There was a striking moment at a recent London Livery Company event when ‘the Master Carpenter’ was called forward - striking at least for those familiar with and fond of the prayer (either produced by or at least popularised by the Iona Community):
O Christ, the Master Carpenter,
who at the last, through wood and nails,
purchased our whole salvation;
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
so that we, who come rough-hewn to your bench,
may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand.
We thought of it again the other day when a visitor mentioned the theme of her church’s summer Holiday Club as being ‘the Master Gardener’, so I had a first go at rewriting the prayer for my own benefit:
Risen Christ, first taken for a gardener,
who had by then, through tears and sweat,
tilled our whole salvation;
wield well your tools in the wastes of your world,
so that we, who are sown in rough ground,
may here be nurtured to a fruitful beauty by your hand.
So much depends on context.
The Iona Community began in the 1930s with trainee Scots Presbyterian Ministers working alongside unemployed Glasgow craftsmen, just as Anglican Industrial Mission began in the 1940s in Sheffield factories from which the Church of England felt fatally disconnected, and the Catholic Church established a feast of Joseph the Worker in the 1950s (on May Day, which was being widely celebrated as International Workers’ Day). So the fresh and pressing images included God as craftman, Christ as master carpenter, the world as a workshop, and our Christian living as being forged.
Meanwhile, most of a century later, it is ‘master gardener’ which caught our attention; my wife recalled a recent radio item which suggested precisely that that the job of parents is more like being a gardener than a carpenter, and I recalled a recent article suggesting that images for training wild horses has shifted from those involving things like ‘breaking in’ to those involving things like ‘horse whispering’. Our sympathy moves towards images of nurture and fostering growth. We know the biblical image of God as potter re-shaping at will, but we prefer the more common New Testament image of God as sower and patient farmer.
The pictures are the details from my new favourite window which I’ve used on a recent service sheet (which is why they are in black and white).
Added 3rd September:
I’ve now seen reviews of Alison Gopnik’s The Gardener and the Carpenter which is clearly what was being discussed on the radio recently.
A better written version of this post might well have had the same title.
It would have highlighted her plea that bringing up children should be a form of love rather than a form of work, a form of care rather than a form of goal-orientated labour.
It would have been clearer that this seems to be closer to how God works with us (and might have gone on to suggest that church ‘mission statements’ and ‘growth strategies’ ought to be closer to this too).
It would have been clearer that there is an vital and separate point about the way the cultural assumptions around us seduce us (the dominance of narrow targets is one side of this coin, and the possibility that future generations will see an emphasis on growth through playful exploration and messy results as being equally cultural conditioned might be the other side of the same coin).