When I was a child, a small set of carved tools lay on our piano, some of my Grandfather’s carvings which my Dad had inherited. Grandpa was quite a carver, and one of his many pieces found a home at Greenfield Village for a time. My Dad also did some primitive carving, and two of my brothers either carved or lathed logs that you and I might think as trash into pieces of beauty or whimsy. They used their skills only as a hobby, but nevertheless, their work brought them pleasure and satisfaction in seeing a finished project.
Perhaps that is why I was so intrigued by a recent article by Frederick Kunkle in The Washington Post that tells the story of David Linwood Cahoon, better known as Woody. David has loved woodworking since he was a child. By 1990, he was able to align his passion with his daytime job.
David is presently working on 14 wood pieces for the pope’s visit. Among those pieces is an altar that will be used for a large Mass that will be celebrated in Washington on Sept. 23. David experiences creating wood as a prayer. He laughs as he says, “It may be a hobby that went nuts.” But he states, “I think it has, at this stage of my life, become a prayer.”
“How does a hobby become a prayer?” I wondered. It seems that David not only does woodworking, he strives in his own life to emulate the life of the greatest Carpenter whoever died. “What did He do with wood, man?” he says. “You think He did something fantastic with that tree?” He throws his arms wide as if showing the cross, and says, “He’s the greatest of all carpenters, in that sense.”
The Carpenter has transformed the carpenter’s life, and has lit the fire of his passions into building altars. So David says, “Whenever I get a chance to build an altar – not for the pope, but whenever you have a chance to build an altar – it’s where heaven meets earth.”
For to him, the altar is the symbol of our daily walk in following Christ. He reflects on the disciples being asked to carry on Jesus ministry and refers to this as being called to wait on tables. He says, “If you look at it, they were waiting on tables, but they were waiting at the table of the Eucharist, which is an altar. David knows exactly what his calling is: he is waiting tables, building altars every chance he gets.
I read the story several times, trying to glean the meaning for myself. I don’t work with wood. I once waited tables, but not in the sense of of sharing the Eucharist to which Woody refers. I, like David, desire more of the experience of being where heaven touches earth.
I am reminded of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World in which she shares that sacred space touches earth in the mundane happenings of our life. She states:
“My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. It is knowing that whatever we do, menial or grandiose, becomes a sacred act if we treat it as such, and to realize that our true shared vocation is to love God and neighbor. Any place we might be is holy ground, hallowed ground, if we but acknowledge the Creator of that place.”
If we, like the disciples, claim to love Christ, then following Him demands that we love our neighbors and wait on tables, building altars by sharing his love with a broken world.
I picture us here as the Carpenter’s children, having the privilege of looking at the now empty wooden cross and offering the Eucharist to a hungry world. What a beautiful picture of what life could be! Life becomes a prayer as we see all our work in the light of the sacred.
Today I need to shake off the sawdust a bit and continue to work on the other altars that still await the work of my hands.
image of carving by http://www.wood-carving-tools.com; image of breaking bread by Ben Wickstrom