In this poem Joseph the carpenter thinks about the ways in which different kinds of wood are used in his craft – exotic cedar wood from Lebanon in the temple and in his own domestic joinery, any timber on which he can lay his hands. In both, the craftwork is beautiful and practical. For Joseph this is an analogy for the way God practices the skilled work of salvation through human personalities and circumstances, using not only the best material, sourced at vast expense, but also whatever material is available to hand that will do the job.
Though I leave my tools at home,
In the temple I remain a carpenter.
Prayer is measuring its built dimensions with ecstatic eyes –
The height, length, breadth of hallowed space –
My fingers tracing sacred joinery, the screens
Of finest skill.
Most of all it is the wood that heavens me,
Solid, aromatic, dark,
Cedar shipped from Lebanon,
Exquisite, rare enough
To make the carved and chiselled place
Where God draws near.
Back in the villages, making kitchen stools and family dressers,
It is the same skills with local timber,
Cut from what’s to hand in field and coppice –
Oak and pine, occasional fruit trees – wood to make a home holy
For the sacred outsider: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, Ruth,
Even my good wife, Mary.
Journeying with Matthew: Lectionary Year A SPCK Publishing
James Woodward, Paul Gooder, Mark Pryce