A Carpenter's Eyes
I’m not sure what possessed me to buy the book I’m currently reading – A Carpenter’s Life as Told by Houses by Larry Haun. I can barely handle a paintbrush, much less a hammer or power saw. The metaphor of building something is more appealing to me than the reality of it.
Maybe it’s because Joseph was a carpenter and likely passed on the trade to his son. Our professions shape how we see the world, don’t they? Maybe I wondered what eyes this trade gave Jesus. I always need help seeing the world through his eyes – in both its beauty and its pain. This couldn’t hurt.
Fortunately, the carpenter who wrote the book is also a lovely writer. He talks about how houses relate to the land they’re built on – how the materials suit (or don’t suit) their surroundings. He sees places in terms of what kinds of homes can be made from what’s on hand – whether it’s sod or hay bales, adobe bricks or wood. He knows intimately what homes need to be able to withstand – the cold and wind, the rain and snow - and the care, patience and teamwork it takes to make them strong.
We don’t hear Jesus talk that much about houses. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, though, he uses the image of house building to talk about the importance of acting on his words (many of which we’ll hear in worship for the next couple of weeks). “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Likewise, those who hear his words and don’t act on them are like those who build on sand. When the storms come, their houses fall.
What strikes me here is that the storms come, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if we’re wise or foolish; our mettle will be tested, one way or the other. The life directions we’re given in the Sermon on the Mount – the dangers of anger and lust, the importance of keeping our promises, the injunction to love our enemies and to give sacrificially – they’re not meant to be lofty aspirations floating above us. They’re the foundation for building a more solid life together, a home that’s secure enough in itself to shelter and welcome others.
The other thing I notice as I practice seeing the world through this carpenter’s eyes is the love and admiration he has for his building materials. The author talks with awe about the first time he saw a real carpenter at work. The smell of that first pine is as fresh to him in his 70s as it was when he was 8. He looks at hay bales and sees their insulating power; he looks at the clay of the earth and sees endless possibility. Keeping St. Paul’s image in mind – that we’re not just the body of Christ, we’re also “God’s building” (I Corinthians 3:9) – I wonder what potential God sees when looking at us.
As we work on building and repairing relationships in this stormy time for our nation (and our world), I wonder about lots of things. I wonder what kind of house we’re building together as a community of faith – its warmth and joy, its openness to others. I wonder what kind of shelter we’re constructing for those who don’t yet have a spiritual (or physical) home and how creative we can get with the materials at hand. Thank God we have a Master Carpenter at our side.