Monday, May 13, 2013

Happiness is a Sharp Blade

I spent about 6 total hours with the scythe this Saturday.
Every spring, the grasses explode around my house. One week, they're a few inches tall, and the next, they're TOC. The reel mower can't handle the explosion in height and volume. It's simply not built for the long, dense grass cover that inevitably comes roaring in with April and May.
So instead of futilely hacking at with the reel mower (again), I decided to break down and scythe it all. The scythe cuts everything at between a half and one-and-a-half inches. It's a clean cut, taking down everything in  its swooshing arc.
The uber-sharp scythe blade evenly crops everything in a 4-inch by 7-foot swoosh.
Everything, that is, when the blade is ridiculously sharp.
And there's a parallel to the spiritual life that I discovered and meditated on.

Before I set out, I worked on getting the blade sharp. Now, there's sharp, and then there's sharp. Think of the sharpest thing you have in the house. Probably a razor blade (unless you're my cousin, in which case it's a scalpel). Imagine you take that razor blade, extend it to 24" long, curve it, add a thick metal backbone, and attach it to a stick with handles.
That's basically what we're dealing with here. You brush the blade of a scythe by accident and get a gash 1/4" deep in your hand. You don't know it yet because the blade is so honed, it slices cleanly enough to not even bleed. You don't notice the blood for a good 5 minutes, until it's all over your hand.
That's sharp.
Here's how you get it that way (bear with me for a few paragraphs - it's worth it):
A peening jig and caps, just like mine!
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First, you take the blade off, and run it into something called a peening jig. Super-scythers just use a hammer and anvil - I'm still getting jiggy with it (ba-dum boom ching!). So you run the blade through the peening jig, and hammer it over and over again until the metal develops a super-straight, extremely sharp edge. Then you put a cap on with an even sharper angle and do it again.
I spent about 20 good minutes hammering the snot out of my blade.
Then, you take something called a whetstone and you hone the blade. The whetstone is kept on hand at all times, and it is precisely the action of honing that keeps the blade sharp throughout the day.
Honing is running the stone along the top rim and bottom edge of the blade to iron out and smooth the blade surface. Honing takes all of the nearly microscopic bends and turns in the steel edge and straightens them out. As thick stems are cut, the resistance causes the steel to buckle ever so slightly. Repeat times 30-40 cuts, and the smooth, razor edge gets all caddywhompus. Honing returns the blade to its proper sharpness.
The key to scything is a sharp blade.
Whetstones hone the blade to a
sick level of sharpness.
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As soon as the grass doesn't cut like a hot knife through warm butter, it's time to hone. It takes anywhere from 7 to 30 seconds, depending on much you want to catch your breath. In a good rhythm, it's about 15.
But WOW. Those first three to four cuts right after honing are effortless. Absolutely smooth. A simple twist of the hips, a flick of the wrist and down go hundreds of blades of grass.
But then, the blade begins to warp ever so slightly. The weight of the grasses, the inertia, have an effect on the honed blade. Each blade of grass does very little in and of itself. But the onslaught of the thousands of grasses, of all different thicknesses and densities, take their cumulative toll. Pretty soon, the exertion increases, the difficulty of the task comes to light. As soon as you notice the effort, it's time to hone.
Then       s w o o s h  .  .   .    .        Effortless.
Isn't that just how it is in the spiritual life?
You go to confession, you go to Mass, and the buildup of graces make life effortless?
But then, life starts to happen. The bills, the boss, the media, the activity of modern life, the interpersonal difficulties with those we know, they dull the sharpness of the faith that spent so long to achieve. The weight of one can be overcome, but the onslaught of many dulls us.
So what we do?
We pause to hone our blades.
A well-honed scythe blade cuts effortlessly through grass. Similarly, a well-honed spirit cuts effortlessly through life.
Honing the spirit, to me, means making use of the tools Holy Mother Church has given us.
Like whetstones for the spirit!
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I consider the sacraments to be like the jig and anvil - we take time out of our routine to go and receive a new set of graces  to conquer the next task. Then, broken down and in need of reshaping, we trudge in the next week and revive ourselves yet again.
But in the world, we cannot simply retreat to the confessional dozens of times in a week. We need constant honing.
Enter the sacramentals.
Tools, like whetstones, to hone us throughout the day. A rosary here, an aspiration to St. Joseph there, a dab of holy water now, a novena later. These sacramentals help us pause, detach from the task at hand, and hone our spirits. With renewed sharpness, we can approach life with a faith and vigor that is effortless.
And I think that is the key to happiness in this world.
Happiness is, ultimately, living our lives as destined by God. I cannot accept that He destined us for a life of crushing stress and unbounded anxiety. He destined us for a life that, while difficult (my back is still sore from Saturday), is nonetheless
A sharply honed spirit lets us cut more effortlessly through that which causes stress and anxiety in our lives. It prevents those things from building up and causing life to be so much work. The dulling effect of the world is overcome by frequently reaching for Heaven - a honing of the spirit.
With a well-honed spirit, we can more easily, and dare I say effortlessly, live the life we were created to live.
Happiness is sharp blade.

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