by Alison McGrath
Where are you Lord? I have an invitation to join you in your home, but I don’t know where that is, what that is. Are you in an adobe house, a little box like the ones in the Christmas story books? Are you in a council house, a tower-block flat among the twenty-first century poor, or are you the itinerant Christ, making do in the plastic sheeting shelter of a refugee camp? Where can I find you? Where do you wait for me?
Too many words. Too many questions. I am worrying and thinking too much about this invitation and what to do with it. I know that wherever I am you are too, so there is no need to search for you. I must simply stop and rest so that you can reach out to me, take me to where I need to be. Stop and breathe . . . be still and know that I am God . . . be still and know that I am God . . . be still . . .
I hear the rustle of leaves, a breeze on my face; dappled light dances across my eyelids and you take my hand. My eyes are opened, and we are under a tree on a sunny day, walking across the parched and dusty grass towards a simple wooden house. A porch runs the length of the building sheltering a treadle lathe, wooden stools and tables stacked against the walls, a work bench with a half-finished project. Curls of fresh wood shaving blow in the breeze. Stepping through the door I breathe deeply of cedar and pine, rich, warm scents of life and of making. The light is dim and restful. You draw up a small rush-seated stool for me before changing your mind and leading me to a beautifully carved rocking chair in the corner. It is made of hard wood, but moulds to me like the comfort of a feather bed. You bring me a pillow, a blanket in gaily woven stripes and through an open door I can see the loom from which they came – Mary’s loom.
‘Sit here,’ you tell me. ‘Be still . . . you are safe . . . you are loved . . . this is where I made you.’ I sit drowsily watching as you turn to your work bench; there is the swish of iron on wood, the sudden powerful scent released as shavings peel away to the floor, the dance of golden sawdust in a beam of light from a high window. This is the place where I was made, in the home that Joseph built for Mary and for you.
Beyond the sway of your robe, the strong swing of your arms, beneath the solidity of the work bench, I see a cradle, an echo of the manger but lovingly made for a child – for me. It is the place you made for me when I was in my mother’s womb. For a while I am swaddled in soft blankets, rocking in the cradle, not the chair, as you loom above me, busy about your own work but infinitely present to me – for me. Outside, the universe turns around this safe space, all the work of your hands. Here I am at its centre with you. I am infinitely small, a speck against the vast beauty of your creation that spirals out from this humble workshop, and yet here I am, held in the cradle you have made for me, loved and known . . . precious in your eyes.
The gentle rocking continues, and I am wrapped up safely in my chair again. Looking up above your head I see more furniture, decorated with intricate carvings – tiny noses and ears peak out from leaf and flower, ear of wheat and curve of grape. There are simple tools with perfectly turned handles and I marvel to think of the ordinariness of these objects, destined for the hands of friend, neighbour, customer. They will be everyday objects for their owners, to be used without thought, discarded when they break with no understanding of the divinity who shaped them. What will remain of the Carpenter’s making when I am born? In my time a simple broom or stool fashioned by your hands would be encased in gold, honoured with incense, venerated by crowds, and yet your making continues in me and in the world through which I seek you. Am I not as precious? Should I not honour the expression of your divinity in my making?
You turn to me from your bench and offer the fruits of this morning’s making. It is a small olive-wood cross, my cross, the one I hold tight in the palm of my hand when life is too hard to bear alone. It is the cross on which you will die for me, made by your own hands and given freely as your gift. Here in your workshop I am safe and loved, for you made me and as my Maker you will love me and keep me safe always.