This past year, as mentioned in the previous post, COVID put the kibosh on many of our family holiday traditions.
But not all of them. We still put up our Christmas tree — which always makes me feel like a kid again! — and kept it up until mid-January. And I continued to make miniature Christmas ornaments for the family, a tradition I’ve kept for close to 30 years, ever since the kids were small. They’re grown and gone now, but I still make them ornaments for their own trees.
The ornaments are figurines made of colored polymer clay (I use Sculpey, if you’re wondering), which bakes hard in a low-temperature oven. Every December, I have to decide what would make for a meaningful memento of that year. Some years it’s easy, but others, not so much.
For several years, I’ve also made ornaments for my sister, who adores anything related to the late Charles Schulz’s Peanuts — particularly, of course, Snoopy. This year, given our mother’s death from COVID, I knew immediately what to make for her. That’s him: a two-and-a-half-inch tall Snoopy, wearing a Santa costume and a mask, shedding a tear and carrying a cross.
I shed a tear or two myself as I fashioned him, lovingly, paying attention to every detail. And when it came down to it, I was reluctant to let this one go and put it in the mail.
So I ended up making another one for us, to be hung in its place each Christmas from now on.
A great deal of care goes into the making of each figurine. Clays in various shades of red, for example, are difficult to work with, because the color transfers to your fingers. Pick up a piece of white clay afterward, and you’ll get pink fingerprints on it. But even when I’m careful to keep the colors separate, the fingerprints remain; look closely, and you’ll see the imprint of my fingers on the surface of the clay.
There was a time when I would try to smooth the fingerprints out. But it was a lost cause. I had to touch the clay to smooth it, and everywhere I touched it, I left more prints. It didn’t take long to decide that this was a necessary part of the uniqueness of each piece.
You can see the indelible signature of the sculptor, if only you care to look.
As we saw in a previous post, in Psalm 8, the poet looks to the heavens and praises God:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (vss. 3-4, NRSV)
Note the language. I’m more used to thinking about what God has created with his hands, than what God has created with his fingers. I can stand out in the desert on a clear night, gaze up in wonder at the Milky Way, and consider it all God’s handiwork. But his fingers? The care with which each star in that vast galaxy is lovingly fashioned and hung in place?
There’s more here than just the declaration that God is unimaginably powerful. God is an artist who cares about his craft, and cares for what he has crafted.
And his fingerprints are all over the place, if we care to look.
There is a sense in which the psalmist gazes heavenward and feels small: Lord, given all of this — the majesty and splendor of the sky — how is it that you care so much about us human creatures? But this smallness is not accompanied by shame, because the psalmist sees the fingerprints of God in the humans he created.
Are we ready to see ourselves and each other in that way? More in the next post.