“Jesus was a carpenter,” I point out.
“Yes, but God is a potter,” my wife, Madeline, counters.
We are discussing the limited room in our shed. She has a kiln she wants to keep there, and I have a new drill press I want to setup. Since we’re both Episcopal priests, these decisions tend to take on biblical proportions.
“God created humanity from clay, and that’s not just in Genesis, that’s in the Quran too. ‘Clay is the source of life on this planet. The first DNA was formed in the crystals of clay!’” Maddie plays the interfaith card and ends with a quote from Paulus Berensohn, the iconic ceramist and dancer she studied with at the Penland School of Craft.
“The way of carpentry is the way of the Buddha,” I retort.
“Who said that?” she calls my bluff.
“Nick Offerman,” I admit, “but I’m pretty sure he got it from his Zen Buddhist mentor.” For those unfamiliar, Nick Offerman is the actor who plays Ron Swanson on the sitcom "Parks and Recreation". The kiln stayed in the shed, but because my wife recognized our overall wellness depends on each of us having a creative outlet, she helped me clear a space for the drill press in the garage.
As both my wife and I can attest, clergy burnout is a real thing. Compassion fatigue is a real thing, as is spiritual bankruptcy. Wherever you worship or practice, there’s a good chance your imam, rabbi, pastor, priest, priestess, minister, or head of your faith community could use a little help staying well. Making sure they get enough time off is paramount, but after that, providing the time and resources for them to throw a pot, turn a bowl, knit a blanket, paint a picture, or prune a bonsai will do wonders for their souls.
When the going gets tough for me, I picture Jesus sneaking away to pray and whittle. Or Paul of Tarsus taking a day off from preaching to just sit and stitch tent flaps with some friends (an ancient precursor to every church’s knitting circle). Or Lydia, after a long day of running a business and sheltering Christians, losing herself in dyeing a scarf. The single-tasking, concrete work of craft stills the mind and calms the body, while the inspirational, incarnational reality of creating reconnects us to the divine, and reorients us to the noble path.
Ask your clergy about their creative outlets, and then enable them to take part in that craft. Get them pottery wheel time at Laguna Gloria. Buy them a pass to a Makerspace, or a gift card to the Natural Gardner.
To paraphrase Nick Offerman, “the way of art is the way of faith,” so support your faith leaders in practicing their sketching, cooking, photography, or music.
I’d add, “the way of art is also the way of healing.” So it follows that every person under stress would benefit from the creativity that art provides.
Crafting can also be a healer for veterans. Thanks to a generous grant from the St. Matthew’s Endowment Fund and a partnership with the Austin Tinkering School, veterans have the chance to heal by creating wooden shadowboxes for free. In the spirit of the Fourth of July, and in acknowledgment of the selfless service that brings out the best in our nation, if you’re a military veteran, a Peace Corps veteran, or a first responder, and you want to build your own shadowbox for free, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll have you crafting in no time.
The Rev. Christian Hawley is a priest at St Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Austin, a military veteran, and he loves the smell of sawdust. You can follow him on instagram @buddyhawley. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.