Notable and Quotable

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Not so much by words but by example, I internalized a respect for the material at hand. The material could be a pork loin, or a mahogany plank, or a lump of clay, or the will of God, or a soul, but when the work is done well, there is a kind of submission of will to the conditions at hand, a cultivation of what I would later learn to call humility. It is a noticeable feature in all skilled workers—woodworkers, potters, poets, pray-ers and pastors. I learned it in the butcher shop [of my Father].

Years later I came upon the phrase negative capability and recognized that it was something very much like submission to the material, the humility, that I had had so much practice in on the butcher block. The poet John Keats coined the term to refer to this quality in the worker. He was impressed by William Shakespeare's work in creating such a variety of characters in his plays, none of which seemed to be a projection of Shakespeare's ego. Each had an independent life of his or her own. Keats wrote, "A poet has no identity . . . he is continually . . . filling some other Body." He believed that the only way that real creative will matured was in a person who was not hell-bent on imposing his or her will on another person or thing but "was capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable searching after fact and reason." Interesting: Shakespeare, the poet from whom we know the most about other people, is the poet about whom we know next to nothing.

--Eugene Peterson, "My Father's Butcher Shop" (Christian Century, February 22, 1001), p. 29

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeSpirituality/Prayer* Culture-WatchBooksChildrenMarriage & Family* Economics, PoliticsEconomyLabor/Labor Unions/Labor Market* TheologyPastoral Theology

1 Comments
Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Father Jonathan wrote:

1001, eh? Boy, I knew Peterson had been around for a while, but who knew that he pre-dated the Great Schism! wink

February 25, 6:23 pm | [comment link]
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