On the Making of a Turtle

On Saturday I made a turtle. Or, more accurately, I carved a turtle out of soapstone, pictured below. I was a part of a workshop hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre. A shout out to both Richard Morgan who led the workshop and Naomi Johnson at the centre who organized the event. It was quite remarkable.

At one level it was especially interesting because in our part of the world, the turtle is a primary character in some indigenous creation stories. I won’t tell that tale now, but one version of it can be found here, but critical to the story is the turtle, who agrees to have the land where we now live built on its back. For this reason, North America is known in some Indigenous Communities as Turtle Island. In the story, the turtle exemplifies self-less giving, a willingness to take on the world, as it were, for the good of all. For those who are interested in reading more about this fascinating creation story, you will find that other animals also give much for creation of community. And as a think about the act of carving, I can also see that the rock that gave itself for this piece of art, too, was generous. This is, I think, more significant than it first appears, since in some Indigenous traditions rocks are considered grandfathers and grandmothers, elders in our midst. They, too, give themselves in order that something marvellous should occur.

What also struck me as so very important in this Saturday adventure was the conversation we had around the table as we scraped away at the Brazilian soapstone with our files. Some people spoke about the many negative stereotypes that persist about the first peoples of Turtle Island, some spoke of their personal experiences of these, but a consistent theme that resonated was the role of art in healing these pains and others. Our instructor had also worked as a social worker and spoke of how carving had helped some of the young people he worked with work through their trauma. As he spoke, though, it struck me that it wasn’t only the art that healed but the fact that it was art done in an environment dedicated to well being and healing. Alas, I’ve also seen art used as a means for competition and control. But when art is done in an environment of grace and acceptance, it can release powerful emotions. I experienced something of this last Saturday. Of course, this isn’t just true for those carving, but all the arts, including but not limited to painting, dance, song, story-telling, poetry, etc.

Martin Luther (a famed theologian of the 16th century) in a commentary on Psalm 101, called the Holy Spirit the greatest and best Poet. Most immediately, he was referencing the poetry of the psalm. But as the great linguist he was, he also knew that the word for poetry comes from the Greek word for “to make.” The Spirit, then, is best maker, the best artisan, the best artist of all, as is evident in creation’s beauty. Whenever we have occasion to experience creativity, it seems to me that we imbibe something of Creator’s Spirit. I certainly felt that way last Saturday, and for that I am so very grateful.

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