But, maybe that is where the work of live-praying begins. And, maybe, just maybe, the wood shop isn’t a withdrawal at all, but rather, a retreat into inner sanctuary where a Holy whisper softens worn and fragile bark.