My mother darned socks. She had a black darning bob over which she would place a sock to mend the hole. Even when there was more money she still darned socks – and replaced buttons, and sewed up hems, and patched trousers, and turned collars around to make shirts last longer. Mending stuff was a value she prized. My father was rather hapless as a mechanic but he did his best to fix stuff, too, because he valued living that way. Fixing stuff was a value I grew up with, along with all that “recycling” we did before the word was invented.
Contrast this with our throwaway world. A number of years ago, I went to all the trouble to dismantle a car radio to take it to an automobile radio shop to have it fixed. The electrician looked at me as if I was crazy and he said, “Nobody fixes these things anymore. You just replace them and throw the old ones away.” Yes I know we have made great strides in recycling, but there’s still so much waste.
Is there a connection between a throwaway culture and throwaway people? Maybe. The more trash on the highway the more blasé our attitude about the possibility that people might be trash, too? I hope not. But who knows? The connection is worth pondering.
Spirituality is not woozy or wooly-minded. It’s not anything like that. It is practical. Spirituality begins with not letting your ego stand between you and the small calls to service we can all answer. If something is broken, fix it. Don’t think about it. If there’s trash on the ground pick it up. Don’t let your ego tell you you’re too good to pick it up. If someone is in need, reach out to her. Push your self out of the way in order to be present to another human being, without pandering and without patronization.
The beloved late Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen said that we are all wounded healers. When Jacob wrestled with the Angel and said he would not let go without a blessing, the blessing came with a wrenching that made him limp for the rest of his life. I’m limping through this world and so are you, but together we can heal one another, together we can be blessings one to another.
Don’t worry if you are yourself in need. We all are. We are all broken. A long time ago a Jewish adherent to Jesus named Saul/Paul wrote that God’s graceful presence in our lives is only displayed through “broken vessels.” We are cracked pots, so to speak, and whatever Light of God we have to shed only comes through our brokenness.
The Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah picks up this imagery and turns it once more. According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, founder of the movement, God intended to create the world with vessels of Light, but the Light was too strong and so everything shattered into little bits, like glass on the ground after a car accident. Now we must assist God, first, by resolving not to add to the brokenness by violence and hatred; and second, by mending the vessels that were supposed to bear Light into the world.
The images remind us that we are not “finished,” nor is our world. We are constantly engaged in living; we are never able to stop with “life.” In fact, to stop with life as if it were a finished project is to cross the threshold to death. But that’s another matter.
Meanwhile, let us seek to repair the world, one sock at a time.
published 20 February 09