I was watching the landscapers working at the new house next door. They were planting small trees and shrubs, and were moving soil and rocks. I noticed they were using a wheelbarrow. That got me to thinking: how far back do wheelbarrows go? And how do they work? This reflection is based on my “research.”
First, a definition: a wheelbarrow is a hand-propelled vehicle (usually with one wheel) designed to be pushed by a single person using two handles at the rear. Wheelbarrows distribute weight between the wheel and the operator. Thus, it makes it possible for one person to move heavier loads. The name wheelbarrow comes from the Old English bearwe which meant a device for carrying loads. Sometimes people mistakingly say wheelbarrel but there’s no barrel in the word.
The earliest known wheelbarrows were depicted in murals dating back to the second Century Han Dynasty in China. Artistic drawings of wheelbarrows were found in several emperors’ tombs. In ancient China the wheelbarrow was nicknamed the “wooden ox.” There is no archeological evidence of the wheelbarrow in ancient Greece or Rome.
But the wheelbarrow appeared in Europe in the twelfth Century. It was used in construction work, mining, and farming. Sometimes wheelbarrows have two wheels for greater stability. But a one-wheel wheelbarrow has better maneuverability especially in tight spaces. In the 1970’s the British inventor James Dyson introduced the “ballbarrow,” a molded plastic wheelbarrow with a ball at the end instead of a wheel. The ball makes it easier to maneuver and to use on soft soil. In 1998 the Honda HPE60 electric power-assisted wheelbarrow was introduced. It made it possible to carry much heavier loads.
What do wheelbarrows have to do with spirituality? Wheelbarrows have been around for thousands of years because they are a marvelous invention. They distribute the weight of our loads so we humans can bear them more easily, more gracefully.
In the spiritual life, we all have burdens we are carrying: fear, anxiety, illness, difficult family situations, loneliness, discouragement… What or who helps us to bear our burdens? Friends and family can certainly ease our burdens. Seeking professionals can help too—a doctor, spiritual director, counselor. Prayer and scripture often can make our burdens lighter. Maybe even reading a reflection on wheelbarrows can help!
Ultimately, of course, we hand over our burdens to Jesus. We ask for his wisdom, his love, his strength to bear our burdens with greater faith, trusting in his words: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
Have you had any experience with wheelbarrows?
As a child, did you ever play with a wheelbarrow? (My siblings and I certainly did!)
Who or what helps you to bear the burdens you are currently bearing? How do you help others to bear their burdens?
PS: One of our responders below, Tom, sent in this picture. He calls it “Wheelbarrow by the Cuyahoga.”
I want to wish my American readers a very Happy Fourth of July! May we never take the gift of freedom for granted!
I have three short videos today. The first two are just for fun. The third one is our song for today.
This video is from the annual Hungarian Olympics. This is a fun competitive race called “girls in the wheelbarrow.” (1 min.)
This second video is called “extreme wheelbarrow tricks.” You might want to try some of these at home. (1 min.)
Here is our song for the day. It’s Chris Tomlin’s “Jesus” and is appropriate for this reflection. Jesus is eager and able to help us carry our burdens. I especially like the line: Jesus “carries my healing in his hands.”
Do you have any thoughts about this reflection? I welcome your response below: