“I believe . . . that our souls are in our hands. For we do everything to the world with our hands.”
Ray Bradbury wrote the words. I read them as a teenager, wrote them in a notebook, never forgot them. But I rediscovered that notebook recently, and found I’d written down more of Mr. Bradbury’s words than I’d remembered. More on that later.
The Shakers said, “Hands to work, hearts to God.” To me, that simply meant, “Keep your hands busy and focus your mind on God.” My interpretation has evolved: I believe that when your hands engage in meaningful work, your heart moves closer to the divine.
A sweater takes shape in my hands, and as they ramp up their activity level, my mind falls into a state of clarity and grace. When I knit, it’s as if my hands take over for my brain, allowing it to catch its breath—“Okay,” say my hands, “stop racing around like a demented squirrel inside her skull. Stop with the worries and stuff you can’t do anything about. We’ll do the fidgeting for a while, and you just settle yourself.” My soul calms.
Through the work of my hands, I connect not only to myself, but others. I play piano for sing-alongs at the adult daycare center. The folks sometimes try to sing with recorded music, but a tape can’t slow down to accommodate faltering voices; rifle through music books to find a favorite tune; or applaud, shake hands with, and hug the singers, as my hands do. Recorded music makes people want to passively listen. Handmade music makes them want to join in. Souls meet.
When I set my hands to a task I believe in, I find hope. On Wednesday nights, I scoop out litter boxes for a local animal rescue group. A humble task, but I need to do it. Knowing that we euthanize forty thousand adoptable animals in this area every year leaves me overwhelmed and defeated. Knowing that the cats I stroke and tickle on Wednesdays will not be a part of that awful statistic, I can go on working to change it. My soul can endure.
I’m not religious, but if God judges us, my best hope is in the work of my hands. If God ever wants to know my soul’s worth, I’ll show Him how to clean a cage around a fractious cat. I’ll bang out a few tunes on the piano. Maybe I’ll knit Him a sweater. When I ask Him to forgive the times my feet have strayed, my eyes were blind, my nose has slipped out of joint, or my mouth has shot off, I’ll remind Him of what Ray Bradbury said: “I believe . . . that our souls are in our hands. For we do everything to the world with our hands. Sometimes I think we don’t use our hands half enough; it’s certain we don’t use our heads.”