Parable of the Master Carver

and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2b).


Spirit (def): Breath; as in the Lord who has power to manifest life in man by giving breath. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).

A recent visit to the Albany Carousel provides insight into the Spirit of God’s life-giving breath for man. We are greeted by a magnificent, ornate carousel, home to a variety of playful animals, carnival music and radiant faces. Joyful people–young and old and every age in between riding their perfectly formed imaginary animal of choice. Each animal is brilliant in color, strong as an ox, able to withstand tremendous abuse and at the same time provides great pleasure for all who ride on it.

While at the museum, we take advantage of the opportunity to visit the wood carving studio. Under the skillful guidance of a master wood carver, these magnificent creatures are transformed from a piece of wood into an object of delight. I think it significant that we must descend into the depths of the building, below all the joviality, to see where they are shaped and formed. We are personally escorted into the heart of the museum by one whose sole purpose is to be our personal teacher and guide for as long as we choose to stay. She has no other agenda nor is she in any hurry to rush us along. Experience has taught her that it is in the best interest of those under her care to provide answers to the questions her people ask while they are there. Several times I notice her watching us in conversation with Hank, the master wood carver.

Hank patiently answers our questions. Questions he’s been asked numerous times that day. Over the 4 to 6 years it takes to complete just one piece, I can only imagine how often he must explain the same information to people as they file through the carving studio. Yet, he never appears agitated or rushed with anyone who cares to talk with him. In fact, he is willing to visit with each one of us for as long as we want. We think we understand what he says, but realize that he is the expert with years of experience. We are merely novices to an art of which we know so very little.

Initially, our guide points out blocks of wood cut into cube-shaped objects. These are the beginnings of the animal’s long journey to their legacy on the carousel. Next, we note wood carvers chunking out those blocks into rough outlines of the particular part they are assigned to work on. As we progress deeper into the carving studio we meet our master wood carver, Hank. He is working tirelessly on helping Sally the cow emerge from the wood to be the incredible creation she is to become as defined by her creator, artist and sponsor. He is dedicated to the time-consuming task of taking away everything that is not a part of the vision they have for Sally.

With the finished rendering of Sally fixed in his mind and prominently displayed on the wall behind him and a large assortment of carving tools on one side, reference books on the other, Hank has everything he needs to accomplish the task before him. He has devoted weeks, months and even years to creating a delightful animal with precise detail. I can see the flowers on her body and, if I look real close, I see names carved into her covering. Hank tells us of his recent reshaping of her right front leg to make it more life-like. I’d never notice such a thing, but he cares about every detail of Sally. He knows what needs to happen to Sally to make her delightful, fun and attractive for all who come into contact with her. He’s been carving wood for decades–longer than I’ve been alive (and that’s a long time). He knows that it will take many years from start to finish for any one carousel animal, but he is willing to invest himself–his love and his time–in his creation. Whether seen from a distance or close up–now or 100 years from now–Sally will be a blessing for many once this arduous task of shaping her is complete. Hank knows this. It’s what keeps him motivated.

Contemplating the skilled craftsman’s hands working with just the right tool for the task before him at the moment, my eye is drawn to the wood shavings that are gathering on the floor as Sally is lovingly and carefully molded into the image of her creator–one shaving at a time. Some of the shavings are quite large while others are merely sawdust. I can’t help but see myself as Sally. The shavings represent the hard times God has seen me through while the sawdust reminds me of the smaller trials of life. I suspect that, just like Hank, my God knows the perfect tools to form me into the image He has destined for me to become. Fortunately for Hank, Sally doesn’t have a will of her own to oppose her creator. I do.

As Sally’s creator explains what he is doing, he tenderly caresses her with his all-knowing hand, clearly delighting in how she is taking shape. He points out a few places that he has had to make some rather major modifications on Sally by adding an additional piece of wood so her form would be just right or completely reshaping a part of her body. He explains the tedious process of shaping the wood, gluing it on (or cutting it off), waiting for the glue to set, then working the new piece into her body so it becomes a part of who she is. This process in itself takes several weeks. Now I have joined Hank in caressing Sally. I can almost sense a living being as I touch her.

I am especially moved watching Hank sand his creation. He touches her with his skillful hand then gently sands her a few times, caresses her again. He’s constantly making the tiniest adjustments on her so that what started as several blocks of wood many years ago is slowly becoming the Sally that Hank envisions her to be.

Our guide tells us that once the master carver puts the eyes into his creation, the animal seems to come to life. She explained that Sally just recently had received her eyes. I agree. She looks more alive than the other carousel animals that do not yet have their eyes.

After spending years under the masterful hand of her wood carver, Sally will be moved to the painting room where the tedious process of stippling paint on every inch of her body begins. The paint will be layered then melted onto her. The vision of Sally will follow her to the painting room for the painters just as it has been with her in the carving studio.

(You can see what I’m talking about here by looking at Sampson the carousel chicken. You can see the poster–or vision–of what he will look like right next to the in-progress Sampson.)

A few years from now, Hank, the tour guide, and others involved in the making of Sally will join together as she is given her permanent home on he carousel at the Albany Carousel.

For mankind it takes 70+ years before the Lord has finished His work on us and we are given our home in heaven with our Creator. I believe that God has provided a glimpse into His tender love and care in forming me into the image of Christ at the Albany Carousel.

As I reflect on what the Lord has shown me about His spirit and how He interacts with me as a result of a visit to the wood carver’s studio at the the Albany Carousel, it occurs to me that often I expect those around me to be brilliant in color, strong as an ox, able to withstand abuse and give me great pleasure like the finished carousel animal. I think, however, that all of us live somewhere deep in the heart of the museum in the hands of our all-wise Master Carver patiently and lovingly removing the parts from our lives that don’t belong.

Thank you Lord for your patience as you patiently and lovingly remove the parts that do not belong to the person you are designing me to be. Give me eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou has for me! May I allow your Spirit to breathe life into my being as you use your perfect tools in my life to shape and form me so that I, too, may be perfectly placed by Your hand on the carousel of life. Lord, it is so difficult not to resist as You carve and sand out the rough parts in me. May I remember the lessons learned from the master carver and his creation at the Albany Carousel. Amen.

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