I come from a family of makers, tinkerers, and crafters.
My mother used to cross-stitch and scrapbook, now devotes time to making all sorts of crafts with her church kids, and made me a beautiful quilt I have hanging in my house. My dad loves woodworking and has lovingly made exquisite furniture. My grandmother crocheted, cross-stitched, and dabbled in plastic canvas and other crafts. My uncle likes to tinker around, too. My closets are full of ‘rag quilts’ made by my grandmother-in-law and her dearest friend.
I get it honest. I crochet. I have made soap and origami. I enjoy basic bookbinding and almost any sort of paper-craft. I am interested in wax sealing and hand lettering. Recently I’ve grown besotted with an engraver my mother got me for Christmas, figuring out what I can etch into every rock and glass in a ten mile radius.
It wasn’t until recently, though, that I started thinking about these parts of my life as an aspect of my faith. What does God have to do with double-crochet stitches and rock dust and wood shavings, after all?
A lot, I suspect.
In his On Fairy-Stories, J.R.R. Tolkien writes,
…we make still by the law in which we’re made.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
We make, according to Tolkien, because God makes. And though we cannot make anything like to God – we make “in our measure” – our making-things is a manifestation of our being made in the image of God. The creative spirit that compels us to knit or write a song or paint or choreograph a dance comes from God.
I don’t want to imply here that everything a Christian makes must be, by some nature, “Christian” in character There is nothing about the shawl I just finished that speaks fundamentally to the character of God, but—the act of making the shawl is an act that calls God to mind. And being aware of this can make a world of difference for the Christian.
Making things brings joy—to us, and often to others. It teaches us something new and it teaches us good enjoyment and pleasure. It can be a space in which we grow close to God, too.
Psychologists have long conceptualized a concept called ‘flow’: the mental state a person falls into when they are immersively focused on something and seem to lose all sense of time. In flow, one is challenged enough to have one’s attention captured, but not so challenged as to grow frustrated.
If you’ve crafted or really enjoyed making something, you know this state of mind. It’s when you look up halfway through a cowl you’re crocheting and wonder how it got to be so late, or when my dad wanders in from his woodwork having accidentally missed half a football game. It’s the way time flies and stands still all at once when my mom is joyfully involved on making something for the church kids.
It’s in that state, I think, that Christians can worship and simply enjoy the experience of being with God. I pray when I crochet. If I am hand-lettering a Bible verse or trying to engrave a cross into a stone, my mind is on the Lord. The act of making can be deeply meditative, deeply soothing.
Recently, I sent a colleague of mine some extra yarn I had around since she has just started to learn crochet. I added a newly-made cowl I’d created to the package. My mom was surprised when I told her, since she’d assumed I had made it for myself.
But crochet also teaches generosity.
Back when I first started crocheting, I kept everything I made. And I still do make things for me, and keep things I really love and use. However, I also crochet so much that I have more scarves and coasters and crocheted items than I know what to do with, a testament to the fact that making isn’t about need. My mom doesn’t have to make crafts to illustrate the church lessons. I don’t need a scarf (I already have 1, 257). My dad doesn’t need to make a birdhouse. In the year of our Lord, 2021, no one needs a book bound either.
But we make, because God made us. Because God made us in His image, because as early as the Old Testament God is giving people the knowledge they need to make beautiful things. Because there is something deeply satisfying in learning a skill and refining it. Because in our own little making—surely so small and rudimentary next to the fineness of His craftsmanship—we can, if we wish, draw a little closer to Him.
Can I offer a suggestion? If you’re feeling a little far from God, get to doing something with your hands. Make something. Even if you stink at it. Even if it’s just coloring. Write a poem. Try watercolors. Doodle something silly. Go out and saw up some boards or start a garden if the mood takes you.
Get creative. Get making. And see if God speaks to you there. You might be surprised.