Woodworkers live into the lessons of life. Instinctively, they see the potential of a fallen tree limb; they note the wood grain of a stair tread or a mantelpiece; they appreciate a distinctive mark in a wooden object that most of us would consider to be a flaw; yet to a woodcraftsman, it is a unique mark of beauty. Woodworkers go about their carving and smoothing and fitting together of intricate pieces, striving to perfect the object of their craft, they delve into the intricacies of life; and, God is present. When woodworkers open their hearts and minds to this presence, they live into holy moments when ordinary rough shapeless wood is crafted into a sacred vessel in which its natural God-given beauty is revealed – a vessel that carries guideposts for daily living.
Even if we are not particularly gifted in the craft of woodworking as Ray was, we can relate to these lessons in the imagery. For the most part, we all have our rough edges, but as we encounter one another, rub against one another, embrace one another, truly listen to one another, those edges are smoothed bit by bit. Over time, through God’s grace, our roughness is honed and polished; we find our rightful place in the Body of Christ and we become vessels of the love of Christ.
At best, as we go through our lives with one another, our relationships carve us and smooth us in this way. At times, though, we can imagine the knife slipping and gouging us, marring our beautiful appearance – completely redirecting our lives into difficult waters. But, through our awareness of God’s presence in his healing grace, the scar of the gouge is transformed, and we find that something very different and much more beautiful quite unexpectedly emerges – something beautiful that would not have been revealed had the carving knife not slipped and our course not been redirected in ways that reformed and strengthened us.
As Ray and his fellow woodworkers see potential in rough wood, Jesus Christ sees potential in us much like he saw potential in each of the ruffians he called to be his first disciples. Perhaps we appear singularly unattractive and ill-fitting. But, as a woodworker loves his craft and strives toward perfection in his finished project, so our Lord loves us, and wants only what is best for us. Through our faith we are formed to be disciples, smoothed and polished; our separate apparently unattractive ill-fitting pieces are shaped and joined together into a composite of beauty – joined together for the kingdom – the kingdom, which is here, and the kingdom that is to come.
Through the words of John’s Gospel, Jesus promises us that he goes to prepare a place for us in the Kingdom. Jesus doesn’t break his promises to us.
Ray lived into this promise. He was eager to share his love of woodworking, and he was eager to share his love of fishing and the outdoors. He was eager also to share the life lessons that were made manifest in these pursuits.
On a fishing expedition in the marshy areas of Currituck Sound, as it seems fishermen always want to go just a bit further, Ray determined he needed to get across a narrow stream of water from one bit of marsh to another. But, as he launched his first big long stride across what he thought was a shallow stream, he was suddenly horrified to discover that the stream was actually a deep channel; he plunged down down down well over his head, desperately gathering his waders to his chest to prevent their filling up with water, thus, weighing him down like concrete.
For unexplained reasons, Ray escaped that near-death ordeal; he’s never been quite sure why or how. But, his clearest memory of an otherwise horrifying ordeal was not the horror – it was the peace that came over him as he plunged downward, resigned to the thought that this was his time – this was the end of his earthly life, AND he was very much at peace with that anticipation. Ray never forgot that sense of peace; he would want you to know that sense of peace that only your faith in Jesus Christ can bring – the peace of our faith in the everlasting life that Jesus has prepared for us.
Ray, now, fully understands that peace; Ray is fully engulfed in that peace even more than he was fully engulfed in the waters of Currituck Sound, and there is nothing weighing him down. As Ray shared with great enthusiasm his love of woodworking and his love of the outdoors, he shared his love of the Lord. He would want to be remembered most for his love of the Lord.
We are grateful that Ray did not die in the deep waters of that channel; we are grateful that he lived on to share his love of Jesus Christ and his assurance of the peace that comes to us through our faith. Just as he has promised, Jesus has carved our dwelling place in the kingdom. Ray is there, with his sunshine smile, admiring the perfect craftsmanship.
Burial of Ray O’Neal