tabithaThis address is part of the Spring Connections series at ABC. It was presented by Keren McClelland on Sunday 12 October 2014. There is also an accompanying small group or quiet prayer resource here.

Acts 9: 36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.  Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.  He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.  Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Tabitha is referred to as one of the disciples in our reading from Acts. Tabitha (in Aramaic or Dorcas in Greek, means gazelle - elegant and quick) has been recognised through history as one of the saints known for her handwork and generosity to those who live without protection and resources. Tabitha is celebrated as a saint in the Eastern, Catholic and Lutheran churches on October 25th. She along with Lydia and Phoebe are important women in the early days of the church.

The church from these early days celebrated the favourite stories in mosaics, icons, embroidery, sculpture, painting, stained glass, metalwork. The Jewish temple, the synagogues, were the work of thousands of skilled artisans. There are long descriptions in the Hebrew bible about these.

In the reformation there was a reaction against images. Churches were cleared away of statues, icons.

Some of this may have been clutter? Images were banned in favour of the written words and

the pulpit was elevated instead.

Times are changing and we are realising that people are again communicating with images as much as words. We understand better when we see and hear.

Beautiful surroundings also, lush gardens, exquisite artisanship, purposeful design and curating are known to be part of our wellbeing, known to heal, inspire, challenge and transform.

This weekend we have been surrounded by the skilled work of many quilters, knitters, painters, designers, bakers, gardeners. Let us honour them! They enrich our communal life, they teach us that joy is found in simple beauty and giving. The readiness to play with patterns and ingredients tells our visitors we are alive, we are learning, we are listening.

Macrina Wiederkehr (seven sacred pauses: living mindfully through the hours of the day) paraphrases Psalm 90:17 and gives us a prayer of blessing for our work…

Let your loveliness shine on us, and bless the work we do, bless the work of our hands

I’ve learnt that to make something by hand

  • is a great calming down/grounding exercise
  • to produce something entirely unique
  • is rewarding (when made well and mastering a technique)
  • honours the place of objects in leading us to deep prayer
  • is to be like God the artisan - God who plays in creation with pattern, colour, living and changing, dynamic life - God, whose goodness we reflect, when we make and give away.

Ultimately the work of our hands is a calling to prayer, prayer in action, prayer engaged with the whole of our lives and especially our creative passions. Here’s a few things we can do

  • Use whatever work you find in your hands as a grounding exercise.
  • Learn to appreciate menial tasks which can give rhythm to your prayer.

Repetitive work gives you creative thinking time to play with the metaphor in prayer...

the metaphor might be playing scales on a musical instrument, brushstrokeson a canvas, stitching an embroidery, or soldering, carving, or chopping, planting out or clearing away. Whatever work we find in our hands gives us a rich opportunity to do some theological reflection - write some questions for yourself. For example,

  • what needs putting together in my life?
  • who has been holding things in place for me?
  • what are the colours, dynamics and patterns representative of?
  • how does this project represent my prayer?

Slow down to appreciate another creator’s work

Turn off the TV and eat mindfully, with appreciation of flavour and presentation to the one who has cooked with love

Turn off your phone or radio and give your attention to that thing that catches your eye as you travel to and from school or work, that person who is sitting with you at the breakfast table or on the train. Notice those things that have been made with love.

Express your appreciation - let the artist know what their gift has meant to you. Say thanks, or wow! as a prayer. eg. Tell the cook what you loved about their meal.

asai yusukeI've just come back from a two week trip to Japan.

In between Gwyn’s research schedule (interviews and appointments in both Kyoto and Nagasaki) I tried to squeeze in as many gardens and arts based activities as possible.   We spent a day on Mount Rokko, Osaka (Rokko meets art), visited various Kyoto and Nagasaki museums. Definitely the highlights were meeting a few artists on site.

On our last day ended up joining a group of artists working on the island Iojima which once served as a prison (an hour south of Nagasaki). Take a look here for some of Asai Yusuke’s projects…

On this occasion he was using the synthetic material (used to make pedestrian crossings) and cutting out designs to burn into the pavements. The local tv crew were there with live cross to a daytime program. When he heard that we had been at Mt Rokko he wanted to know if we had seen his work there. Asai Yusuke pulled out his laptop and proceeded to show us an incredible gallery of photos. That evening he tweeted that he had had a great day of work with highlights not of the tv company but of a local granny and two melbourne “japan freaks” joining in. I asked him earlier that day when he had started drawing. He said when he was young he used to draw in the sauce on his dinner plate and in the fog on the windows of the bus. He couldn’t remember not drawing.

The location of Asai Yusuke’s work is as much a message for me as the whimsical creatures. A remote slightly unkempt rural setting where there are cracks in the ugly concrete and weeds in abundance. His art says to me You are not forgotten. Look around you at the mystery, beauty. He sent Gwyn and I home with two of his creatures. What ugly spot do i want to put a playful artwork?

asai yusuke2The story about the widows (who asked for Peter to come when Tabitha had died) tells us about who is important.

Those who work with their hands are key to the church flourishing.

Those who stitch, cook, decorate are the important people helping us in our grieving and healing.

Tabitha’s handwork strengthened, comforted, clothed and loved these marginalised women for whom life was unbearable. Tabitha’s love in action reminded the other disciples where to focus their attention.

Let your loveliness shine on us, and bless the work we do, bless the work of our hands

asai yusuke3Prayer

master artisan,
your creativity in the universe
and through us is infinite in scope.

let us participate
in the playful work,
in arid places that they might flourish,
with careful observation
and with deep appreciation
for the work of others before and alongside us.

In all of this let us honour one another
as co-workers,
and as we go, greet one another,
shaking hands that do holy work,
with this ancient blessing prayer for
wellbeing, healing, wholeness:


The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,
And also with you.