In my studio I have a beautiful card my mother made me with a photo of my sister, poised like a dancer with one foot planted, drawing a circle around herself in the damp sand on the beach with her extended foot. Beside it is written a portion of this gem from the Writings:
‘Man was created for use, because use is the containent of good and truth, from the marriage of which proceeds creation.. While… a man is in any employment and business, or in any use, in such case his mind is limited and circumscribed as in a circle, within which it is successively arranged into a form truly human’ (Conjugial Love 249)
I keep this card visible, because sometimes I get attacked by Hellish negativity, right when I’m about to start something useful and good…BECAUSE I am starting something useful and good (although of course it’s hard to see in the moment that that is why I’m being attacked). All sorts of tiny alternate things I need to do are presented to my mind, and many more that I don’t need to do, and my mind is full of thoughts clamouring that it’s not even worth starting anything because there is so much to do (?!) or that these are stupid little tasks when I have much bigger ‘problems’ on hand… Or I am informed relentlessly how inadequate I am for the task. They try to convince me that my uses are a tedious, boring, dutiful chore requiring eternal self- compulsion. When I listen, it is an awful, depressive experience…a confusion of whirling failure.
These attacks happen even though I know from past years of experience that I enjoy the clean, strong feeling of working hard, and I find satisfaction in my working space and in preparing it for work.
I find I am so much more likely to procrastinate or avoid something in this negative state when the space isn’t prepared for working. How much more, even, do I get attacked when my mind and spiritual life aren’t prepared for working! I remember reading that procrastination is often helped by simply preparing the space with all tools and materials ready, so that the worker can come and really start working more easily, with fewer distractions. I think this is true spiritually, too, we need to remove the bad things first to create space for something better to happen. So I organize when I’m feeling resistance to my work, or fear of the outcome, or whatever form the attacks take that time.
I have always enjoyed organizing things, I love when I get to pick a place for each supply, making sure I have the right space to fit each collection of items, or if not, eliminating so they fit in the space I do have. A freshly-organized working space is so full of excitement. It breathes possibility, order, peace.
When I finished my Graduate studies, my parents presented me with a beautiful wooden box they had designed, with drawers, and a lidded top section . On the front is my name. On the lid is a carved image of a lamb, with a garland of flowers. Carven letters inside the garland contain a portion of Psalm 90 ‘ Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish Thou the work of our hands.’
It is a thing of beauty in itself, but it also represents to me the constant care, preparations, and vigilance my parents exerted to build my childhood and youth, protecting me, fostering what I loved to do, and modeling for me in their behavior what a life looking to the Lord and focusing on Use looks like.
They gave the box to me to organize and hold my small sewing supplies for my work as a designer. I keep needles, tiny scissors, pencils and leather scraps for thimbles in it, because I love it and wanted to put items in that I use often. It is one of the areas I organize when getting my space ready for a project.
Don’t get me wrong, having a messy space is a big part of my life, too…I get working quickly, and set things down all over the place, I make a bag of supplies for teaching and then end up with 6 bags that need to be sorted back into place again. I am a ‘mess it up, then clean it up’ kind of worker… I toss threads with oh-so-stylish flair over my left shoulder , like a superstitious person invoking luck with a pinch of salt, and swipe scraps from my table with a nonchalant flick of my wrist… sometimes amassing a truly awesome sprawl of fabric pieces on the floor that overflow my scrap bin when cutting out multiple garments. I like this feeling of rushing momentum, the clean sense of working hard and a job well done…and then when the exhilarating dust of my fabric escapade settles, I soberly scoop up scraps, tidy tools that have toddled away, and force fabrics back into their folds. Once order has been re-established, I’m peaceful, and ready to start on a new project.
Yet, even with good preparations, I can still get attacked by negativity when I’m about to begin a project. Preparation is key, and referring to the helpful memories of past experiences when my work was satisfying and enjoyable helps, but they do not remove the attack of negativity entirely.
Then I think again about that beautiful quote on my card from my Mama, and how it lauds the day to day tasks of our Uses, and describes how the very act of performing them is circumscribed with a circle of protection inside which we can be growing spiritually.
‘While… a man is in any employment and business, or in any use, in such case his mind is limited and circumscribed as in a circle, within which it is successively arranged into a form truly human’ (Conjugial Love 249)
What an incredibly comforting and beautiful image of that circle of protection by the Lord when we are performing our work… what a great reminder that our small daily tasks can actually be a huge part of becoming Spiritual. It is so tempting to think that they are something outside of our spiritual life…small and mundane, not a grand enough gesture. It reminds me of the story in II Kings where Naaman the leper comes to Elisha to be healed, but then objects to the lack of showy magnificence in Elisha’s simple advice to ‘go wash in the Jordan seven times’, yet it is that simple act that removes his leprosy, not his preference for a huge miracle.
And so, I go in the studio, and start something. Something small, Anything. So long as it’s in the space I’m supposed to be working in, and so long as it’s part of the job I’m supposed to be doing…
And something seemingly magical happens. The clamouring shuts up. I feel a palpable protection and peace about working. It’s amazing. I feel like a ‘real human’ again, with purpose and ability. And I can get so much done as these small tasks progress to bigger tasks!
This experience of an almost-tangible circle of peace around me while I’m working, my sense of protection from the clamour of negative Hellish influences, is magnified when I ask the Lord to help with this process… when I acknowledge that He is the Power behind any good abilities or actions.
Then the obscurity of the Hells evaporates—they are so good at fogging things up–I am reminded that the purpose of life is use to others. And not only that, uses are the life of Heaven.; They are a reward, not just a matter of dry self-compulsion. Self compulsion is part of it, but not the dry, eternal thing I think it is in my bad states; it is the beginning of the process, and the energy push needed along the way when the wheel slows.
In the day to day of life, the small tasks completed turn out to be something far bigger… and also a protection from the attack of the Hellish forces of negativity…
To do my work, I do need to organize the space and the tools and materials, to get rid of those things that impede and mess up my mind, and also I need to show up and begin with small tasks that accomplish bigger projects. I need to trust that these small tasks are important, I need to do them sincerely, justly, faithfully.
To progress spiritually, I need to organize my mind and heart by reading the Word and allowing the Lord to order my life, I need to put out the evil habits that impede and obscure, … I need to trust that the Lord will circumscribe my working with that circle of protection, and form me into someone Truly Human as He helps me attend to the seemingly small tasks of my uses, business, and studies. I need to let Him establish the work of my hands.
‘Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.’ (Psalm 90: 1,2, 12, 17)