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Tammie Grimm ~ The Work of Our Hands: Celtic Christianity & the Way of Wesley

I am “old school.” I freely admit it. When it comes to writing, whether it be drafting a letter or revising a doctoral thesis (and I have done both in the last year) I would rather sit down with paper and pencil than a laptop or tablet. Turns out, studies indicate, I am not alone; there is something about the mind-body connection that allows for deeper processing of thought and concept. That is important for me when it comes to the creation of thought and presentation of idea, but I am not a complete throwback. There are times when sitting down and pounding out my thoughts through my fingers on the keyboard allows me to keep pace with the flow of thoughts in my brain and not to be slowed down by them as my hand struggles to keep up. When it came to making minor edits in my thesis, I was ever so grateful my doctoral thesis is stored in a cloud and could easily be corrected with a few keystrokes. So my preference for drafting with pen and paper does not mean I do not appreciate the ease and convenience of electronic writing. I suppose that makes me a “wryter”—a hybrid of writer and typist.

Writing and typing are both physical acts; words are generated onto a page. Research suggests that writing by hand allows a person to do analysis and concept mapping* that is foregone in the action of typing when the emphasis is on copying and capturing words verbatim in a streamline form. In other words, writing by hand allows our brains to operate with generative ability that is stifled when it comes to typing through a keyboard. There is something about using our hands that allows us to create in ways that are important to how we think, reason, and function as human beings.

The Celtic tradition reflects this integration of mind, body and soul. Whether it be the kneading of bread, the weaving of cloth, the shearing of sheep or the plowing of fields, there is a mind and body synergy that allows the worker to engage the craft in such a way that their work becomes a prayer. They found a richness in the rhythms of their lives as the patterns of their daily life and work formed prayers. As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, these prayers accompanied the physical labor that resulted in a lifestyle in which people sought to cooperate with God in the work that they did. A prayer the farmer offered for his livestock as he set them afield was not for his physical stamina to do the chore, but sought the welfare and protection of his herd:

Pastures smooth, long, and spreading,
Grassy meads neath your feet,
The friendship of God the Son to bring you home
To the field of the fountains,
     Field of the fountains.

Closed be every pit to you,
Smoothed be every knoll to you,
Cosy every exposure to you,
Beside the cold mountain,
     Beside the cold mountain.

The care of Peter and of Paul,
The care of James and of John,
The care of Bride fair and of Mary Virgin,
To meet you and tend you,
     Oh! the care of all the band
     To protect you and to strengthen you.

The farmer understood that his cattle, his sheep, his goats, his crops depended upon more than the elements and his steadfast caretaking, they depended on the protection of the One who created them, the Triune God of the universe. He knew that his family’s welfare depended upon a successful and bountiful harvest whether his fields helped stock the stalls of the butcher, the weaver, the tailor or the baker.

Considering the ways of the Celtic Christian is not some nostalgia for old ways of doing things, nor is it meant to demean our contemporary culture and the modern conveniences that come with it. Electronic innovation allow us to enjoy hands-free mobile devices and voice-activated technologies in every space of our lives. But in the temptation to reach new high scoring quotas to one-up our competition, whether they be adversaries or friends, many of us engage in mindless busy work at the expense of our souls. Though Dilbert, Office Space and The Office are designed to entertain us and make us laugh, how many of us truly ask for God’s help in our daily work—and not just as a desperate prayer to get us through a mandatory meeting or a looming deadline?  How many of us have a definitive line that separates our work and career from our personal life, rarely mixing the two together? I wonder if, as sophisticated twenty-first century people, we really envision our lives as contributing to a tapestry that is woven together and endlessly creative as opposed to a cog in a machine that endlessly spins and turns until enough widgets have been produced.

Many prayers of the Celtic Christian sought God’s blessing upon their labour. Each prayer, whether it was said by the woman who started the fire or churned the butter, or the man who laid the bricks or tended the fields, were a unique expression of the Psalmist who prays, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:7). Collectively, their prayers are mindful that their work is not theirs alone but that their work is given to them by God so that they might contribute back to the whole of creation.

No doubt, the modern day labor force is varied and defies simple classification no matter what color collar that represents a chosen field. It is highly unlikely that one single Celtic prayer will necessarily encompass all the possible workplaces we might inhabit. But it is entering into and going about our daily work that draws us together. The following Celtic prayer, traditionally said upon rising in the morning, elaborates the cry of the Psalmist and reminds the worker that their work is done in the presence of God and for the whole of creation. How might it change your work day if prayed before you started your shift? Before you entered that meeting? Before you met with that client? Before you tackled a mountain of paperwork?

Let us go forth,
In the goodness of our merciful Father,
In the gentleness of our brother Jesus,
In the radiance of his Holy Spirit,
In the faith of the apostles,
In the joyful praise of the angels,
In the holiness of the saints,
In the courage of the martyrs.

Let us go forth,
In the wisdom of our all-seeing Father,
In the patience of our all-loving brother,
In the truth of our all-knowing Spirit,
In the learning of the apostles,
In the gracious guidance of the angels,
In the patience of the saints,
In the self-control of the martyrs,

Such is the path for all servants of Christ,
The path from death to life.


*[1] Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking” Psychological Science 25, April 23, 2014: 1159-1168.