Stitching It Together
As Lori and Janet shared, the Faith Quilts Project has been a wonderful journey. It has helped us identify and articulate what is most central and important to us in our faith. It is an endeavor that has asked that we think with our head, our heart, our spirit and our soul. It has brought us together, learning more about one another, not just about our families and our lives, but has asked us to share something of our spiritual journey and our closely held beliefs. You see before you a symbolic representation of who we are as individuals, but more importantly, as a community.
From the words of Teresa Gustafson "...just as the pieces of the quilt are sewn together with interlocking stitches, all people are linked together in the fabric of our world. In a way, the patchwork quilt represents all the different people of the world. We are individual in our attitudes, life-styles, and backgrounds, yet we share so much of what it means to be human."
Last week I talked about the importance and value of our expressing the "Good News" of Unitarian Universalism. At the mid-size church conference, my colleague, Stefan Jonasson, shared with us that we will not be able to grow as a movement unless we can articulate who we are, what we are about and what we have of value to share. But as those in our Orientation Series are discovering, this is not an easy task for a non-creedal, non-dogmatic faith.
How do you describe what a compelling faith we have, when we have such diversity? I have heard so many people muddle through this task (and have had a fair share of muddling through it myself): well we are not Christian; well some of us are Christian, but some are Buddhist or Jewish too; except we are our own unique faith; but we don't really have any universal rituals; we grew out of the early New England Puritanism, but have become quite liberal and we believe strongly in social justice and living out our faith in the world, but we don't tell people how to do it... Well you get the idea.
It is sort of like trying to describe a quilt to someone who has not seen it, but may be familiar with the components: well it is a piece of that shirt, and bits from Micaela and Katy's old dresses, with some green satin, and this floral print, and it all gets cut up into little pieces and then we stitch it back together. CUT IT UP SO YOU CAN JUST STITCH IT BACK TOGETHER???? Imagine that, quilting is so absurd when you think about it, we take perfectly good, beautiful, whole items, cut them up, and spend hours upon hours figuring out how to put them all back together. Quilters have got to be CRAZY!!!!
Well isn't that a little bit like Unitarian Universalism? We are not a blanket! Blankets are good...blankets are great...they keep us warm...some blankets are beautiful as well as functional, but as a faith, Unitarian Universalists are not blankets, we are quilts! Taking bits of all that is out there: a little of this shirt, that dress, or this theology and that ritual; cutting it up, taking from it the parts that we find meaningful, inspirational, uniquely in sync with the core of our being, and we call those scraps our own. But you can't leave your quilt in pieces. No, you have to then sew it all back together and make them a coherent whole.
It would be easier to use a blanket, and that may take care of many people's needs, but we ask more of you who enter this door: we ask you to be quilters, each and every one of you.
Some may say, "If you are just taking a little from here and there, cutting it up, piecing it together and calling it your own, well then you are fragmented, and scattered, and only possess a fraction of what is out there and what could be called the Ultimate Truth. And it is true, being Unitarian Universalists we do run the risk of cutting up our pieces and not putting them back together in a coherent whole, leaving ourselves fragmented, confused and irrelevant. Which is why we have to stitch it all together and create our own quilt.
We all start with the same fabrics. We may take Adult Spiritual Education and Children's Religious Education courses to help us understand all the fabric and creative elements that are out there. We find some of our fabric in our own through spiritual practice, life experience or personal religious history. We may find some fabric out there in the world as we notice issues of justice, peace making, and providing care and nurturance. Yet as anyone who is in a quilt guild like I am knows, even when you start with the same fabric, no two quilts will be alike. We all express our creativity and our spirituality differently and reflecting our own unique relationship to the sacred and divine.
Last summer our Faith Quilt group had the pleasure of going on a field trip to see Gee's Bend Quilt Exhibit when it was at the MFA last year. For those of you who missed this wonderful show, the quilters of Gee's Bend live in the poorest county in the US. It is a very rural and isolated community in Alabama. The residents there are all African-American and descendents from slaves and sharecroppers on the Pettway Plantation. For generations the women of Gee's Bend have been quilting out of necessity, cutting up and preserving any bit of cloth they had to create quilts for warmth. These women learned to quilt at their mother and grandmother's knees, and many were self-taught. They had no formal art training and very little education, yet the quilts they created were exquisite! Since being discovered about 10 years ago, these quilts have received universal acclaim from art critics worldwide and have been compared to the works of artists such as Henri Matisse and Paul Klee.
Not only did we visit the show, but the Faith Quilt Project hosted a dinner for the 30 or so quilters from Gee's Bend who were here for the opening of the show. It was a wonderful experience to meet these women and to learn of their creative inspiration. What was so striking about them was how inextricable their art was from their faith, spirituality and relationship with the divine. As soon as we had all gathered (about 70 of us quilters from Gee's Bend and from our own Faith Quilt Project), had our plates full of food, then the quilters from Gee's Bend broke out in gospel singing. The joy they felt in us all being together, they could not contain. They had to express their love and appreciation for us, our project, their welcome, in the only way they knew how, as an articulation of their faith. For them, their quilting and their faith, their self-identity and their relationship with the holy, were all intimately interwoven.
I think if there is anything that this project has taught me, it is how bound together our creativity is with our soul and our spirit. In addition, being required to work on this as a communal endeavor has illustrated to me what power there is for transformation when we work creatively together. There is no right or wrong when we work creatively together, there are only new ideas and different perspectives. There is no hate or fear when we work creatively together. There is only sharing stories and fostering understanding.
The Faith Quilt Project was begun as a project not just to create quilts, but to create and foster peace. Since the attacks of September 11th there has been such suspicion, assumptions, racial and religious prejudice. Religious faith seeks to create not destroy and by sharing our faith, we learn how we all truly fit together in this interdependent web.
The Faith Quilt project has taught us that when we see people kill in the name of religion, that we need to "peace" it together, if you will, not tear it apart. By peacing it together, we learn about one another and where each finds love and beauty. By peacing it together, we discover new things about ourselves and what is of value at our very core. By peacing it all together we work to build and create, not destroy and reject. Think how world politics might look different if we responded to conflicts with creativity as opposed to destruction.
So I ask that you, as Unitarian Universalists, find the fabric that is most sacred and meaningful to you. Cut it up and then sew it back together in ways that are expressions of your faith. Be creative! Make it Beautiful! Sing about it! And share it with all who will see. Then take a look at their quilts; find out where they find the holy. Ask them questions, learn their story and share yours with them. Become a "Piecemaker," for you are all Faith Quilters. And you can start by checking out the Cyclorama next month. I'll see you there.