When I was in high school, I was in a production of a little known musical entitled Quilters.
Prior to production, our director brought in various women to talk to us about their craft. We learned about the process, we learned about patterns, and we learned about the profound ministry of love hidden within the quilts, the quilting, and the quilting community.
Ever the teacher, our director was accomplishing far more than making us thoughtful and thorough thespians. She was, in fact, exposing the cast of young women to a relatively unremarkable community of women who, for generations, had been quietly engaging in an inconspicuous activity that served as a vessel of storytelling, healing, teaching, proclaiming, communing, and loving.
Not surprisingly, most of the women (yes, women) who came to talk with us were from local churches – although we did hear from one “professional quilter” – and the refrain of their experience seemed to be “but I/we still quilted.”
A personal tragedy – I quilted.
A community commemoration – we quilted.
A wedding – we quilted.
A natural disaster – we quilted.
Facing a diagnosis – I quilted.
They quilted when they got along with each other, and they quilted when they didn’t. They quilted for the babies, the believers, and the beleaguered. They quilted outside in the heat and huddled against the cold in the church basement.
As they quilted, they shared, argued, cried, laughed, gossiped, solved the worlds problems six times over, and held reverential silence when there was simply nothing to be said.
They shared these stories in a matter of fact tone – no hint of pride either in their hard work or their beautiful works of art. Quilting needed doing (read: love needed doing), and so they did it, regardless of their personal situations, feelings, and preferences.
Here we were, a group of teenage girls often engaged in more than our share of off-stage drama, sitting at the feet of women who had grown and maintained friendships over many years and seen each other through many experiences. Through it all, they consistently gathered in conversation, in confession, and in care as they shared in the work of creation. We learned much more from these women than how to thread a needle – we learned about sacrifice, friendship, and humble service.
Last week, when I saw the 61 quilts from the Norma Jeanne’s Quilters laid out on the lawn to be blessed, I could not help but think of what was truly on display – hope, hurt, pain, tears, brokenness, beauty, fear, faith, doubt, friendship – all pieced together by a community of women into a beautiful display of color, generosity, and love.
I don’t know the stories of all the women who worked on those quilts, but I know that some part of their story is in there and that their thoughts and their prayers are more fully present in those quilts than in any “thoughts and prayers” comment I’ll ever write.
I don’t know the stories of those who will receive those quilts – the state of their homeland, their home, or their heart – but I know that they now have, not only a basic and needed item, but also a tangible proof that they are seen, they are not forgotten. Perhaps that quilt will provide – not only warmth, but hope and strength in hard and scary places.
Somehow the lives of the maker and the recipient are now united by the giving of something as ordinary and obvious as a blanket – and as mysterious and extraordinary as love.
I/we quilted. For generations women in from different countries, cultures, and traditions have engaged in this art, this craft, this ministry. Through wars, pandemics, depressions, recessions, elections, and other global and national events – they quilted to give care, and to heal, and to proclaim.
I/we quilted. Through personal and congregational tragedy and celebration – they quilted to remember, to teach, and to testify. The stories behind the creation and the creator of the quilts that hang on the walls in the Madison Campus testify to the scriptural truths they portray – the relentless love of a shepherd, and the promise of the resurrection.
It has been many years since I was in that production of Quilters and I have since forgotten all of my dramatic instruction. But what I learned from those women about community, that has stayed with me.
When you get a glimpse of a community that rejoices together and grieves together, that waits together, that speaks truth in love to one another, that sacrifices and shares with one another, that confesses to and forgives one another, that laughs and cries together – you glimpse a bit of the kingdom of heaven and you can’t resist wanting to be a part of it.
I can’t sew to save to may life but I think I got a good dose of evangelism in that experience.
Thank you to the Norma Jeanne’s Quilters, and to the quilters all over the world and over all generations who have quietly and consistently provided love in the most basic and simply beautiful ways.
Blessing the quilts at Verona Campus. Madison railroad yard. Loading LWR quilts 9/26/2020.