In the beginning, God created out of nothing. And those created in His Image, He planted deeply within them the desire to create beauty out of His gifts.
A priest once told me that God gave us this gift of creativity so that we would always have a way to find Him. That thought stays with me. Seems I’m most likely to hear Him whisper when I’m working with my hands. It’s when my hands are moving purposefully, creating beauty, that’s when my mind slows and quiets. In the hush of that focus, the heart emerges.
God’s bestowed upon our hands an amazing gift, the memory to work a pattern of movement with ease.
I’m watching my fingers dance across a keyboard as I share these thoughts, me giving little notice to the spot on which each lands. They’ve been taught how to move and they do. A wonder.
It does seem a pity, to waste this gift on pushing buttons. In our modern world, most of our handwork is a matter of button pushing, turning on machines, tapping across a keyboard, clicking through an on-demand life. But those buttons only make the mind race, thoughts emerging, overstimulating. All that button pushing, it’s the only work of my hands that creates nothing but distraction.
The simplicity of picking up two wooden needles and, stitch by stitch, creating a fabric of tiny loops interlocked, it’s when my thoughts unravel and the quiet overcomes. That’s when the work of my hands hushes my mind, each movement echoing prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
It’s the rhythm of handwork that frees the mind, leaves the focus on the heart and how it beats prayer.
Encounter Orthodox monastic life the world over and you’ll find a common thread. Those monks, they all work with their hands. Carving crosses, tying prayer ropes, dipping candles, tending gardens. Handwork is the tradition of those who live a life in Christ, repetitive tasks creating good things to be received as a blessing. The rhythm of the hands guarding against idleness and lending the heart to prayer. What could be more creative than prayer?
“I shall show you how in working with my hands, I pray without ceasing. For I sit, by the help of God, steeping my few palm-leaves and from them I weave a mat, and I say, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” …and so by God’s grace there is fulfilled in me as the Scripture saith, ‘Pray without ceasing.’” -Abba Lucius in Ennaton, The Desert Fathers
And here I am, just an ordinary woman, a wife and mother struggling clumsy to live a life of prayer. My life in Christ is the joy of bringing up children. And these button-pushing days, when we tend to focus solely on the mind, it’s important to be reminded that the intellect is only part of the whole. You have to target the heart to raise up a whole child and educating the hands will often lead you to it.
“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” -1 Thessalonians 4:11
Many a time I’ve seen a frustrated child rocked quiet by the repetition of two hands moving yarn through needles. And I’ve witnessed young eyes beam joy upon mastering a creation of the hands. It may surprise some, that our family’s basket of needles and skeins of yarn are just as important as our shelves of books. Some days I’d say even more. When the mind is locked in study, the intellect engaged and thoughts turning, that’s when it’s most difficult to remember that Christ is in our midst. It’s the handwork that balances the mind work, intellect rested as hands move to the rhythm of grace.
Handwork is about slowing down, quieting the inner noise. It’s about learning to listen as the hands move with ease. Learning to create with patience.
In our modern world, when most of our handwork is a matter of button pushing, we need to train our hands to imitate our Creator. Learn to draw from our gift of creativity, to always have a way to find Him. And the simplicity of repetitive movement makes the mind still, thoughts fading, just enough to kindle a heart through attention.
The work of my hands that’s creative, it’s the only handwork that reminds the heart to stand and attend.
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