Forgiveness Found in Shattered Wood

6 02 2011

Several years ago my wife and I decided to add on to our house.  When it was time, our friend, Bill (a carpenter), asked me round the edges on the flat boards for our new staircase. As I ran the router over the first piece, I watched, and felt, right-angled edges transform into a rounded surface! Immediately, my childhood awe of watching my dad carve letters in wooden signs filled my imagination – the enchantment with wood…its smell…its character…the thrill of transformation.

This experience brought about a new awakening and a desire to learn about woodworking. So the adventure began – chip carving, relief carving, scroll sawing, and most recently woodturning. My friend, an experienced woodturner, became my teacher – in which tools to invest, how to use them, and turning techniques.

So with modest tools, my new used lathe, and some time, I ventured deep into the Cochran Cave (our garage) on a Saturday morning and put tool to wood in an attempt to turn my first solo piece. I remember my friend saying that the wood on the lathe would speak and guide me as to what it desired to be. So I watched, and listened, as wood shavings flew off the wooden canvas. A chalice – that’s what was speaking…emerging. My excitement grew. The concave cup began to take shape. The cuts felt smooth beneath my hands…I was doing it! I moved to form the stem and base. I stopped occasionally to check this project of co-creation. The color and grain of the wood was going to be beautiful. I made one last cut and was satisfied.

“I’ve done it,” I assured myself with pride. “Just the sanding and staining.” I reminded myself not to try anything fancy – to keep it simple. As I turned the lathe on and began sanding, I noticed the lip of the chalice was not completely even. “Not to worry,” I thought,  “I can sand it down.” Another check of the chalice, revealed a couple of tool marks at the top of the cup. “I can remove these – no problem.” I retrieved my gouge and removed the tool marks. “This is so great,” I thought as my head began to swell. “People will be so impressed! They will sing songs about me! They’ll put this beautiful chalice in the National Gallery! I will become famous!”

However, as I turned the lathe on again I noticed the lip was not perfect. “I can take care of that.” I ignored the voice inside telling me that it was good enough…to keep it simple. Stubbornly…pride fully…I put the tool to the chalice again. CRACK!!! It wasn’t until after the chalice had exploded off the lathe and was in two pieces on the garage floor, that I came to myself and turned the lathe off. Like a little boy with a broken toy, I picked up the two pieces and tried to fit then back together. It wasn’t going to happen. I stood in disbelief! “Why did I do that?” All I had to do was to sand and stain – to keep it simple. I stood in silence. I couldn’t take it back.

We all have experiences like this in life – intentionally or not – we mess up. Some of our “mess-ups” cost us little – some sadness…some frustration…we get over them without much emotional or physical energy expended. Other “mess-ups”, however, may cause us – and others – great pain: deep grief, so deep it’s easy to bury it so that others (so we) can no longer see it. It plants shame deep into the soil of our soul. Its roots spread and drain the pool of what brings us joy. Some “mess-ups” generates great anger – at ourselves…at circumstances…at others. Anger so intense that we become afraid of ourselves; we are afraid of the power we might unleash, of the damage we may leave in our wake. Our “mistakes” leave us with a wish we could take words or actions back. We want a “do over”. We wish some things had never happened; that we had not made certain decisions. We want to make it right. We want redemption…we want forgiveness.

We know forgiveness as a word. We have heard others talk about it…stories of those who have experienced it. And we know, intellectually, that forgiveness is available and a possibility for everyone – for you and for me. If you are a person of faith, you have most likely been taught that as we bring our mistakes before God, God moves to forgive us. We are assured we can start over…God’s grace is endless. We have been told…we have been taught…we are supposed to believe… that God’s love for us is unconditional – no strings attached. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.

The question is, do we REALLY believe this…deep down in our soul? Do we believe God will hold up God’s end of the bargain? Will God really forgive us? I have to be honest – sometimes I’m not sure. And, as I follow these questions deeper, I find the real crux is that I’m not so sure I am willing to accept God’s gift…I’m not sure I’m forgivable. So the questions turn – do I believe I am forgivable? Do you believe you are forgivable? Do we believe we are worth forgiving? If so, can we forgive ourselves? Can we accept forgiveness? Can we let go of…release…the shame, grief, and anger we hold? Again, I have to be honest, many times I don’t…I can’t. Not alone.

What I do know is this – those times when I have accepted forgiveness; when I remember what it feels like to have accepted God’s gift of forgiveness…of unconditional love; those times when I have forgiven myself; when I have done the hard work of uprooting my shame, digging up my grief, or unleashing my anger and offering it to God – It’s those times when I have felt the most free, the most compassionate, the most grace-filled and gracious. Not to say there won’t be nicks, stains, and scars. Forgiveness is a process. God never said our past experiences would vanish. God did say, “I’ll never leave you.” Once I tasted that freedom…that Presence – my craving runs deep.

So there I stood with shattered wood in my hand…and the thought came, “The stem looks like a candle holder.” The forgiveness process began. The walnut candleholder now sits in my office as a symbol of God’s forgiveness and of my forgiveness of self. It is a symbol of the potential that lies in what looks like destruction and chaos. It is a reminder to be forgiving toward others and self, and to be a vessel of God’s presence in the world, and to be mindful of the potential ministry in each moment. It is the holder of the Light.

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