The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania that is centered on the worship of God, the ministry of all baptized persons, and the call to be agents of Christ’s love in the world.
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Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martin’s Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19118

The Rev. W. Jarrett Kerbel

St. Martin's Cloak

The Cloak is a collection of audio vignettes—stories that reveal parishioners’ faith journeys. Share your thoughts by sending us an e-mail.

... there’s a kind of level of peace that you have to use, that you have to kind of descend to.

John Tuton

We visited John Tuton’s studio, where he uses “abandoned” wood, or driftwood from the coast of Maine, to create one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. He thinks about prayer as focus. Concentration.

The idea of praying with your hands – the first thing comes to mind is this tremendous amount of concentration that you have to use. You can’t just go at it frivolously. You can’t go at it as if it’s a sudden impulse: you see something you need to do and you can do it. Out of respect for the tools and out of a concern for safety, you have to position your body, get your hands in a place where they’re really safe.

But then there’s a —I don’t know how to put this – there’s a kind of level of peace that you have to use, that you have to kind of descend to. It’s funny, every piece of hardware in my shop is in a little glass jar. A lot of people don’t do that; they put them in a plastic jar or they put them in maybe something made of cardboard. I intentionally have them in glass jars because I have to be careful when I take them off the shelf. I have to consider what I’m doing and operate with the right pace.

When it comes to working on something – it’s not that I go into a meditative trance or anything; it’s nothing like that. It’s just that you really have to pay attention to where your hands are and focus on the task right then, right at hand.

The tools oftentimes will dictate the position of your hands. But even more importantly the particular kind of wood and the task that you’re doing – they will say what your hands should be doing, more than perhaps than anything else.

But you’re also – when you’re planing or using a chisel – it’s absolutely imperative that you feel with your hands that you know where you’re going. You can very quickly tell if the chisel is a little bit at the wrong angle. You’re picking up too much wood or it’s getting stuck. I must say it even descends to something like using a screwdriver and screwing something into a piece of wood. You can feel when it’s just snug just to the point where it’s tight enough and not too tight enough that you’re going to do something to upbraid the edges of the hole.

I think “praying with your hands” is a pretty good way of putting it. It’s focusing with your hands to do something that takes tremendous concentration.

It’s also – I don’t know what everyone’s take on prayer is; for me it certainly is not asking for something. I don’t think prayer is: “Could I please have this.”

There are times when I’ve had conversations with my grandson about that and he kind of thinks it’s sort of like asking Santa. Well, he’s five-years-old so that’ll come forward.

It’s more, to me, getting to a more concentrated, more profound, more insightful place about anything. Understanding maybe a dilemma that you have or maybe even understanding how creative you can be in some way. Maybe solving a problem in a very positive way.

And just as prayer verbally, internally or externally, concentrates the mind [and heart], so when I work with my hands it does.