My eldest daughter and I had a visit to the stonemason's yard at a British Cathedral recently and spent an hour talking with the Master Stonemason. It was really inspiring to hear him speak of his love for traditional crafts and his passion for passing along such skills to new generations.
What was even more interesting was to hear him speak about stones. He has spent thirty years working stones and he has a real sense for the 'soul', for want of a better word, of stones. He gets them and understands their properties and their beauty. By the look and feel and sound of stones (when struck with a chisel) he can get a sense of how to work with them (and how not to). But every stone is different and when he works with them he is tentative at first, allowing the stone to disclose something of itself as he works on it. In response to the stone's individual quirks he modifies his approach. His approach to stones was respectful, appreciating their spirituality and seeking to draw on it, bring it out in the work, all to the glory of God.
It reminded me of Esther Meek's work on epistemology. She argues that knowledge is not simply information to be gathered and organized. Knowledge, as she sees it, is relational. We engage the world we seek to know in a relational and respectful way, allowing it to disclose itself to us. She even speaks of knowing the inanimate world in a similar way to the way we know persons. (See Esther's big book—Loving to Know and, for a short and simple introduction to her approach see her forthcoming A Little Manual for Knowing.) It struck me that the wisdom of the stonemason was just this kind of relational knowing. It was knowing not just as information but knowing in your body.
It also struck me that this resonates with the biblical tendency to speak of inanimate parts of creation (like hills, rocks, rivers, and seas) as if they were animate; as if they could be addressed by God and, in their turn, respond in their own distinctive ways. Perhaps the world is more 'alive' than we give it credit for.
It's funny what you can learn from a stonemason.