The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest

A Drawing Exploring the Holy Invitation to Labor and Rest With God, a Cry of my Heart.

The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest, ink drawing

This drawing, a work in progress, represents an effort to illustrate and pray into the swirling cloud of thoughts, feelings and impressions I have surrounding the deep nature of work.  It is something continually at the front of my consciousness.  I think about the invitation to Adam and Eve on the eighth day- to enter into creation and labor as an act of cooperation with the Divine Creator.  I often think that work is more than just earning provision.  I wonder even if labor could be a sacrament.  Could the labor we undertake from day to day be like Archimedes’ Lever, positioned to move something really big?  Is it doing more than our perspective allows us to see?  My questions are shaped by a belief that the spiritual reality of the Universe is more vast and more real than the realm of our physical perceptions and measurements.  More specifically, is my conviction of a deeply interconnected relationship between everything we see and do in a physical sense with the unimagined unseen vastness of God’s goodness.  I believe creation and our place in it is, in a manner of speaking, a technology God gave us to engage the invitation to know and worship Him.  It was shattered almost immediately, it would seem, but through the finished work of the Cross, Christ established reconciliation.  (This is not a sermon, nor am I trying to prove anything, its just about a drawing and I’m leaving so much out!)

So, I think about that original invitation:  to labor in creation before “the Fall”, but there is more in that idea than my hopeless facility with language is up for.  Because it means tinkering intimately with the voice and breath of the King of the Universe, His output, His design.  It is like Thomas putting his finger in the side of Jesus, exploring. 

Everything is Spiritual

Everything is spiritual, because it was created by Him.  What am I really doing when I plant a tree, work in the soil, plane a board, move sheep, or make a drawing?  I adopted a monastic prayer decades ago:  “Jesus make the work of my hands into a prayer.”  It has evolved at times to, “Jesus make the work of my hands into worship.”  I know that I cannot.  I may be moving into the realms of heresy with that prayer- among other things.  At least may it be for His kingdom.  At least may it be for His glory.  How can I not worship Him when everything I touch and see was made by Him, and becomes part of our relationship?  If it is true, than the earth and everything that is in it is more sacred that we can possibly imagine, and it is laced with the fear of the Lord, in spite of everything that we have done to corrupt it, and in spite of everything God’s ancient enemy has done to corrupt it.  For the love of God!, all creation groans!  How long, Lord? (ok, that felt a bit like a sermon.)

Sonship & Apprenticeship

Work is a teacher.  The dynamic in this drawing that could sum up what the School of the Transfer of Energy is all about (though it is essentially about everything) is the sonship/apprenticeship of man to God in the field of the Earth.  The son/apprentice has the dignity of his learning being a part of something real, something bigger than his own mind and sphere.  He labors with discipline beside a father and master, absorbing more than can be said or written.  He sees the care and the purpose unfold on a daily basis.  He moves from confusion to understanding as more of the process is revealed to him through practice and living.  In a whole system, work is the technology of the teacher, the school and the relationship.  To work is being a daughter and a son.  It is also being a mother and a father.  

Rest

I can’t stop.  Sometimes I feel that I am made to work to such a degree that I cant stop until I’ve used myself up.  I admit it’s not the most balanced perspective, and it often surfaces when I’m neck deep in lambs or hay, or  stacked up projects.  I’ve been accused of working too hard, never sitting still, never resting.  There is the burden of my wealth of gifts and resources, the annual flood of ideas and inspiration, and the endless need of the world.  There is so much I desire to make and build and accomplish, which has resulted in a life-long struggle with the concept of “rest” in the sabbatical sense.  I am not good at it.  That is one perspective.  On the other hand, it could be that rest is inherent to labor.  The sleep of the labourer is sweet, whether he have eaten little or much.  Ecyclesiastes 5:12. 

The rest, then, is intertwined with labor.  Holistically speaking, it is “natural”.  It is woven in the fabric in the same way that the spiritual is with the physical (picture a well marbled steak or a vein of silver in a rock face).  The sabbath is part of the weave of the week., and also of the agricultural “week of years”.  In this way rest starts to become something that measures and punctuates, more about a pace or a cadence, a governor for the laborer’s engine.   

I wish I had language to talk about the sacredness of “body mechanics”:  how to dig a hole, how to bend properly, posture, etc., and how doing them properly integrates rest into the system.  How it isn’t just mundane, but part of our design and thus beautiful and “sacred”.

The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor, preliminary sketch.

Symbolism

By being about so much, this image is sort of a repository for many symbols I think about and use.  Tools themselves become symbols and can’t help but transform into speaking objects.  Saying their words and singing their songs about the work they do, and how they do it with grace and beauty, or lamenting how they must do it with heaviness and sadness.  The axe, the shovel, the pen… every symbol unlocks a door to another world. 

Then are the endless books of the trees and roots.  How growing trees lead me into appreciation of the seeming contentment of God to develop and grow things slowly (from my perspective).  Trees remind me that it is not about me, but about my children and their children, and the people I can’t foresee.  The 100 year or 200 year farm plan.  And there is more, there is so much more- but language can’t say it.  Only trees can say it.

There are more symbols, so many more it is mind numbing and I just can’t go on.  Another time, perhaps.

The Sanctuary

At first this little building was something I wanted to build on my dad’s land, when I was attempting the hermit’s life there.  I made drawings of it and multiple block prints functioning as prayers, asking God if it was something I could make.  I was truly desperate to build something that mattered, that could bring Him a tangible expression of glory.  It has yet to manifest, though I’ve always wondered about the sanctuary as I’ve aged.  Was it only a spiritual building?   Is it something that He is building me into?  Is it my cumulative life’s work?  Is it a foolish dream?  Idolatry, even?  Maybe I need to be older and more experienced to build it?  Can I build it now, on my own land?  

sketch of the Sanctuary from June of 2000

I was intrigued to see it resurface in this new drawing.  I can’t say I know why, but i’m asking.  As a symbol it represents much, but perhaps most significantly, of my desperate struggle to make my work into a prayer:  to tangibly engage with God on the physical space, my world, of paper, wood, soil, and pigments about what is in my heart – the relationship and the meeting place.  I’m on the earth grappling with heaven, or am I from heaven grappling with the earth?  I don’t know, but I am not among those who say we are just sojourner’s here, that we are just “passing through”.  I get it, and it is probably true, but I just can’t say it.  I live here, and I can’t ignore that it is part of His design.  

2003 print of The Sanctuary first printed in 2000

Perhaps this weaving of work and rest is the sanctuary?  I have more questions than answers.  Which is why I am on my knees.  Which is why I am making this drawing.  And which is why I work.   I do not know where else to go.

another print from 2000 about the Sanctuary, reprinted in 2003 

In Gratis

I have been doing this weblog for twelve years, which may be a pretty long time.  I haven’t offered much in the way of words in that time.  I’ve felt lately that I need to begin to venture into that territory.   Words tend to terrify me a bit.  I don’t always like them, because they never do what I want them to do.  They always leave me short, and feeling a little cheap or fraudulent.  I write one thing, then immediately see it from another perspective, so I write that, then it moves on me again, and it never ends.  Eventually I have to settle, knowing that I’ve said one thing that may or may not be true, but I’ve left greater multitudes unsaid.  I have failed.  That is what writing is to me, a perpetual string of failures, which is really unsatisfying.  So I have avoided taking that risk.  Until now.

Elie Wiesel wrote down this quote of the Kotzker speaking to a disciple:

Certain experiences may be transmitted by language, others- more profound- by silence; and then there are those that cannot be transmitted, not even by silence.  Never mind.  Who says that experiences are made to be shared?  They must be lived.  That’s all.  And who says that the truth is made to be revealed?  It must be sought.  That is all…

Thanks for reading, friends.  Thank you for your mercy and your grace and your acceptance.  Be at peace.

-Jack

The Rich Story of Carved Lines

Usually the prints I make are deeply personal illustrations of my heart, vision and journey.  From the early days printmaking has been, to me, a form of prayer, offering up to the Father layers of concern and expression of things I do not often fully comprehend.  Within that context is a platform to explore the visualization of spiritual concepts, revelations and principles- basically a blundering effort to make the unseen seen on some level.  I wonder that I am taken up with making a “graven image”  and how that settles with the second commandment (Exodus 20 verse 4 if you are interested).  Hopefully, what I am making are objects that are doors or windows that might lead one into worship, certainly they are far from worshipful in themselves.  I take comfort that the Merciful One will ultimately be the judge of my heart on this one.

These images here, are a divergence in a way, in that, they are the mixture of my expression and visual language with the story and purpose of two other entities.  The first of those is Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic GuitarsHe has been building these beautifully crafted and, by all accounts, almost magically sounding guitars for five years now.  The resulting print will be the certificate of authenticity that will be presented with every instrument that he sells.  Matt is passionate about story and building rich relationships with his customers, and he invests personal expression into every instrument.  His sense of story has been woven together with mine here, I hope.

On a technical level, I am always in an attempt to push myself past where I was before in my work. It may only be in a way that is visible to my own eye. With printmaking I compose a design and I wonder if I will be able to pull it off- if the level of detail will translate as a small mammal, or a vine, or a bird- or just a confused tangle of ink. Many times it has resulted in the confused tangle. This print for Matt has tons of this risk built into the design, and I think his spirit has elevated me, because I somehow feel a door has been unlocked.  Of course, I really won’t know until the ink hits the paper- but there is hope that these tiny branches will be able to speak.

The second entity is the musical trio Sister Sinjin.  My good friend Elizabeth Duffy is part of this group of women who sing devotedly to the glory and love of God.  This image from this block will become the cover art for their upcoming record.  The contemplative spirit of their music really seems to offer a counterpoint to the industrious detail of the print I’m making for Matt.  I’ve noticed and appreciated the contrast as I have been working back and forth between these two blocks.  The quite offering of the woman and the persistent labor of the plowman.  Both have offered a lot of opportunity to grow and develop and express, and I am grateful.  There are many photographs of the carving process below, which is still underway in both cases, though I am nearly done with the Sister Sinjin block.

A Profile in Plough Quarterly

My family and our work were humbled to be featured in the most recent edition of Plough Quarterly.  There is a profile by Susannah Black, and a feature on Go On: Inner Man Version, an altarpiece I made back in 2003, and also an excerpt of my responses to some questions about our lifestyle, called Farming the Universe.  If you choose to take the time to read some or all of them, I sincerely hope that you enjoy them.

Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, closed position

Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, open position

 

This Dirt Is Older Than I, or Elizabeth Duffy’s Witness

Nigh on two years ago I received an email from Elizabeth Duffy, a writer from Indiana, wanting to ask me a few questions about my art for her blog at Patheos.  She sent questions and I sent back my answers.  It went on for three or four months like that, and trust was built.  In the end she shared our interview in four parts on her blog.  Meanwhile Elizabeth felt the fruit of our dialogue merited a wider audience, and she went in quest.  Image Journal took the bet, and Elizabeth went to work.

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I owe a debt to Elizabeth, but not necessarily for publishing an article about me in a magazine, although, that too is cool, and I expect that the measure of artistic validation it lends me is not insignificant.  It is for her time and her witness that I am grateful, it is for her trustworthiness.  I suspect most artists wonder, like me, if all the labor and turmoil that goes into making art, which purports to have emerged from a deep place in the created heart, is not the dead end of futility that it so often seems to be.  I know at least that it matters to Elizabeth, so much so that she built a soap box and voiced it to as large an audience as she could muster.  More sacred, she proved her trust with those treasures in my heart which I was able to share with her.  That carries weight.  Thank you Elizabeth.  You came along side me and we plowed together.  We even made the cover.

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You can read the article online if you wish, or even buy the whole journal it here.

With genuine authenticity (I know it’s redundant) and authentic hunger, Elizabeth writes for a variety of different outlets, including Image Journal’s blog, Good Letters.   The best place to start and catch most of it, is at her personal blog.

Holy, the Lesser Saints

holy, the lesser saints35
the lesser saints

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weave their quiet

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agile stories

holy, the lesser saints09
amongst the lives

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of greater lights

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holy, the lesser saints

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the color

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upon their brows

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they do not cry out

holy, the lesser saints04
they do not turn

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hearts raised like rafters

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heavenward

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forever orbiting

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tireless in quest

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the sphere of your glory

holy, the lesser saints10
to enter and remain

holy, the lesser saints08
bring newer life

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from ancient tribes

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all in anticipation

holy, the lesser saints14
groaning in the yearning

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their own eternal ribbon voice

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those who have ears…

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let them hear

holy, the lesser saints11
holy, the lesser saints

holy, the lesser saints24
bring your longing

holy, the lesser saints20
bring your capacity

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for fullness

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in the life of the soil

holy, the lesser saints34
countless prophets

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behold and know

holy, the lesser saints33
see and have understanding

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awaken, members of wholeness

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you are provision

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you are appointed

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little lights, you are His

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lesser saints

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holding up mountains

holy, the lesser saints13
echoes of distant voice

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priests of the eternal present

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fierce and strange

holy, the lesser saints37
are the quiet ones

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in silent witness

holy, the lesser saints19
givers of the heart of God

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receiving and giving from the heart of God

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celebrating mystery in plain-ness

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in infinite variety and order

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teach the spiritual truths of rest and labor

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sweat and awe

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all from silent knees and horns

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in the unending world, glory will be known forever

Go On, Bezalel

Go On, Bezalel6

“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills…” Exodus 31: 2 & 3.

Go On, Bezalel3Bezalel is kind of an early renaissance man, thousands of years before Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, or Durer.  More importantly he was faithful to God’s design of him as a craftsman.  He was  found worthy to build the design of God concerning the tabernacle and all of its parts.  As a craftsman and artist, it is hard to comprehend anything so significant to my earthly labors as to manifest on earth something that was authored in the very heart and mind of God.  Go On, Bezalel5

Go On, Bezalel7

Elizabeth Duffy asked me about influences and progenitors in her interview with me last year.  Here is an excerpt of my response pertaining to Bezalel:  I hope, maybe, to be in the line of Bezalel, who fashioned so much for the tabernacle, making the sacred things that were part of the “technology” of worship of His God for his community. Personally, I couldn’t ask for more than that. Bezalel is valuable as a paradigm of an artisan of broad experience and skill. He could work in many trades and arts with skill worthy of God’s Tabernacle. My good friend reminds me of the value of a man of that breadth of experience and skill in contrast to a culture that places a premium on experts of high degree in a single field. When I wonder if I am hurting myself by embracing so many disciplines, I am grateful for Bezalel and his place in God’s story, and a few other men I have encountered who are champions of excellence in this way.Go On, Bezalel1 The drawing, an imagining of a portion of Bezalel’s tent-workshop, started two or three years ago, finally over the past two months I was able to finish it.  It is composed along the lines of another drawing, Go On, Adam, Breathe.  An potential series of drawings?  The drawing to me feels so limited, compared to the vastness of what could be explored and depicted, as a task to learn about Bezalel, his labors, and his relationship to his God.

Go On, Bezalel4

An Interview With Elizabeth Duffy

detail of Go On, John the Baptist, oil on panel, 2008
detail of Go On, John the Baptist, oil on panel, 2008

Elizabeth Duffy has been posting parts of an interview she began with me last spring and summer.  To date, this interview consistutes the clearest and really, only articulation of the beliefs and values behind my work.  I hope that you will take the time to read it.  The interview will ultimately be posted in it entirety on this site, but for now, here is part 1, part llpart lll, and the final bit part lV.  Please take the time to read some of Elizabeth’s writing as well.  She is authentic, humorous, and insightful.  Her wit and self-effacing style reveal a woman on a significant journey with valuable things to say.