The Suttle family is on vacation right now, actually more of a stay-cation. We’re sticking close to home this year and doing some work on our house. We haven’t touched our spare bedroom since we moved in ten years ago and the room could use some care. So my project for the vacation has been to completely redo the room from a spare bedroom and convert it into a study room for the family. Every day I get up, run, and eat breakfast as usual. But instead of going to work in an office, I’ve headed up to scrape ceilings, paint walls, scrape windows install cabinets and desktops.
I’ve been reflecting a little bit on what it’s like to work with my hands for awhile, instead of my head. Richard Rohr sometimes says that the key to healthy spiritual life is to somehow get out of the top three inches of our body. We need faith to be a full body blow, not just an intellectual exercise. This often happens naturally as we experience either great pain, or great love (which is a kind of voluntary pain). The other way is through contemplation – which usually means some sort of Christian meditative practice like centering prayer, or the Jesus Prayer. This week I’ve been experiencing that in a whole new way.
My whole life is spent inside my head. I’m constantly interacting with words and language, much of it silently, which is to say that it is all happening inside my brain. I’m not convinced this kind of life is entirely healthy. I sometimes worry that I may actually believe that thoughts, ideas, and words are the real substance of my faith – the baseline of reality – instead of my body. It’s been good to get out of my head and back into my body for an extended period of time.
One thing I’m learning this week is that once you jack something up in the physical world,, it’s just jacked up. If I mess up a blog post, I can correct it. If I mess up something in writing, there are multiple stages of editing where it all gets fixed. The mental world is really safe. There are lots of checks and balances and safety measures. The physical world is not that way at all.
One of the things I’m doing is making a wall desk. I made the desk top out of plywood with a birch veneer. The desk is about 10 feet long, which means I couldn’t make it out of a 4×8 sheet. I’d have to make a joint in the middle somewhere. I used factory cut edges and joined it together with braces. I planned for it to rest on one of the cabinets so it would be easy to make it flush. The joint came together well. I used wood putty to fill the cracks and started sanding before I put a finish on it. In trying to make it all sit flush across the joint, I made a mistake. I sanded the front edge of the joint surface too much & went through the plywood. I could cut out the section and try to patch it back. I could scrap it and start it all completely over. I could try to cover over it with a new veneer. But I don’t have that kind of time or money. It’s done. It’s just going to look wrong.
Now, I know that this is a complete room make-over. I scraped popcorn ceilings, put new paint on every surface, painted and re-installed the trim, new built-in bookcases, installed cabinets, re-routed some electronics, and tons of other small things; I think it all looks pretty good. But all I can see is this little three inch section on the edge of the desk where I blew it. Something is wrong with me.
It’s good to have to live with something that is broken, something that bothers me. I mean, I walk into the room and that tiny flaw is the first thing I see. In the context of the whole room, it’s really no big deal. But kills me to know I messed something up unnecessarily. I realize there are things about myself, things about other people that I focus on in this same way. I’m being forced to learn to resist the temptation to try and fix everything as though it is possible to have everything properly in its place with no flaws or vulnerabilities… it’s never going to happen – not in the physical, intellectual, communal, or personal world. It took getting out of my head and into my body to remind me of this truth.