What Are Your Utensils?

Cynthia, an oblate, shared the following about how she understands the Rule’s chapter on caring for utensils — by meditating on what utensils are employed in her own work:

“My experience as an oblate has taught me what my ‘utensils’ of work are. My work is widely varied due to the roles I fill as teacher, pianist, student, mother, wife, householder, friend. Some of the most important utensils I use are: music scores; piano; organ; pencils; eyeglasses; hands; brain & creativity; cell phone; calendar. In domestic work, I use appliances, dishes, pottery, kitchen gadgets, cloths, soaps, broom, mop, computer, pots and pans. These utensils must be reverenced and treated with respect. They are my co-workers.”

Cynthia’s insights made me aware that I was taking the chapter on utensils literally! Or ONLY literally, for of course the tools we use in preparing our meals are indeed part of that list of co-workers — the objects we use that help us do our work in the world. But those of us who fret that we can’t always keep up with the dishes can at least pause to recognize that what we DO give our time and attention to in a day’s work involves some sort of tools we can care for appropriately.

By naming so many things as her set of utensils, Cynthia also points out that we never do our work alone. We offer hospitality to our utensils because they are faithful to us in turn.

Suddenly this is making me think of one episode of the cartoon Sponge Bob Squarepants, in which the spatula that Sponge Bob uses gets depressed and upset because Sponge Bob has gone into debt to try to get a better, motorized spatula. In the end Sponge Bob and his old spatula are reunited, but in its own quirky way, the episode teaches something about the importance of respecting whatever tools are co-workers with us in accomplishing our work.

What utensils enable you to do your own work?

Behind all those tools are human makers as well. As Maria Lugones, a philosopher, used to tell us in class: “Think about the chairs you are sitting on, these tables . . . so many hands went into creating these things. You are benefiting from their labor.” Respecting our tools can extend to the larger questions of just wages for all workers, as well as to the minute matter of caring for the particular tools that we are using this very day.

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