Hope Floats

Dec. 3, 2023

“Mary wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manager….”  Luke 2:7


Standing on the banks of the Cooper River, our eclectic group of children, staff and families proudly admired eight, beautifully handcrafted cedar-stripped canoes.

Boats built by the hands of children. Remarkable. Stunning.

Sun beams reflected brilliantly off the highly varnished wood. Collectively we squinted to protect our eyes as Kevin Callahan, the director of our BoatWorks program, took the microphone.

“I remember the late Father Michael Doyle visiting the boat shop one morning and blessing the hands of all the children,” he began. “Father Doyle held those small hands and said, ‘May your hands always do good work.’”

Kevin raised his hands for all to see, motioning those in the crowd to do the same. Reflectively we all examined our hands.

“And that’s my prayer for you,” concluded Kevin. “May your hands always do good work in the world.”

Hands. Incredible instruments, aren’t they? Ponder their dexterity. 27 bones. 27 joints. 34 muscles. Over 100 ligaments. My goodness. And the power they possess! Paint masterpieces, build cathedrals, comfort, touch, write, mend, perform life saving surgeries, give gifts…construct boats. A world without hands—a dismal place.

But those hands do bad things as well. Mediocre things, too. Hands tear down, destroy, make costly mistakes, inflict harm on others. Hands wander. Engage in meaningless activity, wasting their brilliance. Our world bears the pain of hands gone bad.

“May your hands always do good work in the world.” A wonderful prayer and intention for little ones beginning their life journey. A powerful reminder for you and me.

So what do hands and constructing wooden boats have to do with this season of Advent? After all, boats are simple inanimate objects. Hunks of wood. Collections of tightly pack cells. But wait! My colleague Jim Cummings reminds me why we build boats:  “Boats give you a sense you can go somewhere. Coffee tables don’t take you places.” So boats we build.

And that sense of “going somewhere”—it’s hopeful, especially for children and adults stuck under the weight of limiting circumstances. Hopeful people see possibilities to move forward. Hopeful people imagine better futures. Hopeful people believe change is possible. Hope floats.

Within the Christian tradition, Advent begins this week. In the weeks leading up to Christmas we anticipate the coming of Christ and its meaning for the world and our lives. A good time to pause and take inventory.

Perhaps this year Advent can be our “boat”, lifting us above the maddening, distracting, and exhausting holiday currents. Advent can allow us to imagine a world where hearts, minds and hands are used for good and hopeful things.

Mary used her hands to cloth, feed, hold and protect her son. Jesus used his hands to heal, feed, mend, guide, share, bless, pray. We can do the same this Advent season.

So with expecting hearts, attentive minds, listening ears and compassionate hands we climb aboard the Advent vessel. We pray our waning faith can, once again, believe our world “can go somewhere”—somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere better.

Hold the words of Teresa of Avila close to your hearts….

Christ has no body but yours
no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks 
compassion on this world,
yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world…..

May our hands make hope.

Spread hope.

Share hope this Advent Season.