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The Lord's Art

Robert Frost once said that a poem is never actually finished--it is simply abandoned in an interesting place. That has certainly been my experience. Toiling over Spenserian sonnets and villanelles and pantoums, I have many times arrived at the place where I wonder if I'm not done with the piece or--perhaps more importantly--the piece isn't done with me. It's never really finished. It's only left in what one hopes is its most powerful incarnation.


That's my, admittedly early, experience with knife making. I start out with a design graphed out on paper. The metal and the heat and the hammer and my unequal arms and shoulders intervene to alter the original plan. I adjust. The metal responds in an unexpected way. I try to adjust yet again. The metal responds. Perhaps I am moving the piece toward my original design; probably, I am not. The success--success?--of the piece depends upon my flexibility, my attention, my focus. It depends upon my doing nothing but it. Everything else seems to evaporate into the ether.


Poems and knives are different things. With a poem, I can forever take a comma out and put it back in, a la Oscar Wilde; but with a knife, I can only take away so much before there is nothing left to take away. And, yet, there are similarities. The focus, the attention, the marriage of order and beauty, the nearly wasteful time spent, the sacrifice of so much toward a hoped-for conclusion. It's work. It's heart.


The Greek word "poieo" means "to make" or "to create", and it's whence we get our English words "poet", "poetry", and "poetics". The nounal form is "poiema", and it means "something crafted" or "something made". But that's the denotation. The connotation is that of a master--Edmund Spenser, Camille Claudel, Ha Jin--laboring, crafting, sweating over a piece until at long last the crafter is exhausted and the piece attains a life of its own.


"Poiema" is the word used in Ephesians 2: 10. We are God's poiema: It is almost always translated "handiwork" or "craftsmanship" or, occasionally, "masterpiece". None of those comes close, really. Witness a true artist or artisan over her work. The attention, the loving detail, the focus. The way that the rest of the world ceases to exist when she is working on this one piece. The frustration she experiences in making the piece, the passion she has for seeing it through, the joy she has when it is left in that Frostian interesting place.


I have some small inkling of what that is like when I pen a sonnet, when I make a knife. Creation is an act of love. When I fix an iambic pentameter, when I grind out the secondary bevel, it is hard to describe. It is an act of creation.


And I am an act of creation. The Lord has honed and forged and sharpened and ground me--I am the Lord's poiema, the Lord's poem. He has lovingly and faithfully worked me and moved me and ground me, and when I've not responded in the desired way, he has hammered me toward his perfect end. I am the Lord's beloved and passionate work of art.


And so are you.

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