Blistering Hope

By Ken Sehested, the curator of Prayer & Politiks

Given the quivering state of our body politic, assailed from every side, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to sustain hope by way of persevering toil. As Daniel Berrigan once noted, the struggle for justice, the pursuit of peace, the advocacy of human rights in all their varied shape and kind, is sometimes “like pulling a piano through a plowed field.”

Thinking on these things, I remembered an older poem written from my years as a stone mason, “Blistering hope.”

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Blistering Hope

A stonemason’s meditation on perseverance

When cutting capstone, carefully measured, from a larger block with nothing but hammer and chisel, you come to know the necessity of blister-raising toil to achieve envisioned result.

No guarantees are to be had, of course. Sometimes, despite calculated scoring, tracing a careful contour across one edge, ‘round to another, and another, and yet another, with metered strokes and measured aim (fingers are no match against the carom of sledge) the rock stubbornly declares it own gnarly cleft.

Some fractures are costly; some rocks just don’t cooperate in the prestige of being mortared atop crafted columns. (But even these—the jagged rubble hidden behind hewn face—have their anonymous, reinforcing roles.)

Nothing, I say nothing, is finally lost.

To my amazement, though, most such cuts conform to the experience of the ancients who first discovered the cause and effect of arm-aching labor in fashioning ordered edges. Such disciplined patience!

It seems implausible: that soft tissue of human hands could effect an accurate rending of molecules so dense the phrase “hard as a rock” was invented. And it is accomplished without traceable progress.

The rock well disguises its stress. Dozens of strokes are no different from the first, and the splitting swing is as an epiphany. In such work, memory is more important than manifest. The stone’s sheer beauty is the only interim award; blisters, the only gauge of progress.

Nothing, I say nothing, is finally lost.

How much less plausible the promises of other ancients: that one day—How Long? How Long?—the serene meadow welcomes wolf and lamb together; the shamed know jeer-displacing joy; the fires of mercy forge amnesty from enmity. How long, ‘til the Beloved’s intention for creation coheres, prompting hope and history to align?

The implausible has been promised. But not apart from covenant terms of disciplined patience, of sweaty, achy perseverance in pounding away—strike after metered strike, with pauses to relieve parched and breathless throat—at apparently-impenetrable prospects.

Insurrection against the implausible is underway in countless but largely-hidden places. One or more within your reach. Can you handle blisters? And, sometimes, gnarly clefts?

Nothing, I say nothing, is finally lost.

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