Crafting Space

7 August 2010

My dad, an elementary school principal, on the beautiful stepped patio he built over the course of several summers.

Here is the idea. We are all crafters of space. Space is the medium we all share — both real space and imaginary space — and it is subject to our constant shaping, to our craft. Willy-nilly we shape space everyday, gouging it, exploiting it, enjoying it without a thought. But when we exercise care, and are sensitive to the wholeness of (any given) space, that is when we craft it.

For this reason, work is not valuable in itself. It is a necessity, something we need to do to stay alive from day to day, and it can be (and often is) destructive in practice, in every way devaluative of the medium — living space — in which it works.

Yet our work, whatever it is, also has the potential to enhance the life of that bit of space in/with/on which it works. To the degree that a person is free to make decisions, however small, about the way in which he or she performs a given task, that person can understand her or his work as the potential crafting of living structure. Work can be drudgery and nothing but a curse, or it can become an act sharing in — that is even creative of — the wholeness of the universe.

Space, both real and imaginary, is the medium we all share. Whether we are teaching students, writing a book, making a meal, serving a meal, directing a film, running a business, sweeping the street, designing a tool, building a building with that tool, counseling an addict, raising a child, growing a garden — in all of these activities we are shaping space. In all of these activities, depending on how we perform them, we can say we are either enhancing or detracting from the character of life in each space.

For this reason, all work could be valuably understood in terms of craftsmanship (or craftswomanship, which certainly has a nice ring to it). Besides the freedom to act, only two things are necessary: 1) the dedication to cultivate those skills which are requisite to the shaping of whatever kind of space one is working, and 2) the care and sensitivity to the larger wholeness, both present and becoming, which comes with the practiced softening of the heart.

If these things are met with in a person, the beauty of their work will be evident. The quality without a name will be sensed by the hearts of all those who are present to it. The wholeness of living space will be participated by us. That is what I think it means to be a craftsman, a craftswoman.


Charles Peirce (who some call “America’s towering philosopher”) has been a recurring figure in my hopscotch ways of trying to think about the world.  It was his semiotics, as much as I understood it, which enchanted me for the longest time (and still does).  But I hadn’t picked him up for quite awhile.  Now I pick up a biography of him, and a loose piece of paper with this passage on it, presumably from the book:

“…in the late years of his life… he was racked with facial neuralgia and unable to write down his thoughts because he and his sickly wife, Juliette, could not afford heating wood and the ink was about to freeze.  In the midst of this torment, Peirce could say: ‘As a matter of opinion, I believe that Glory shines out in everything, and that any aesthetic odiousness is merely our unfeelingness resulting from obscurations due to our own moral and intellectual aberrations.'”

And another quote.  Charles Peirce in a letter to William James: “Forgive me for harping on the subject of theism.  It would indeed be most ridiculous for me to think I could say anything to make you better, but living in the beautiful country, I cannot but be overwhelmed with the lovableness of the universe, as everybody is.  Every mortal who stops to consider it is penetrated with love.  It is irresistable.”


One Response to “Crafting Space”

  1. Joel said

    Beautiful writing, and thinking, here. Am signing up to get these reflections in my inbox. Am pondering what all to include in next summer’s three month Sabbatical. Maybe reading some Alexander with you as a guide will be part of that.

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