I have a new desk for writing that I am happy about. I have wanted a writing desk for so long, but not just any desk. My husband and I met in an antiques mall years ago and both of us share a love for old things, especially items that have been neglected that can be brought back to life. Some call this repurposing and that is what I was hoping for, a piece of furniture I could repurpose. With some effort on our part and the help of a friend who is a woodworker, we were able to turn an unused, neglected dressing table into a much-appreciated desk.
Just as with furniture and other household items, our homes periodically need repurposing. Rooms once used as bedrooms for children or guests can be converted to craft or hobby rooms, or quiet sanctuaries for reading and prayer. Taking inventory of what we may already have before purchasing anything new and imagining it in a new way can be a satisfying way of repurposing. We can come to appreciate the utilitarian and aesthetic qualities of the “new” item as it serves us in its recreated form.
Many of us have ordinary household items that we may find ourselves taking particular care of as we use them. For me, this includes the blue-flowered tea pot my grandmother would take down from the China cupboard when my mother would stop by for a quick lunch break during a busy day. Mom often told me how much those times meant to her. Grandma would invite Mom, who was sometimes distracted and stressed from work, to take a seat at the simply laid kitchen table while the steam rose as Grandma poured Earl Grey into my mother’s favorite cup.
Benedict devotes a chapter to the care of the tools and goods of the monastery (chapter 32). In chapter 4, in the Tools for Good Works, he proffers a comprehensive collection of spiritual instructions and guidance that are tools for creating and sustaining a grace-filled community. Both chapters outline the necessity for treating tools both material and spiritual with care and attention. We all know the value of maintaining the right tool for the job in good working order, of finding it in the place it is customarily stored. It is the same with tools for good works. Our relationships require regular care and maintenance if they are to remain in good order.
My favorite admonition from Benedict in chapter 4 though is, “and never despair of God’s mercy.” Because inevitably I forget to return a tool I borrowed from my husband’s workbench, or I neglect to call the friend who needs a helping hand or listening heart. In both cases, an apology is only part of the response, as I know I will want to do better next time. Mercy, like the Earl Grey tea shared between my grandmother and mother on a hectic day, repurposes the moment and restores us to our work anew.
By Noel Poston, Oblate, OSB