PHOTO: By Bob Key – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=757094
“Say, any of you boys smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wanderin’?”
Scott Martin and I often speak in a language of movie one liners. This here is one of our frequent and favorites. It was the first thing I thought of when I was looking at the television at 3:00am for the 6th day in a row.
I am not unaccustomed to seeing the middle of the night. My older and less flexible body these days doesn’t choose to see 3:00 am if it can help it. Back in the olden days I was likely to hit the wall at 4am way back when the night shift was the work requirement. Work that would yield naps in the back of a minivan while kids were at a mom’s day out, naps in a bedroom sleeping in front of a door so no one escaped. Hours of sleep in increments more than a few hours were more valuable than the gold backed dollars that said sleep deprivation was yielding.
Anxiety Sickness and a persistent cough had gifted me with my old 3am foe. As I sat wide-eyed and hacking on the sofa I was clearly perturbed. I thought about the last time I had been this sick, when Shelton and I were marooned on a sofa island amidst quilts and pillows. In between his feverish episodes he would declare frequently how much he loved me. As difficult as they were, those days were some of my most treasured.
This time I found myself alone on the couch, the lone sick one. The other Martins had yet to succumb to the infirmary that I’d met first. As I sat on the couch I’d made my way to a random PBS channel. In the middle of the night a woodworking show was on featured a blacksmith. I was vaguely familiar with the show as I have caught Scott Martin watching – not because he’s skilled or fond of woodworking but because he likes the music featured on the show, a throwback to old-time sound likely played by misfit bands. Instruments made of strings and harmonies carried over from home countries. It is highly probable the music accompanied a coming together of neighbors for a barn raising or work day, women scurrying about with food preparation, a variety of kitchen delicacies meant to be shared. A buffet of foods all homemade, for the Publix deli was years from invention, kids playing with sticks and dirt, cellphones and electronic entertainment centuries away… Perhaps not. Perhaps my overactive imagination combined with sleep deprivation and a longing for simplicity and fellowship yield such assumptions. I digress…again…
The smithy was crafting a “hold fast,” an L shaped tool meant to hold a wood working project in place, a tool of old when smiths and metallurgic arts were part of the everyday. My mind wandered to a verse with a keyword of the same name,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23 English Standard Version (ESV)
Hold fast, to hold firm. I watched as intently as my sleep deprived eyes would allow. I noticed the difference in the shape and size of the French and English hold fasts. The English hold fast not as curvy and weighty as the French inspired holdfast.
The host would occasionally comment to the Smithy as he would “strike while the iron is hot.” I had heard that phrase many times, maybe even said it. I googled the origin of the phrase and was informed via the internet,
“This old proverb clearly alludes to the imagery of the blacksmith or farrier at his forge. If he delays in shaping the iron when it is hot and pliable, the metal soon cools and hardens and the opportunity is lost.
The expression is recorded in Richard Edwards’, “The excellent comedie of two the moste faithfullest freendes, Damon and Pithias, circa 1566.” (Phrases.org.UK)
The expression becoming appreciated more and more as the metal piece was more malleable, able to be shaped into the desired shape, while it was the once straight pieces of steel taking shape into L shaped pieces of useable metal that were designed for a specific purpose.
If those fired pieces could speak and feel I reckoned they would say the shaping was painful, but once fired and made, the soft metal could be shaped so much more easily than the cold metal would have been. In essence that suffering led to shaping those pieces into an object that could be used for its intended purpose.
When used, the holdfast was so strong the entire workbench could be lifted, the holdfast acting as a handle. The holdfast was essential in the art of woodworking, planing, and all other manner of terms used to which I am not even vaguely familiar.
I wondered if in the Kingdom, I and those I know, weren’t holdfasts of sorts. Those who have endured sufferings that shaped who they were, those who feel that they aren’t all that important in the Kingdom, they aren’t famous, or clergy, missionaries or those on the front lines of ministry. Those have had moments of thinking they aren’t all that important in the kingdom, those thoughts followed up with “I’m not all that important, I just (insert seemingly unimportant title here).” In the case of the holdfast, “I just hold down a piece of wood.” Maybe in the Kingdom you (and admittedly I) feel just like that.
The reality is that a holdfast is crucial in shaping those pieces of wood into grooves and curves, beautiful trims and flooring, the things homes are made of. The pieces of architecture we take classes in college to appreciate. The “craftsmanship” the Antique Roadshow folks get giddy over. The items that cause experts to do their dead level best to remain composed, but when pointing out such “details” and “workmanship” their voices go an octave higher and they interject adjectives like “phenomenal” or “amazing” statements like “simply incredible” or “I have never seen another one like it.”
I’ve watched that show a time or two and they have never said, “This woodworking master must have had an incredible holdfast, for without it this beautiful piece would not have been possible for the craftsman to create. Your prized piece is worth a gazillion dollars because the holdfast was in fine working order.” Nope they NEVER say that. They, to my knowledge have not acknowledged that crucial tool. That L shaped piece of steel whose job it was to hold-fast. Yet so seemingly unimportant but when confronted with the bigger picture, the value of hindsight one can see clearly how important that seemingly unimportant item was.
The smitty in the show had a replica of a third type of holdfast, an American model. He made a statement that it was thought to have been from the 18th century, discarded in the early days of our country. It had been unearthed somewhere in what was one of original 13 colonies. The American model looked different from the English and French models but the overall shape was the same, purpose the same.
Some of us, some of you are the holdfasts of the Kingdom. The Master Craftsman, the Creator having used our sufferings to shape us into useable pieces, those who do the unseen jobs that without, the frontliners, those fine seemingly more important pieces or workmanship, would not be possible.
The Kingdom needs holdfasts, those willing to do the unseen, the not so glorious, those created for just that purpose. On the days when I am tempted to believe what I am doing doesn’t matter, that if I weren’t doing that (insert seemingly unimportant or menial task here) it really wouldn’t matter, I am going to think of those holdfasts and remember that I am the King’s workmanship and that as long as I am doing what He has called me to do, created me to do, there is no unimportant or meaningless task in Kingdom work.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 English Standard Version (ESV)