The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that an angel might come by and sit on it. –Thomas Merton
Say “Shaker” to someone and, if they’re over the age of about 50, they’ll probably come back with “chair.” Shaker chairs were popular because their simple lines and beautifully finished wood. The Shakers produced chairs with planed and turned parts that were interchangeable to make a number of different styles: tall, short, wide, narrow, with or without arms, with or without rockers, with or without wheels, etc. No matter the style, though, each piece of each chair had the hallmark of a human being who cared about the piece he produced or the seat she wove or braided. It might have been a small part of the total chair, but it was their part and done as completely, beautifully and precisely as they could make it. Those chairs have withstood the test of time, becoming more and more valuable as the years have passed, becoming important pieces in museums and private collections. I have a doubt that a hundred years from now the overstuffed recliners and pouffy chairs of today will be sought-after antiques. I wonder, too, would angels come and sit on them? We know that saints in the Body of Christ, the members of the Shaker church, sat on theirs.
Handmade items often have something special about them, most likely the attention to detail that may escape the notice of most but which an aficionado would spot immediately. For the true craftsman, there is nothing too small to be excused from perfection, not a wrinkle, tiny rough spot in a place that no hand would ever feel, spot of discoloration or rust on a tiny gear hidden deep inside a watch case or anything else. It is the mark of someone with passion for what they are doing, even to the level of the very small things.
Small things. Without small things, great things never happen. Small ideas and concepts can lead to great inventions and discoveries that change the world. One person’s passion can ignite a fire that circles the globe. Jesus himself used a mustard seed, not the smallest of seeds, to be sure, but still a small thing, to illustrate the power of a tiny bit of faith growing into a sizeable thing. I wonder what Jesus would have made of a sequoia seed?
When most people consider the word “ministry” they think of ordained preachers, ministers, rabbis and priests. Sure, those are probably the most visible of ministers, in a kind of spotlight when they lead worship, teach classes or model the virtues like visiting the sick and imprisoned, but ministry is more than that. There are ministry opportunities everywhere – the workplace, home, school, church, almost anywhere where two people can meet and interact. Come to think of it, though, there can be ministries that involve non-humans and even the environment that don’t attract a lot of attention but which are really needed. Not every ministry is high profile, but even the smallest of ministries is important, kingdom building-wise. They don’t have to be big things to be effective; the ministry of small things is just as important and, luckily, there are plenty of them to go around. It can be as simple as turning a piece of wood that will become part of a chair.
I’m a firm believer in the ministry of small things, the kind of ministry I know I can do. It would be great to be known as a great preacher, but maybe simply driving someone to the doctor’s office or grocery store, or hearing the words of a friend who needs someone to listen is, to me, a ministry of small things that, hopefully, will make the world even a miniscule amount better. I’d love to write a best-selling book, but perhaps writing essays and meditations is my niche, especially if even one person finds something in the words that gives them some insight or even just a smile.
The Dalai Lama once said, “If you think small things don’t make a difference, try spending a night in a room with a mosquito!” A lot of times mosquitoes get swatted, but they don’t give up being mosquitoes. A ministry of small things may not make a person rich, famous or even earn them brownie points in heaven, and they may get the person swatted sometimes, but sometimes the small things lead to big things that make heaven just a little bit closer.
Oh, and one more thing. Ministries of small things are not limited time offers. A single person can do more than one, and there is no expiration date.
Originally published at Daily Episcopalian on Episcopal Café on February 20-21, 2012.