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FAITH AND CULTURE | Lessons learned from the shop on building the Church

In the current scientific and digital culture, working with one's hands or learning to play with mechanical systems and structures seems to be a thing of the past. We're more adept at engaging digital and virtual realities, yet our familiarity with physical labor often goes lacking.

Some may recall a family member or acquaintance whose mechanical abilities were impressive. He or she would easily break down and rebuild something that needed fixing. Others remember visiting friends or colleagues and discovering wood-working or craft shops in their homes and garages.

While these mechanical and craft shops are less common today, they still offer some insights for us, recognizing their instructive and formative nature.

Upon entering the shop, we'd immediately notice the smell of wood, feel the texture and see the different color patterns impressed on the wood around us. We could hear the sounding beat of a hammer on a nail or the screechy sound of a hand saw.

Being in the shop also led to a mentor relationship between teacher and student. It meant that we were willing to let the wisdom of others guide us through a project that often seemed overwhelming and vast. And in the mentor relationship, we would learn to accompany one another and ask critical questions that had concrete implications. With the passage of time, we would discover how each particular step corresponded to the larger vision of the project.

Entering the common space, being in mutual accompaniment, trusting and respecting the experience and wisdom of others to show the way meant that we could learn to master the immediate task before us and bolster our self-confidence and creativity. Correspondingly, being in the common space and shop allowed us the time to properly discern our decisions, each step of the way. And by taking our time and discerning well, our creativity found proper direction and gratifying results.

Indeed, the interrelatedness of the space, materials, craft and mentor allows us to, at the end, not only learn a new skill, but also be a better person with and for others. Today, we need to recapture this spirit of relationality and mutual apprenticeship. We need to find common spaces and time in which we enrich each other with our lived experiences. We need to be open to the goodness that others have to offer.

As we look around our Church and society, things seem to be unraveling in a manner that lacks civility and respect. We're preoccupied with asserting our will with little concern for the big picture or the greater common good. In a sense, our common spaces or shops have given way to a more sharp and disordered individualism that is overly suspicious of others and resistant to the docility that comes from the Spirit of God.

Nevertheless, we know from our faith that the ultimate good of building up our Church and society will come to and from those who are willing to enter into relationship with others, especially with the Master Builder we know as Jesus. Like the saints before us, we have to enter that common space of faith and trust in order to allow the wisdom of God to teach us the way (Matthew 5: 1-11; Luke 6:20-26). Let us listen — humbly — to each other and to what Jesus would have us say and do.

Orozco is executive director of intercultural and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

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