Dear Fellow Pew Packers,
My father had little memory of his mother; she died when he was only 14. Prior to her death she had several illnesses that left her bedridden and out of the activities of a young boy’s life. His own father, my grandfather, was also a quiet man who outwardly shared little of his own feelings. He never regaled his children with memories of their mother’s presence, so personal recollection was not reinforced by overlapping story. As a result, when I once asked my dad to share with me some memories of his mom, he was quick to tell the few stories lingering in his heart.
His favorite memory was of his mother hosting the quilting group from their church. The quilt-frame would be assembled in the front room of the house where light could wash in on their work from the picture window (nights in their home were illuminated by kerosene). For those unfamiliar with quilting, the frame held the layers of the quilt smooth and taut, so they could be stitched together evenly and avoid any wrinkles or puckering, the signs of a poorly executed spread. My dad and his little brother would sneak under the tightly drawn fabric at the feet of the busy stitchers and, at the right moment, smack the center of the assembly, tossing needles, thread, measures and spools up into the air. They were rightly scolded for their mischief, but it briefly gave them the attention they craved.
I thought of my dad and Uncle Ken in church yesterday. I pictured them in knee-pants scooting under the handiwork of gathered farmwives, careful not to brush against the heat of the oil-burner in my grandfather’s front room, carefully aiming their punch to the center of the cloth stretched above them like a drum, thumping the backing up into the softer batting, then laughing at the mayhem they created. This rushed back to my memory as I saw the handiwork of our quilters decorating our balcony-rail and narthex. Like the unbroken stitch of a quilt’s binding wraps the layers into a single work, seeing the display wrapped and warmed my heart. The passage of time collapsed in the power of craft.
My father remembered his own mother’s quilts, crafted with the ladies of his church, to be shared; most were given to a veterans’ hospital that housed maimed unfortunates from The Great War. It was impossible for my toddler father and his brother to imagine someday receiving quilts from ladies’ aid societies to warm them on cold nights as an airman and sailor bunked worlds apart during the Second World War.
Our own FPCLG quilts are also crafted to be given away, beautiful works of warming art to be shared with individuals and families transitioning from homelessness to the grace of a permanent address. The Christianly tradition suggests that quilts made for oneself, elegant though they may be, lack inspiration; they only live when they come into being for the sole purpose of being given away.
It’s the hands-on quality that gives the quilt purpose. We could easily buy cases of blankets and warm a thousand beds for the less-fortunate, but that gift would serve a function and not stir a heart. Our quilters, like my grandmother and her friends, understand the priceless contributions of the maker’s touch.
We know from Genesis how God could have formed each of us with the distant force of a divine word, but chose instead to shape us from the earth and puff holy breath into the form of God’s own intent. Then our creator turns us loose as gifted stewards for one another and for all creation. The best gifts are those hand-formed, labor loved, breathed upon and given away.
Resisting the temptation to sneak under the quilt-frame, I remain,