At the Lathe

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Illustration by Frank Kacmarcik, OblSB, Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission

In a noisy world, Joseph wanders onstage and doesn’t say a word. 

Placed at Mary’s side, shaken by the news of a child not his own, his instinct is to stop the story for a quiet resolution: she is too exposed, too vulnerable. 

But then the whole frame changes. There is another “annunciation,” and he is drawn into the fray. 

He does not speak, there is no “fiat.” He just gets on with it, leading the donkey in the search for shelter, looking for the young Jesus only to find him preaching in the synagogue. He stands up and stands by. And then he disappears. 

The devotional mind is often restless. Drafted into parenthood, our Joseph has been spun into the perfect husband and father. Given no lines, we imagine him as the “strong silent type.” On the slim information that he was a carpenter, he is permanently at the lathe, like a spinster aunt who is reduced every year to the fact that she can bring a pan of stuffing or a mince pie. 

We imagine him teaching his craft to a haloed child Jesus. He is “the Worker,” patron saint of those who labor, adopted by men’s parish groups as their inspiration for fidelity to necessary institutions they neither own nor understand. 

We stretch his fidelity into the story’s narrative arc, and call it agency. 

Joseph stands by, silent as the moment of creation, midwife to the birth of God with us. 

© Liturgical Press.

Nancy Dallavalle

Nancy Dallavalle is associate professor of religious studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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