Jonathan and I seem to move at two entirely different speeds around the homestead. He will be lost in a project for hours only to emerge with perhaps one single cut on a board. Meanwhile I’ve baked a loaf of bread, participated in three zoom calls, and done all of the laundry. Our gifts compliment each other, and there is an invitation for me in the way that Jonathan’s emphasis on craft is an intentional development of spiritual practice as well as an intentional resistance to throw-away consumerism. The art of slow craft, of working with the hands over a number of years to master a skill, is a spiritual practice that ties the intention and imagination of the heart to the creation of beauty much in line with the movement of God in creation. It is also a way of resisting participation in a society that proclaims efficiency, mass production, standardization, and spiritual anemia.
The Shaker communities of New England crafted furniture with the imagination that the chair should be worthy for an angel to sit on, the bench should be worthy to host the Saints, and the table should be worthy to hold Christ. This spirituality of crafting renders sacredness to materiality in a world where only rational thought is given value, and proclaims the counter-cultural idea that losing time in pursuit of mundanity is of a higher value than efficiency and “good enough.” Posed as a question, this immersion into slow living, simplicity, and voluntary poverty asks, “For what shall it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
In the early winter we were invited to cultivate this practice of moving at the speed of deep relationship in two ways during the same week. We said goodbye to our beloved pigs Muffin and Fox and we welcomed our first “WOOFer” into the Hollow. For two days building up to our late winter on farm slaughter, Jonathan laboriously constructed a massive crane system in the woods near the pig enclosure. This 30 foot crane was built entirely out of logs and rope and was intended to lift all 600+ pounds of Muffin and Fox into the air for processing. All of this could have been avoided with a tractor. But what we received instead through this process of creation was a depth of relationship between ourselves and the land. Our relationship with Muffin and Fox was always of mutual presence and care, which made it possible to ask them to stand in exactly the right place without fear or nervousness. Our slow care gave us all the gift of peace at every step of the way. Our relationship with the hillside and the red maple tree gave us the ability to imagine a way to accomplish a task using our bodies and our community instead of raping the land for fossil fuels in the name of efficiency and ease. It cost us time, but it offered us the gift of deep presence with each other and the land.
The same depth of relationship was offered again with the arrival of John later that same day. For the next week John worked to build an incredible mortise and tenon support beam for the side of our house. This is the same type of crafting that the men building the house in 1790 would have used, and it took a solid week of working in order to cut every notch, fit every peg, and plane each piece of rough cut, horse drawn timber into the correct size. Buying the materials ready to go from Home Depot would have saved us time, effort, and labor, but we would have lost the opportunity to learn deeply from each other and to have the time to share the learning rather than being in a corporate office attempting to frantically raise the money needed in order to live. We are trading access to money for life, community, and shared learning. To some we might be losing the world, but we feel that the trade is more than worth the challenges of long days, sore muscles, and worry over the checkbook. What we have gained is the ability to live with both hands on our life, to live deeply with the human and more-than-human community. To imagine, and help to craft a world that prepares a space for angels, saints, and Christ himself to set a place and invite us to eat joyfully together of this resplendent feast of goodness.