Faces on Faith: Our quilt of life
We’re such a complicated, random, and fascinating bunch of earthly specimens on these islands – filled with ups and downs, replete with narratives of trials and joys, overflowing with ideas, energy, talent, and surprises.
As I read names in the paper of what people do – for their fellow human beings, for the environment, and for their places of worship – I’m often in awe of the purposeful and powerful things set in motion by so many people. At times something catches in my throat as I ponder the exquisite quilt of humanity here – threads and fabric from every walk of life.
Not unlike any quilt, our interwoven human threads sometimes fray, sometimes become weakened with illness or sadness, sometimes develop rough edges of hurt or pain. But I have to remind myself that at the same time, a myriad of other caring hands and hearts are working to hold particular worn pieces together and begin to stitch back any fabric that has pulled away. Over and over the quilt continues to transform itself – may even look different in color or size – as individual hurts are healed – and as the pieces of cloth are loved, cherished and made whole again.
Seventeen years ago, I made a quilt for my sister’s first child, Liam. However, it only faintly resembles the gift it was at that time. The torn pieces and broken threads have been stitched over and over again by a mother’s loving hands. The colors have faded, and some areas of thin fabric – loved so much by a little boy – have been replaced. Quilters know how this happens and may wonder if the quilt kept in a box on a high closet shelf – awaiting a place in history as a family heirloom – is better off than the one used and cherished and hurt and healed. We’ll never know. However, I do know that the quilt that requires many loving hands to keep it whole, demands energy and time, needs care when it seems easier to discard, and is more the metaphor for our complex, colorful, and fascinating lives. You could call all of us on these islands what quilters refer to as a “crazy quilt” – irregular pieces of cloth, stitched together in a seemingly random fashion.
Yes, we’re irregular and each so unique – no fixed shapes or categories or personalities – thank God. But our coming back together each season as a whole community is far from random. Our time together is part of God’s time – “kairos” – a space where we wrestle with the desire to fulfill our needs and desires, where we try to exercise our own free will in balanced and compassionate ways, and where we do all of this in juxtaposition with the care and nurturing of our community.
Theologian and scientist Judith Cannato writes that, “Freedom is an act of going out of the self, going beyond the fixed categories, becoming part of the greater whole…The freer we become, the more attentive we can be to the quality of our connections and aware of how our spirit touches all others.”
As we continue to walk with one another – friends and the friends we’ve not yet met – perhaps we could visualize in new ways how each of us could work at restitching pieces of our human quilt and how we could see irregular shapes and sizes fitting into just the right places in our various communities. And as we mend the frayed and hurting edges among us, perhaps the quilt of life will not only become whole again but may also transform us in nurturing and sustainable ways.
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan, Rector, St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church