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Bodily Blessings: Look What I Made! Bodily Blessings: Look What I Made!
October 2012

As a kid, I drew a lot, and for many years made a hobby of painting goofy animals on rocks I found at the beach. I loved deciding what animal would fit on each rock, loved showing them to people when I was done. I’d literally hug myself in delight when I was especially pleased with how a rock had turned out; I was smitten with my own work. “Look what I made!” I’d crow to my parents. Their praise made me ridiculously happy. I gave them my rocks as gifts at Christmas and on birthdays; their friends brought me rocks to paint. When my father’s second wife—from whom I’d been estranged for decades—died a few years ago, my sister found in her apartment a rock I’d painted in high school.  

As an adult, I gave painted rocks as gifts for a few years—especially in graduate school, when money was very tight—but the responses I got were much less appreciative. “Thank you for the rock,” said one friend, with a visible sneer. The owner of an art gallery I’d wandered into, when I mentioned the rocks on a whim, stuck her nose in the air and informed me frostily, “A lot of people think they’re artists who aren’t.”

My friend Teresa has observed that all five year olds know they’re artists, and all twenty-five year olds know they aren’t. Painted rocks were okay for kids, but not for grown-ups. They weren’t sophisticated enough. I stopped painting them.

I believe that we’re all artists, and that part of our work is to find the art we love doing. I believe that another part of our work is to ask, of each person we meet, “What is this person’s art?” and to encourage and facilitate that creation, whether it take the form of cooking or crochet or woodworking or dance.

When I started going to church, one of my priests—who knew I was a writer, and who writes herself—gave me a copy of Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker, which uses human creativity to explain trinitarian theology. It’s an elegant, persuasive tome. Sayers’ main point, one she shares with her friend J.R.R. Tolkien, is that if we are created in the image of a Creator, we too are called to be creators. Creativity, the work of incarnation, is as necessary to our health and wholeness as food, water or air.

I’ve been a published writer for many years now, but for much of that time, I yearned to work in some more visual, tactile medium. I was shy about drawing and painting: I wasn’t good enough at them. Every time I looked at something I’d drawn, I saw that gallery owner rolling her eyes.

In 2007, after a series of dreams about yarn, I started knitting. I loved knitting, but I was always unsatisifed with the things I made and frustrated by the slowness of the process.  In 2011, inspired by an episode of PBS’ "Craft in America," I started weaving; that in turn led me to spinning, which I’ve been doing for just over four months now.

I love picking out yarn and choosing patterns for the scarves I weave, love spinning singles in different colors and then plying them together to make yarn. I literally hug myself in delight when I’m especially pleased with my latest effort. “Look what I made!” I crow to my husband and friends, and their praise makes me ridiculously happy. 

I’ve sold seven or eight scarves, some commissioned by friends as gifts. When I walked into a local gallery and shyly brought out photographs of some scarves, the two owners crowded around me. “Oh!  Yes, we want your work! You should take it to the gallery downtown, too. It’s beautiful! Do you teach? We have open studio days where people can watch our artists work. Would you like to be part of that?” I haven’t taken any scarves there yet because I’m building up inventory for a craft fair at church, but I know I can.

These affirmations have been deeply healing. They make me feel like an artist, something I was once told I had no right to call myself. They make me feel as if I’m participating more fully and meaningfully in God’s creation.

The other day, as I took my latest scarf off the loom—fondling it because I was smitten—it occurred to me that God, too, must be ridiculously happy when we praise the creation. “Oh! Look at that tree! Isn’t that beautiful? How in heck did you do that? I could never do that!”   We often think of prayer as a process of praise and thanks, but I think sometimes we forget what deep joy our gratitude creates on the receiving end.

Every morning now, I try to offer such a prayer. “Oh, wow, what an amazing bird! What gorgeous clouds, and check out the blue of that sky!”

And I picture God hugging Herself, looking shyly down at His feet, as beaming and proud as a kindergartener whose latest masterpiece has just been taped to the fridge. “Hey, thanks! You like that? I really worked hard on that one. I loved making it. Wait'll you see what I'm working on now!”

[A previous version of this reflection did not include the second half. The full piece is now posted.]

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A practicing Episcopalian, Susan Palwick spent over seven years volunteering as a lay ER chaplain at a hospital in northern Nevada. She currently teaches as an Associate Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Medical Education at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, where she specializes in Narrative Medicine. She also maintains a blog, Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good.

ARCHIVE: 2008-2011

Jan. 2012: Changing the World

Feb. 2012: Transfiguration

March 2011: Be Thou My Vision

April 2012: The Least of These

May 2012: Come, Holy Spirit

June 2012: Out of Isolation

July 2012: The Last Shift

August 2012: Spinning in the ICU

September 2012: Raging at God

October 2012: Look What I Made!

November 2012: Taking Time

December 2012: Making God Real

January 2013: Becoming Visible

February 2013: This, Too, is Holy

March 2013: Into the Wilderness

April 2013: Passions

May/June 2013: Eight Words

July/August 2013: Unforgiven

September/ October 2013: Building the Temple

November/ December 2013: Down to the Sea in Ships

January/ February 2014: Reaching Out

March/ April 2014: The Way of Complacency

Read Susan's columns from 2008-2011