Preparing to be a minister, I learned Greek. I can read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the original language. I wish that I had learned carpentry. I wonder how often, after a day filled with words, weary of conversations and beatitudes and mountainside sermons, Jesus turned to his carpentry tools. While the disciples circled up with their after-dinner wine, to discuss the day’s encounter with the rich young ruler, I see Jesus retreating to the workshop with plane and adz.
I love words. Putting things into words is what I do. “What’s the sermon about this week, Preacher?” “Pastor, would you lead us in prayer?” “Dr. Fry, can I ask you a question?” I give people words. Sometimes I wish I could put things into my hands. Like a carpenter with a chisel.
Early yesterday morning, the day after our friend died, Bill and I sat just outside the stables on The Farm, gazing across the field that glittered like diamonds in the morning dew. Our friend had died suddenly. The woman he loved had kissed him goodbye, then spent the day at work, not knowing until she returned home to find him that her world had ended. We sat mostly in silence. What could words add? My knowledge of the original Greek was no help to either of us.
“Too wet to mow that hay,” Bill observed. “I’m getting way behind, but we’ve had so much rain all I can do is wait for it to dry.” I nodded in affirmation, aware that he was speaking both of hay and of tears.
After the hundredth deep sigh, I rose to leave. “Can I show you something?” Bill asked as we reached his truck. He pulled out a small box. “Ever collect arrowheads?” he asked. Hasn’t every boy who grew up in the southern mountains? He opened the box. “I’ve stopped collecting them. Now I make them.” Thirty sharp triangles of flint, quartz, and antler. Some large enough to stop a bear; some the size of babies’ teeth, all Bill-made works of art. “Hold that one up to the sun,” he ordered. It sparkled like a kaleidoscope.
I put things into words; Bill puts things into his hands. Creating arrowheads, chipping away at stone and flint to create shapes, Bill has a capacity for touching truth that is beyond my grasp. Bracing myself against the assault of grief, I had felt my heart harden up like a neglected lump of Play-Doh. I needed to work through the loss, and knew I had to work it, not talk about it.
The memorial service will be held in a few days. I will be asked to lead it, to speak a few words, and it will be an honor to do so. I hope my words are of some help. This morning, I think I’ll stop by The Farm and ask Bill if I can have an arrowhead to carry in my pocket as I speak.