The Hospitable Lathe

The Hospitable Lathe

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ ….” Rule of Benedict 53:1

My daughter, Katie, would impress you on several levels: a quick smile, a quicker wit, a keen sense of justice, lotsa’ golden hair, and a dynamic creative spirit. Part of her creativity also involves making things—drawing, painting, coloring, braiding, and weaving things. She wants to do some woodwork, too, but she wobbles. Katie’s a toe walker, and she’s walked standing up high on tippy-toes with her heels off the ground ever since she’s been teeny-tiny. The thought of putting a hammer in her hands gives me pause, and the thought of turning her loose on a bandsaw gives me cold sweats. If she’s going to do any woodworking, she needs something where she can keep still, either sitting or leaning on something. We’ve taken a few steps towards woodcarving, but I also want to try the lathe with her.

A Steady Lathe

If you don’t know, a wood lathe makes round parts by spinning a piece of wood and shaving pieces away with a sharp tool levered against a stable ledge. It’s delightfully messy, and shavings spray all over as a shape appears out of a spinning chunk of wood. To keep that whole contraption from shaking itself across the floor, the lathe is mounted on a sturdy stand—really sturdy, sometimes even bolted to the floor sturdy. I’m hoping my Sweetie can have a hand on the tool rest and wedge a knee or hip against the stand.

A few weeks ago, I picked up an old lathe mounted on its own stand. That lathe has been a bucketful of lessons for me as I’ve tried to clean it up and get it running smoothly. Blessedly, though, it looks like it’s going to end up working well enough for me for as long as I need it to. One big puzzle remains, though: how can I mount the thing on a base and not raise it past the height that Katie can use it, too? My present designs alternate between two questionable solutions: one scenario has my toe-walking daughter distractedly pirouetting off a raised platform, and the other has my daughter trying to keep the lathe chisel handle out of her armpit and away from her chin because everything’s too tall for her. I will figure it out, though, because it’s that important to me.

The Cost of Hospitality—or Not

Both hospitality and inhospitality are costly, but in different ways. Of course, everyday hospitality costs time, attention, and money because preparing a welcoming situation must happen in advance. In a workshop situation, the space needs to be able to accommodate more than one person, and it’s no simple task. Everything from the height of the workbenches to the hanging of the tools to the number of places to sit have to be figured into the mix. There’s no way to get it perfectly versatile, either. Even the limited number of people in my place have ranged over 18” difference in height. I can’t use a workshop customized to a 6’6” man or to a five-foot girl. In short, I must work to make my workspace accessible to others, but it still has to be a good workspace for me.

However, being inhospitable is also costly. In my specific situation, every time I choose to make my workspace inaccessible to my family it tends to isolate us from each other. At a personal level, every time I place something only within my own reach, it prevents me from including others in the future. As a parent, I don’t want to discard an opportunity to put actual tools in my daughter’s hands in a world where so much has become virtual.

Investing in the Possibilities of Hospitality

Obviously, being unwilling or unprepared to welcome visitors will prevent the extension of what we value most beyond ourselves. In the long term, no community can extend its values if it never communicates them to others. Another cost to being inhospitable runs deeper: we miss out on the joy of sharing what matters most to us when we are inhospitable. My efforts in making my workshop accessible demonstrate on a small scale what a community must do to show hospitality, at a wider one. Communities must make space and time to receive others, and then keep after that goal for the long haul. Blessedly, it can work.

The religious community at St. Paul’s Monastery, for example, has modeled hospitality for decades, and through that hospitality has fostered a community of Oblates holding Benedictine values that extends past the walls of the Monastery. A great blessing that the vowed religious women of St. Paul’s Monastery extend is encouragement in the conviction that Benedictine principles and values can be lived by people beyond the walls of a monastery. As one of the people attempting to live out those values, I’m still humbled by their generosity.

To my eye, the point of the hospitality of the Sisters at St. Paul’s Monastery is the continual preparation of a doorway to receive others into spiritual practice and experience. It takes preparation to explain, instruct, and share with visitors, but sometimes it becomes an investment when new vision develops for people. The literal door of the Monastery becomes the door to a new experience of the spiritual life, and the cultivation of the inner life is portable and can travel wherever our lives take us. Such experience often depends on the efforts of others who believe, pray and welcome us into a new way of being. In a small yet crucial way, the Sisters have invested in me through their hospitality, and my experience of God is different for it.

However, I think I’m just getting started. Spirituality turns out to be greasy, dusty, and rusty, and I think it will turn out differently than I have imagined it. These days my path takes me back out to the lathe in my garage, in the hope that my daughter might be able to join me out there sometime soon.



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