Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beginner's Mind

"The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God--of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone with any experience with the narrow activity of the 'workaholic'." -Josef Pieper

Beginner's Mind:
I have recently started working for a home repair/renovation company, and in my work I've had some thoughts which are  not (I hope) completely devoid of value.

One of the jobs I've been working for the past couple weeks is a beautiful maple bathroom vanity. I'm still very new at this work, so what I've learned so far is how to select lumber, cut it down, sand the pieces to exact thickness and width, and create panels from smaller bits using clamps and glue. After the cabinet maker has put all the pieces together, I also sand. And sand, and sand, and sand. This past week, I spent about 50 hours sanding. It's exactly the kind of work a former monk needs; it lends itself easily to contemplation.

Everything about wood is a mystery to me. Monday through Friday, I go to work and cut trees apart, then try to put them back together in a useful form--trees that have lived longer than I have. I am surrounded by furniture and floors and doors... each piece made from a thing that was once alive in a particular place and time. Every knot in a board, every change in the grain pattern or the color of the wood is unique to the tree from which it came.

I learned today that trees are cone-shaped. (I don't know why I never thought of that before.) That's why wood grain looks the way it does. The patter of U-shapes going down a board are the result of cutting through a stack of cones (the annual rings). Amazing! Maybe not to you, but it's amazing to me.

We are engulfed in a world full of things we don't understand. That's why even the best of us can be taken apart by a child asking "Why?" again and again. Because, at bottom, we don't understand even the most basic elements of the world around us. We are only able to live out our lives because we grow out of childhood and stop looking at creation with wonder and awe. But it's all still there--all the things that made us ask "Why?" as kids are still right in front of us, defying comprehension--even in a simple piece of wood.

1 comment:

  1. I never knew any child that asked why more than you - who even made your aunt cry one time because you wouldn't stop asking "but why"... I think the asking is all that's necessary - not the answers, because all too often there are no answers, just the questions, and even those are beyond words. Very nice blog.