Usually I write my reflection first and then pick a song. Today, however, I picked the song and then wrote this reflection. The song is “A Shovel Is a Prayer” by Carrie Newcomer. Before we hear the song, let’s look at the fascinating tool called a shovel.
First, a definition. A shovel is a tool used for digging, lifting, or moving materials such as soil, coal, rocks, gravel, snow, sand, etc. The modern shovel traces its origin back to Neolithic times (10,000 – 3000 B.C.) when humans fashioned the first shovels from the bones of large animals—usually the shoulder bone (scapula) or the pelvic bone. The oldest wooden shovel, found in ancient Egypt, dates back to 1750 B.C. Over time, with the discovery of metals, shovels were greatly improved since metals were stronger and longer lasting than bone or wood.
The shovel was the chief means of excavation and construction until the invention of the steam shovel (about 1839) and, later, hydraulic equipment such as excavators, backhoes, and loaders (post World War II.) This means, everything built or mined or farmed before the dawn of these inventions was chiefly done by shovels!
The oldest shovel manufacturing company in the U.S. is the Ames Company, founded in 1774 in West Bridgewater, MA by John Ames. It is still in business today in Parkersburg, WVA. I visited their website and learned many things. Their motto is, “Our Tools Built America.” Their claim is not an exaggeration. In 1775, for example, the Revolutionary Army troops used Ames shovels to dig in on the heights overlooking Boston Harbor. Without those shovels, the colonists might not have won the War of Independence.
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Ames shovels were used to extract the gold from the earth. As mentioned earlier, shovels were used during wars to dig defensive trenches for battle. Abraham Lincoln personally asked Oakes Ames, son of the founder, to supply the Union Army with shovels. By 1874, the Ames company was making 60% of the world’s shovels! The company supplied shovels for World War I, World War II (the company made 11 million shovels for Allied troops!), and the Korean War. During the Vietnam War, the company supplied troops with 275,000 folding, lightweight entrenching tools. Ames shovels also helped build the Transcontinental Railroad (1863-1869), the New York subway system (started in 1904), the Panama Canal (1903-12), Mt. Rushmore (1927-41), the Empire State Building (1929-31), the Hoover Dam (1931-1935), and the Golden Gate Bridge (1933-37).
Here are a few more facts about the shovel:
* When I was in India in 1999, I travelled all over the country with two SND’s and several lay people. One of the men in the group said one day, “I’ve been in India for over a week and I haven’t seen a single backhoe.” He was amazed.
* There are all kinds of shovels including these: coal shovel, snow shovel, grain shovel, gardening trowel, roofing shovel (to remove old shingles), spade, scoop (Yes, the ice-cream scoop is really a little shovel!), dustpan, fireplace shovel, trenching shovel, and toy shovel (frequently seen in the hands of children at the beach or in the sandbox!)
* In 1929, when Herbert Hoover, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison laid the cornerstone at Greenfield Village outside Detroit, they used Ames shovels!
Have you had any experiences with shovels that you could share with us?
Does anything in this reflection stand out for you?
PS: Once again I was inspired by the women who made the weekend retreat at Bergamo Retreat Center in Dayton. I thank them for their attentiveness, their prayerfulness, their goodness, and their sense of fun. Special thanks to Diane and her committee for making the retreat run so beautifully.
Next presentations: I will be at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine, Wisconsin giving an evening presentation entitled “What Does a Healthy Spirituality Look Like?” on Thursday Oct. 25 and a weekend retreat Oct. 26-28 entitled “Hanging onto Hope.” I would love to see you at both or either of these events. Visit the website for details: www.SienaRetreatCenter.org.
As I said earlier, the song today is “A Shovel Is a Prayer” by Carrie Newcomer. In addition to a shovel, the song suggests other images for prayer.
Newcomer says a shovel is a prayer… Or a friend bringing over some soup… What else has been a prayer for you?
I invite you to share your thoughts with us below: