catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 3 :: 2007.02.09 — 2007.02.23


The Thing

Most recently it was screen printing.  It has been photography.  Pottery.  Candlemaking.  Embroidery.  Drawing.  Knitting.  Calligraphy.  Playing the guitar.  Playing the bass guitar.  Painting on the glass of old windows.  Making jewelry.

I'm a chronic dabbler.  So many hobbies are interesting to me, but none of them seem to stick to the point of expertise.  Fortunately, a few activities seem to have more longevity: singing, gardening, biking, cooking, writing, reading.  But I'm still struck periodically with the fear that I haven't found the thing yet, the one thing at which I can succeed as an undiscovered genius.  What if I never find it?  What if there's a dormant passion that never finds the opportunity to emerge?

We all know people who have found their thing.  Admittedly I envy the phenomenal pianists, the dedicated photographers, the lifelong guitarists and the career potters in my life.  Rather than a dusty collection of artifacts from abandoned hobbies, they confidently invest their time and money and energy into the activity for which they know they were created.  But maybe "What if I never find the thing?" is simply the wrong way of framing the issue.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in on a lecture by Eric Jacobsen, whose name has appeared before on catapult.  The author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom, Jacobsen was a part of this year's worship symposium at Calvin College and led a session on modernism and postmodernism in the church.  Citing a book by Albert Borgmann called Crossing the Postmodern Divide, Jacobsen referred to several tactics for moving beyond a postmodernism that in practice is really just hypermodernism.

The one that has stuck with me the most and come up the most in conversation is the idea of focal practices.  A focal practice is directly contrary to the modernist mindset in that instead of being an expression of technology overcoming nature, a focal practice brings us in direct contact with the reality of nature and allows us to affirm our humanity in our interaction with it.  We must negotiate with all of the ways in which we are both limited and empowered by things like skill level, knowledge, proximity, weather, animals.  We enter into relationship with something "that speaks in its own right and has many voices" and cultivate reverence for what we cannot control, but still invites us into symbiotic pleasure.  As an example, Borgmann speaks of interacting with a horse:

People engaged in focal practices gratefully acknowledge the immediate and centering power of the focal thing they are devoted to.  You cannot remain unmoved by the gentleness and conformation of a well-bred and well-trained horse—more than a thousand pounds of big-boned, well-muscled animal, slick of coat and sweet of smell, obedient and mannerly, and yet forever a menace with its innocent power and ineradicable inclination to seek refuge in flight; and always a burden with its need to be fed, wormed and shod, with its liability to cuts and infections, to laming and heaves.  But when it greets you with a nicker, nuzzles your chest, and regards you with a large and liquid eye, the question of where you want to be and what you want to do has been answered.

Other writers in this issue speak similarly of yeast, of water, of plants.  And in these reflections I recognize that the goal of a hobby is not excellence, but connectedness.  In candlemaking, I negotiate with heat and wax to form something useful and beautiful.  In biking, I negotiate with weather and the capacity of my muscles to move at a slower pace that puts me both in danger and in care-full proximity.  In singing, I negotiate with the limitations of my body and feel how the very matter of my lungs and throat warm and soften and remember.  A hobby is more than a diversion, and different from a vocation.  It's a means of re-centering and allowing the wonder of being a human in creation to wash over me, rarely with tidal force and more often with a gentle ebb and flow.

And so perhaps I should be grateful for the inclination to dabble in many things.  Perhaps I should recognize that following my curiosity where it leads may be a focal practice in itself, an act of gratitude for God-given nature.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus