What's in Your Spiritual Toolbox?

In the practice of addressing our art materials for the sake of becoming more clear -- whether that means a deeper understanding of a question or a calling, or simply a time to un-wad the crinkles of a too-busy mind -- we can find illumination.
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In this wired, wild world, it is harder than ever to truly calm oneself -- everywhere we go, we are assaulted by noise, stimulation, the never-ending crawl at the bottom of our television screens. As a recent Washington Post article explored, we are so caught up in our busy little worlds that sources of true beauty have trouble penetrating our rushed routines; how else to explain the fact that during a disheartening social experiment, in which world-class violinist Joshua bell played unannounced and anonymously in a D.C. Metro station, hardly anyone (except children) bothered to stop and listen -- and the collection for the renowned musician playing an hour-and-a-half in the subway was a mere $32.

The 20th-century Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen once wrote that "Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love" and the same thing could be said about the creative life. by immersing ourselves in our creative activity, we can still those voices around us and in us -- we can enter the stillness that characterizes prayer and the "house of love." we can open ourselves and experience spaciousness.

Many, if not all of us, will find ourselves naturally calming or "gentling" down when we carve out the space to simply be with our Creator and our crafting materials. We will find, as the artist Corita Kent wrote, "there is an energy in the creative process that belongs in the league of those energies which can uplift, unify, and harmonize all of us."

Some crafts themselves are inherently calming; both the process and the product serve as vehicles for calm and even prayer. As Susan Gordon Lydon reminds us in The Knitting Sutra, "handcrafts throughout history have often been fashioned with the aid of prayer, one prayer for each bead or each stitch, while keeping good thoughts to enhance the spiritual purpose of the object."

Twenty-first-century life does not give us many opportunities for cultivating clarity; indeed, conversely, many things seem muddied, too complex. But in the practice of addressing our art materials for the sake of becoming more clear -- whether that means a deeper understanding of a question or a calling, or simply a time to un-wad the crinkles of a too-busy mind -- we can find illumination.

Yet, as Anaïs Nin reminds us, "There are very few human beings who receive the
truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious
mosaic"--and what better way than through the steps of understanding?

Here is a craft to explore the possibility of clarity. Remember that it is the process, the doing, that answers can be found; as the German proverb suggests, "Begin to weave, and God will give you the thread."

Spiritual Boxes

As artists and craftspeople, we know the joy inherent in supplies -- who reading this
hasn't gotten excited over a brand-new unopened sketchbook, a tin of pristine watercolors, or tubes of glitter glue in every color of the rainbow? It's that "new box of sixty-four crayons" feeling that never fails to delight. And after hearing a friend talk about the tools -- the tools of living a successful, resourceful life -- that were in her personal "toolbox," I became intrigued by the idea of actually creating a toolbox, containing supplies -- like my art supplies -- that I could access within. Though for me, the toolbox I wanted to create was a spiritual toolbox.

Creating a spiritual toolbox is an ongoing practice, for as we age, grow, and evolve, that which nourishes us spiritually sometimes begins to transition too. Crafters who are drawn to this practice will enjoy making their own toolboxes, perhaps out of wood or tin; for others less mechanically talented (like me), the practice will lie in the embellishment of a pre-made toolbox.

The one I chose was found in a drugstore and designed to hold makeup; it is composed
of indigo plastic with silver glitter embedded within it -- conjuring images of stars at night. Though the actual material isn't soul satisfying, the transparent pocket on the front of it is -- perfect for a small collage treasure map or photograph that can change (and has
changed) through the years. Inside are tiny compartments with a mirrored inside lid, the
mirror a reminder that all the "tools" are a reflection of the inner resources I carry within.

Elements I've included in my personal spiritual toolbox include a miniature copy of As
a Man Thinketh
, the classic book by James Allen on the power of disciplining our minds
(later added to this was As a Woman Thinketh, a small booklet by Dorothy J. Hulst that changed Allen's original patriarchal languaging), as well as small charms, tokens, and
trinkets that each remind me of the spiritual strengths that I can draw upon.

The saxophonist John Coltrane once said, "My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it through my music. My music is the spiritual expression of what I am, my faith,
my knowledge, and my being." Crafting a spiritual toolbox can help you to explore what
you are, what your faith is, what your knowledge is, and what you associate with your
very being. See if you can find those symbols, and add them to your toolbox.

Inner Inquiries for Journaling and Reflection

What are the tools that I carry in my "spiritual toolbox"? What best symbolizes each tool?

Does anything in my spiritual toolbox surprise me? What spiritual tools do I use the most? What spiritual tool(s) do I need to develop?

Which craft is my most favorite spiritual tool?

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