Greetings from Lima! We are full of joy as we write, knowing that the work that God is doing in us, in each and every circumstance, is part of a good and perfect plan “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). This month our sabbatical is starting, and we have been transitioning into this place for a number of months.
Allow us to share an old story with you that has been significant for us as we have begun walking towards sabbatical.
Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand of precious wood. When it was finished, all who saw it were astounded. They said it must be the work of spirits. The Prince of Lu said to the master carver: “What is your secret?”
Khing replied: “I am only a workman: I have no secret. There is only this: when I began to think about the work you commanded I guarded my spirit, did not expend it on trifles, that were not to the point. I fasted in order to set my heart at rest. After three days fasting, I had forgotten gain and success. After five days I had forgotten praise or criticism. After seven days I had forgotten my body with all its limbs.
“By this time all thought of your Highness and of the court had faded away. All that might distract me from the work had vanished. I was collected in the single thought of the bell stand.
“Then I went to the forest to see the trees in their own natural state. When the right tree appeared before my eyes, the bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt. All I had to do was to put forth my hand and begin.
“If I had not met this particular tree there would have been no bell stand at all.
“What happened? My own collected thought encountered the hidden potential in the wood; from this live encounter came the work which you ascribe to the spirits.”
Among the many important lessons that we can learn from this short story is the inner work that we all are required to do before we can do anything of value for others. Many people have commented on how in the story the woodcarver was commanded by a Prince to make a bell stand, and that to fail to produce a work of high standards would have meant certain punishment, possibly death. The stakes were high indeed. But the woodcarver is said to have “guarded,” or taken care of, his spirit. He fasted to “put his heart at rest.” And then spent a period of time “forgetting” about external pressures and worries. He was doing an important inner work.
The woodcarver also displays a certain costly trust in finding the right tree, as he says, “if I had not met this particular tree, there would have been no bell stand at all.” Author Parker Palmer, in his book The Active Life, says that the woodcarver was so free from the expectations of others and the pressure to produce that “he was willing to risk no results whatsoever.”
Anna Monteviller, WMF Peru’s National Director, shared a devotional with our community recently about the biblical parable Christ tells about the sowers and reapers. She emphasized what is clearly stated in the story, but something that we often lose sight of in life and ministry. The gospel of John, chapter 4, verse 36 says that those who reap are already “drawing their wages,” and the purpose is “so that the sower and reaper may be glad together.” God is always moving us towards a spiritual life, a life that is committed to God’s will, reign, and purposes above all else. This changes our perspective and focuses our efforts on God’s common cause.
We can find in the freedom of the woodcarver to “risk no results whatsoever” a parallel in Christ’s call to “take up our cross and follow me.” Among the many ways in which the cross of Christ is central to any authentic spiritual life, is that taking up the cross is a way of a life lived with the integrity of being committed to God’s will and purposes and free from the pressure to produce, to be effective or to change others. Many of the sowers in history remain unknown to us. Many sowers were persecuted, and martyred. Many who sow are not around when the harvest comes. The cross of Christ, before it became a victory, appeared to almost everyone as a great defeat. Palmer, once again referencing the woodcarver, says that those who live this way, “never come up empty-handed, even when they do not meet the right tree. Finally what they are crafting is not bell stands or justice or peace. They are crafting themselves. And the sort of selves they are becoming is their finest contribution to the increase of peace and justice and beauty in this world.” We might add to this that the inner work is not only something that we do, but in faith we believe that it is God at work in us, molding us into the likeness of Christ. (II Corinthian 3:18) This work of God, available to all, makes sowers and reapers so full of gladness that those around ask, “What is your secret?”
We hope that this reflection blesses you.
Thank you for your prayers and support.