Blacksmithing and Vocational Wilderness

By Josh Keith –

“Wilderness is a necessity… there must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls…” John Muir.

I feel that no truer words have ever been spoken. My forge is my wilderness, where I work on metal and wood to create useful tools that I hope are used and appreciated by my customers. I can’t think of a place where my soul is more satisfied than my forge, with my hammer in one hand and a white-hot piece of metal in the other just begging to be hammered. The heat of the forge, the weight of my hammer, the ring of my anvil, the sweat on my brow, and the blisters and callouses that make up what used to be my hands—these things are my wilderness, my soul, and so my soul goes into all that I make.

Maybe we all possess this wilderness within us. That place we go to work on projects that in some way serve our neighbor. A place in our souls that calls to us. For some, this can be something as simple as going to the gym, spending time in the actual wilderness, or simply going to a place that allows us to escape from our regular daily lives.

But for people like me, this wilderness exists inside me, manifested in my vocations. With this comes the immense satisfaction produced from completing something with my own hands, using my skill and abilities, in service to my neighbor. I make tools––knives, axes, hammers––and I pray that those tools serve my neighbor and are in turn used by their new owners to serve their neighbors.

You’ve heard the story as many times as I have, but it’s worth retelling. Upon hearing the re-discovered Gospel of Christ Jesus for the first time, a resident of Wittenberg ran to Martin Luther one day and asked him: “Dr. Luther now that I know I am saved because of Christ, what can I do now to best serve God?” Dr. Luther in turn answered with a question. Asked Luther: “What is it you do now, Sir?” The man replied: “I am a shoemaker.” Luther responded: “Then go and make your shoes and sell them at a fair price.”

You see, people need shoes. When the man made shoes and sold them to his neighbors at a fair price, he provided them with something they needed which they could not make themselves. This is service to neighbor. This is service to God. This is the freedom of Christ used to do good.

What then could be a better testimony of our love for our neighbor than that which God has blessed us to do in his name for them and serve them in our vocations. This is my wilderness. This is the freedom that God has blessed me with on account of Christ. Every strike of my hammer is a resounding “alleluia” to the grace given to me by God to go freely and serve in his name because of what Christ has done for me.

1 Timothy 1:12: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”

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