Recent archeological discoveries indicate that our ancestors first developed the ability to make tools about 3.3 million years ago. The earliest tools have the appearance of sharp stone flakes, and they were used to separate the meat of animals from bones. Our ability to craft tools distinguishes humans from lower animal species. In many ways, the use of tools defines us as human beings.
I’ve inherited quite a few tools over the years. Some well over a hundred years old passed down to me from my great-grandfather who was a carpenter. At times I treasure my tools. Finding that I have just the perfect Allen wrench to loosen a tiny socket head screw can be really satisfying. At other times, I’ve thought of tossing a hammer in the trash after I have brought it down squarely on an exposed thumb. Sometimes, I’m not very careful with my tools. I’ve found screwdrivers and grass clippers left outside for months. Once in a while, when I can’t get a tool to work just the way I want it to, I’ve been known to fuss at it so loudly and angrily that Lori, my wife, has to intercede to get me to chill out. These days the tool that often irritates me the most is my laptop when it is slower than I want it to be, or it gets stuck and requires a reboot.
I was recently thumbing through a book by the Benedictine Nun, Joan Chittister called Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. She mentioned Chapter 31 of the Rule of Saint Benedict which gives directions to the Cellarer of the monastery. The Cellarer is sort of the Chief Financial Officer of the Monastery. He’s the guy who takes care of the “worldly” things so that the other monks can focus on their work, worship, and prayer. Among other tasks, the Cellarer is instructed by the Rule to: “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected.” As the face of the monastery to the community, he is also instructed to “…show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests, and the poor.”
The message conveyed by Benedict’s Rule is that every person, every utensil, every object, everything we encounter is entrusted to us to hold with reverence and great care as if it were a sacred vessel to be offered to God on the altar. This brings to mind the Prologue of John’s Gospel where he says, “All things came into being” through Christ who is the eternal Word of God.
Seeing those people and things that we encounter each waking moment of our lives as a sacred vessel entrusted to our care by God can radically change our world view. We are not put on this earth to treat people, our planet, our possessions as if they were created only to gratify our needs and desires. Rather, we are to treat all people and hold all things with great care, respect, and love for they were put into our safekeeping by none other than Christ himself. This way of living makes every waking moment Monday through Saturday as Holy and important as anything we do on Sunday morning.
A final note. Joan Chittister points out in her book that the Benedictine worldview calls for us to be gentle with others, with the earth, with our things and…. with ourselves. You and I are “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7) in which the Holy Spirit of God dwells. We are deeply loved by God, and we should treat ourselves with reverence and great care too. As a friend of mine, a United Church of Christ Pastor, often says, “God doesn’t make junk.”
Deacon Vern Cahoon+