Saturday, January 14, 2017

KKQ 2017: Saturday Morning, Smelling

Here is where I explain this little series of meditations...

Psalm 45; Luke 15:17-24

If I told you this was going to be a spiritual meditation on our sense of smell...I know, I'd be a little skeptical, too.  Then again, I don't think I'm alone in believing the smell of hot coffee and sizzling bacon in the morning is a spiritual experience.

It's just that there aren't that many fragrances in scripture, other than a little incense in the temple, a little frankincense and myrrh, and the oil a woman once poured over Jesus' feet.  The Ignatian tradition of prayer, from the 17th century, invites us to enter scripture more deeply, to read with all our senses, so that we might imagine the smell of the fruit in Adam and Eve's hands, or the odor of an ark full of animals, of dust and sweat covered disciples, the earthiness of a vineyard or the sweetness of a wheat field, the smell of fish being cooked over a fire on the beach, or the fatted calf prepared for feast when a prodigal has returned.

It's also an unusual subject for a meditation because our sense of smell is so personal, almost uncomfortably intimate.  Unlike seeing or hearing, which can be done at a distance, we have to be pretty close to something to smell it (except, bless them, for skunks and 16-year-old son's laundry baskets).  And smells, unlike light or sound, linger - they hover in the air as particles, not waves, entering over and over again into our bodies through our noses as we perform the simple but necessary act of breathing.  Odors can be absorbed into fabrics and hair and skin, and so can remain long after the source of the odor is gone.

So it's a little strange to meditate on how our noses help us notice God.  But then again, has the smell of something wonderful ever stopped us in our work, slowed and deepened our inhaling, made us close our eyes to focus on the fragrance?  Maybe lilacs or lavender, pine needles or pumpkin spice, that first whiff of sea air, a newborn's head, or warm chocolate cake?  We have noses for a reason, and if it is in part to sniff out danger, it must also be for the sake of delight, a gift from God, and a part of how we come to know the world.

The intimacy of smell is literally deeply physical, far more than just our proximity to something fragrant.  Receptor cells are triggered, and the impulses they send travel through our limbic system, the most primal part of our bodies, to which, in our brains, the hippocampus and amygdala are attached.  These perform associative thinking and process emotion, and together they make memories.  When we smell something, our brains, unbidden, whip that fragrance together with how we're feeling or where we are or who we're with, so that when we smell that thing again, we are immediately transported back to that time or person or place.  The oil and heat of a sewing machine smell like our grandmother's house.  The wool I bought on Iona smells just like being there.  The smoke wafting from a neighbor's chimney back home smells like the fireplace lounge here.  The tomato sauce at dinner takes us back to our grandfather's kitchen.  Your WindSong literally stays on my mind.

If all of this isn't enough to convince us to consider our noses as a spiritual gift, there are a few other passages in scripture that speak of smell.  From the letter to the Ephesians, "Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering to God."  And from the second letter to the Corinthians, "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved."  We are the aroma of Christ, the aroma of love, the fragrance of offering and sacrifice.  How profoundly intimate. In the movie Michael, the archangel smells like cookies to people around him.  What does it mean to smell like someone who follows Christ?

In some Episcopal Churches it very well may mean to smell a little like frankincense, so thick are the clouds of it hanging in the air.  Mostly, I think, carrying the aroma of Christ has to do with letting kindness and mercy and grace waft between us and linger on us, so that anyone who wanders our way senses welcome, as when we smell something that reminds us of home.  A blessing in the service of morning prayer we use at the Cathedral says, "Live so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in us generous friends."

What will we smell today?  Please do respect personal space!  But amidst the aromas of steam and warm fabric, wooden needles and wool, bread and wine and breakfast and mountain air, perhaps we will also breathe in Christ.  What wonders there are to behold!  Amen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

KKQ 2017: Friday Evening, Hearing

Here is where I explain this little series of meditations...

Psalm 78; 1 Samuel 3:1-11

"One, two, yarn, two, knit two, two,, wait..." Sigh.

If I gave my meditations titles, this one would be, 'Things I heard at Kanuga Today.'

"You mean I have to take the whole row out?"

"I did it!"

"Those colors look beautiful together."

"Seriously, we're eating again already?!"

I heard needles clicking, sewing machines humming, stitch markers clinking, irons sighing, instructors patiently explaining, people laughing and telling stories, toast crunching, bugles sounding, birds singing, prayers said together, and silence being shared comfortably.  All the sounds you would expect at a knitting and quilting retreat.  At Kanuga, anyway - I don't know if every retreat center has bugles and special toast.

What wonders there are to behold, our sense of hearing among them - delicate with narrow canals and tiny bones, hair-like fibers and skin stretched tight as a drum, detecting the movement of sound in the air.  Vibrations become nerve impulses, and nerve impulses become thoughts, and the thoughts become...this is my favorite friend is speaking...someone is crying...the wind is howling...will that dog ever stop barking...

Knitting and quilting are relatively quiet pursuits, and at the same time filled with sounds: scissors snipping and yarn flapping and yarn swifts spinning.  True quiet, in fact, is hard, if not impossible, to come by in our noisy world of phones ringing and devices dinging; of traffic and train whistles and planes making their final approach; of talk shows, bass lines, videos that start playing when you haven't even clicked on them, experts arguing on the news, sirens, gun shots, car alarms.  We've even learned to shout silently when we write a text or email in all caps.

There's lots of noise out there, and unlike our sense of sight, which we turn off by closing our eyes, our ears are always perceiving the sounds that bombard us, even while we sleep.  The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor laments how difficult it is to find true darkness or true silence, so pervasive are waves of light and sound all around us.  They come at us with such velocity, she writes, that we have to defend ourselves against them, and may become so calloused that we no longer see or hear, even when our eyes our open and our ears unstopped.

And even if we could shut out sound, there's lots of noise inside ourselves as well.  We can close every door and turn off everything that hums or beeps or ticks and tocks, but then the volume of our thoughts turns up, and while those tiny bones in our ears don't hear them, somehow it still registers as sound.

How then do we listen, for surely not every sound is an imposition.  God did not create a world that stays silent.  Waves crash, leaves rustle, bees buzz, people sing.  And even God, in so many stories we read in scripture...even God has a voice.  How do we listen?

That's what we asked a seminary professor who was teaching contemplative prayer.  We were to sit in silence, he said, and obediently, we our classroom on 9th Avenue in New York City.  It was evening, and outside the open window, people were passing by, talking and laughing loudly.  A truck idled at the corner and then began beeping its backing-up-warning.  A light must have changed, because traffic picked up, and it was surely a yellow cab that honked.  A car alarm was set off as another large truck lumbered by.  "We can't do it," we said.  "How can we hear God when there is so much noise?"

Our professor smiled.  He knew we'd ask.  "Are you sure you can't hear God?  Listen differently," he said.  "Pray the noise.  Those people passing by?  Pray for them - who knows what burdens they carry.  Those trucks are delivering some kind of goods or services - pray for those who go without.  The traffic, the horns - pray for the safety of all who travel.  The sirens, the alarms - pray for all who are in danger, and for those who go to their aid."

Speak, for your servant is listening.  God's voice comes in countless ways, even in scripture - there is that still, small voice, yes, but there is also thunder and angel song and the words of teachers, friends, and strangers.  Listen differently, it's as if Eli said to Samuel.  Are you sure you aren't hearing God's voice?  Listen differently, God says to us.  What will we hear?

Needles clicking?  Pray for the person whose head that hat will warm.  A sewing machine?  Pray for the family whose loved one wore the t-shirts that are becoming a quilt.  A bugle call?  Pray for the staff who cooked our food.

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.  What wonders there are to behold!  Amen.

KKQ 2017: Friday Morning, Seeing

Here we are again - another series of short meditations on knitting and quilting and toast, because here I am again - serving as chaplain at the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat.  This year's theme for our morning and evening worship was "What Wonders There Are to Behold," exploring God's creation (which is mostly to say, again, knitting and quilting and toast) through each of the five senses.  

Psalm 104; John 9:1-10

Sometimes I remember to look for it, and other times I forget that I'll see it - that first sight of real, true mountains somewhere beyond Birmingham along Interstate 20, as we make our way from Jackson, MS, to Kanuga.  I love that moment, and whether I've been watching the scenery or not, anticipating their appearance, the sight of those mountains instantly fills me with delight, no matter how much Alabama road construction I'm navigating.  I can't help but smile, and breathe more deeply, and relax my grip on the steering wheel just a little, along with my grip on whatever has been occupying my thoughts.  And inside the car with its recycled air, I'm smelling evergreens and layers of leaves, feeling the movement of a rocking chair, hearing silence broken only by birdsong, tasting morning's first bite of toast.

What wonders there are to behold, so many of the psalmists sang, marveling at all God has made, including ourselves, made with eyes and ears and noses and hands and mouths for beholding God's wonders.  God could have mountains for God's own delight - do you remember, in Genesis, how very often we are told that God look at what had been made and called it good, very good? - but so great was God's delight that it could not be reserved for God alone.  We are created with an extraordinary capacity to experience and be transformed by the wonders of this world.

Our bodies are filled with and covered in specialized cells, remarkable receptors for light and sound and smells and touch and taste.  They take in everything around us and send it as electrical impulses to our brains, where what we experience is shaped into images, memories, knowledge, and insight, a patchwork of color and scent and soft or rough, a weaving of sounds and sweetness and saltiness and wonder.

What we see makes up as much as 75 percent of what we perceive - it is the sense, when our eyes are healthy and open, that we rely upon most.  And our eyes are up to the task, each one made up of millions of working parts.  We are so conditioned to respond to visual stimuli that when we understand something, we say, "I see."

So what do we see?  I wonder if, most of the time, the better question is, what do we not see?  What are we so focused on that we're blind to everything else, like the people in the gospel story who only recognize the blind man by his blindness, and not by any other characteristic?

God's vision contained an entire creation, and each individual element in it.  So are we, made in God's image, capable of extraordinary sight.  We can take in such big pictures as a beautiful lake...and notice any number of details, like the play of light on wind-driven ripples, the perfect reflection of clouds and sky when the lake is still, the infinite number of shades of green among the trees along the shore.  A conference room full of people...and the way a smile grows on the face of the person sitting beside us.  A finished quilt so large it takes two people to hold it up...and how the quilter cut the fabric in that one square to keep the blue flower intact.  A whole row of stitches perfectly (or mostly-perfectly) executed...and the way that knit-two-together leans just a little to the right (don't worry, it's supposed to do that).  A pattern we just aren't sure we can master...and the next step in that pattern, which we can.

Perhaps it does take time to recognize our ability to see, to allow our sense of sight to inspire us and not merely inform us.  Here, on retreat, we are given just such a gift.  If, and I'm not saying this is likely, but if we get caught up in anxiety over the numbers and words and patterns of this day, in the same way we can so easily get caught up in the to-do lists and appointments and obligations of our daily lives away from here...if all we can see is what doesn't delight us, Leo Tolstoy wrote, "In the name of God, stop a moment, close your work, look around you."

What will we see today?  The hands at work beside us, how they hold the yarn just so, or move their fabric past the needle with such care.  The last of the snow hiding in the cool shade of a cottage.  The dropped stitch, the crooked seam...and the people all around us who can help.  The bird riding a current above the lake.  The pink yarn so saturated we can't look away.  The dance of flames in a fireplace.

In the name of God, look around.  What wonders there are to behold!  Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2016

KKQ 2016: Monday Morning, Season after Pentecost

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Monday Morning, Season after Pentecost
Psalm 104; John 14:8-20

For everything there is a season
...  On our church calendar, we're still in Epiphany.  But in KKQ's the Season after Pentecost.  The long, slow season when Easter's alleluias and Pentecost's fires have faded, and we are faced with ordinariness once again.  The long, slow season when Kanuga's toast isn't on our breakfast plates and we aren't surrounded day and night with other knitters and quilters, and we are faced with work or school or cooking dinner or cleaning up or whatever else it is that keeps us from stitching.

The Season after Pentecost, the season after Kanuga, is the longest season of the year.  It's where we spend most of our lives, day in and day out, with good days and bad days, long days and whirlwinds, celebrations, distractions, steady progress, standing still.  Some days it can seem like we're slogging through, like when we knit a thousand rows and our sweater only grows half an inch, or sew a thousand rectangles on a border that only reachers halfway down one side of our quilt.  Other days, though, are the ones about which we've been telling each other stories all weekend.  The day a grandchild was born.  The day a wedding was held.  A house was sold.  A surgery was undertaken.  A shawl was worn.  A quilt was finished.  A prayer was answered.  A prayer was asked.

On the Sundays in this long season, as we go about our ordinary days, we will hear story after story about how Jesus went about his ordinary days.  The gospel record for us healing and teachings, journeys and resting places, excitement and anger.  How might we record, in this slow season, what we have done?  One knitter has imagined might pause in our work from time to time, lay out what we have done, look at where we've been and how far we've come.  Whether it seems we made progress or none at all, we might pin a note to our work at the end of the day at the end of our last row, on the last piece we sew to our quilt.  "My high school best friend called out of the blue today."  My neighbor across the street died.  I got a new puppy today.  Our son started kindergarten.  I fell in love again.  All of these things, day by day, will be part of our stitching, woven into our hearts and our handwork.

And Christ will be part of all those things, and part of our stitching, too.  His story unfolds in ordinary days, and he promises that the Spirit abides with us, not just on mountaintops like this one but in the long, slow season.

When we return home, it is not just our everyday work that will be waiting.  Our yarn and our fabric are also there - I know you, I know we all have a stash.  The season after Pentecost may be long and slow, but that is what growth requires.  It is a fertile season, when things take root and unfold and become.

Saint Elizabeth Zimmerman wrote, "I reconnoitered my wool-room yesterday - it is full of possibilities for the new year... By this time next year some of these will have been achieved and some scorned and abandoned.  Some as yet undreamed-of whims will have taken shape.  I'm ready for them; my mind is open, my wool-room full of wool, my needles poised, my brain spinning like a Catherine-wheel.  My word, such good fortune.  I can only hope the same for you."  Amen.

Tiny felted heart left on the windowsill in the chapel.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

KKQ 2016: Sunday Morning, Easter

Here is where I explain this little series of posts.

Sunday Morning, Easter
1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Psalm 36:5-10; John 20:1-18

Now there are varieties of gifts
, wrote Paul, who often said that his gift was weakness.  There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, the same God who activates them all in everyone.

I learned, just yesterday in Mimi's class, that one of my gifts is mis-reading a knitting pattern.  I am calling it a gift because Mimi's one classroom rule is that you cannot talk down about yourself.  Perhaps others of you, whether knitters or quilters, have my same gift.  It isn't that we do not understand the techniques we're being taught.  It's not that we cannot execute them.  It's simply that we have a gift...of not seeing what is right in front of us on the page.

Many of the projects we tackled this weekend demanded our best efforts.  I saw all of you hard at work in your classrooms, sewing curved seams, knitting brioche, arranging quilt squares, making fingers on gloves.  I chose Fox Paws for my project, and with the others in Mimi's class I cast on and started knitting.

This is my mom's Fox Paws.  She has the gift of not mis-reading the pattern.

So, until you reach row ten of that pattern - row ten, after nine grueling rows of knit-one-yarn-over-knit-one-in-the-same-stitch, slip-back-two, change colors, weave in the ends as you go... Until you reach row ten of Fox Paws, it's a hot mess.  There are bunched up stitches everywhere, looking nothing at all like the pattern picture, and the only way to tell if you're knitting it correctly is to count, and then to pray.  When you get to row ten, suddenly you see them, those little fox paws, which had been there all along.

Supposing him to be the gardener...  I love this little detail in John's Easter story.  Supposing him to be the gardener.  Mary Magdalene, alone at the tomb, already grieving and now also anxious to find her Lord...Mary Magdalene turns away from a vision of angels to see a man standing nearby.  Supposing him to be the gardener...Mary is gifted, too.  She does not see what is right in front of her.  She did not know that it was Jesus, John explains, and scholars and preachers have often said it was because resurrection was not a category she knew, that she did not recognize him because it couldn't possibly be him.

Others, including Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, give Mary more credit than that.  Though Jesus clearly knew a little bit about growing wheat and grapes, or so it seemed from the stories he told, he was definitely not in the plant business.  Mary thought he was the gardener, Bolz-Weber believes, because he looked like a gardener, which is to say, he was a mess.  In icons and stained glass windows, the two of them stand face to face.  Jesus is dressed all in white, with flowing hair, his face clean, his halo shining.  But if Mary supposed him to be a gardener, he must have looked a little rough, the way we do when we're pulling weeds.  Dirt under our nails, on our faces and between our toes; the hem of our pants (or his robe) soaking wet from the grass, maybe wearing a hat or carrying a hoe, with bits of leaves and twigs in our hair.

One of the knitters at the retreat cares for the gardens at Kanuga.
The heather was blooming while we were there.

It was an understandable mistake, perhaps.  God had been a gardener before, of course, in the very beginning, when God planted the seeds of all that would take root and grow and flower into creation. How fitting that on the day of resurrection, when creation was made new, infused not with time but eternity, that God would appear as a gardener again.  Mary did not see Jesus until he called her name, and then suddenly there he was, right in front of her all along.

For everything there is a season...  In all seasons, there is Easter.   Every Sunday on our church calendar, whether in Advent or Lent or any other time of year...every Sunday is called a "little Easter", when we gather again to remember that Jesus died, yes, but also that he rose, re-creating us, and it is on this side of Easter that we now live - not just every Sunday, but every day.

Which is not, of course, to say that every day we look our best, as we do for "big" Easter, in our white dresses and pastel ties, lily-fresh.  It may be that here, on retreat, we've been more appropriately dressed to find our risen Savior.  If Mary, who had seen him face to face, supposed him that day to be a gardener, how many times, on how many days, have we look at Christ right in front of us not knowing that he was there?  In the smile of the server in the dining hall.  In the patience of our teachers here.  In the stranger who has now become a friend.  Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer writes, "God walks round in muddy boots, sometimes rags, and that's the truth.  You can't always tell, but sometimes you just know."

Resurrection is messy.  There are scars.  There is misunderstanding.  There is the business of becoming a new creation.  There is meeting Christ on a morning in the midst of grief and confusion.  And there is finally leaving the place where we saw him.  In the Fox Paws pattern, row one comes around again eventually.  And for a time the stitches will once again be all bunched up and difficult to work.  But now we know the little paws are in there.

It was a jumbled assortment of squares.  But there's a quilt in there all along.

Jesus the Gardener sent Mary out to tell what she had seen.  And she went, and it very well may be that we have a gospel to read at all because she announced to the others that Christ had risen and that they would see him going ahead of them.  And when indeed they did, Jesus said he would be with them always, even to the end of the age.

Mary was gifted.  And so are we.  And I don't just mean that sometimes we don't see what's right in front of us.  Mary had the gift of courage to tell the story of resurrection, as unbelievable as it sounded.  Some of us have the gift of patience to teach.  Others listen well, or start good fires in fireplaces, or elicit smiles, or are gifted at encouragement.  We are all of us creative, and we all are able to wrap the world around us in warmth and color and generosity - or what else are we doing when we give someone a sweater or a hat or a quilt?

Charlotta is gifted at quilting.
Trish is gifted at knitting.
These knitters and quilters are gifted at music.
They play for our closing service every year.

I hope there is new life in  you today, at the end of this wonderful weekend we've shared.  We've walked in the shadows of mountains and trees, we've not had to cook even once, we've sat by fireplaces, we've talked with friends, we've napped, we've shopped, we've walked in the snow, we've stitched for three days straight without interruption.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  For everything there is a season...  Soon we will leave Kanuga, and in 360 or so days return (but who's counting?!).  In the year to come, in every season, may we share our gifts, may we keep creating, may we seek and find Christ not in perfection but in all the beautiful messiness of life.  He's right in front of us all the time, and with us to the end of the age.  Amen.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

KKQ 2016: Saturday Evening, Lent

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.  This evening service included prayers for healing.

Saturday Evening, Lent
Psalms 42 and 43; Isaiah 43:16-21

Last year at KKQ, which was celebrating its tenth year, someone suggested we thank Varian for her ministry among us by making something for her out of pieces or yarn or fabric from every participant there.  I wandered from class to class, asking knitters for scraps of the yarns they were using - soft wools, sturdy cottons, lustrous silks and alpacas, in a rainbow of colors even Crayloa hasn't named, light and dark, lofty and sleek, from balls of working yarn and piles of yarn that had been unknit or worse.

Finally I went to the quilting room, uncertain whether what I was going to ask was even possible.  We had decided to tie the yarns together end to end to end, and thought perhaps we could use narrow strips of fabric as well.  I explained this to the quilters, and asked them, "So, from the fabrics you're working with this weekend, do you think there might be scraps?"

Cue the laughter.

Apparently, one of the many mysteries in quilting is not only that there are always scraps, but that as you work your way through them, piecing them in ever smaller strips and shapes into new quilts, the scraps multiply.  Exponentially.  Every quilter keeps a bag or box at his or her table to collect the fragments of fabric cut away but not discarded, for there may be life and purpose in them yet.  Pink from a quilt for someone's daughter.  A musical print in memory of a musical friend.  An orange that was chosen for the color of a sunset.

It isn't hard to see how like life our handwork is.  How we start fresh and new, how all things are possible on the threshold of a project, a year, a job, a journey, a relationship.  How we work eagerly and carefully with all we have been given, whether yarn or fabric or the ability to do math or a gift for teaching or a call to medicine or a chance meeting with someone we grow to love.  How we create something at once beautiful and useful, cutting away what we don't need.

And then...a stitch gets dropped.  A pattern gets misread.  A seam doesn't line up.  We run out of yarn.  We cut the fabric in the wrong direction.  We receive a diagnosis.  The phone rings in the middle of the night.  Someone moves away.  We lose a job, our health, our hope, a loved one.  We hurt someone, whether we meant to or not.

For everything there is a season...  In the liturgical season of Lent, we acknowledge how dark things can get, how tangled, how disordered, how discouraging.  We sift through what seems a pile of scraps and lay them before God.  We have not loved you with our whole hearts, we pray at the start of the season.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We confess our unfaithfulness, our pride, our impatience, our anger at our own frustration, our envy of those more fortunate.  For whatever reason, whether we make a mistake or something happens that impairs us in some way, we lose sight of the pattern, of the possibilities that are yet there.  We are vulnerable, heart, mind, and body, and we need God's help.

I am about to do a new thing, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  Do you not perceive it?  Even now, in this season of darkness and doubt and discouragement, it springs forth.  For the scraps in the quilters' bags, for the tangled thoughts and feelings in our hearts, it might seem that we are finished.  But there is, quilters know (and knitters, too - or how many tiny balls of scrap yarn are in your stash?) there is infinitely more that yet God can and will make of us.

That extra yarn becomes a lifeline so that the next time you rip back you don't lose everything.  That scrap of orange that was a sunset in your quilt becomes a goldfish when you give it to the quilter at the next machine.  Or perhaps the scraps remain simply scraps, retaining the stories and experiences that made them what they are, as we retain the stories and experiences that made us who we are.  Darkness and light.  Ragged and smooth.  Bright colors and neutral grays.  There is always, always, another piece that can be placed somewhere we did not know it could be beautiful.  Perfection, muses another knitter, is wholeness, not the absence of error or darkness or mistakes.  It is the holding together of all the scraps and threads and making something new.

Yarn scraps can make tiny trees.

Fabric scraps can make tiny quilts.

From start to finish, really, that we can bundle up in shawls and quilts and scarves and woolen socks at all is nothing short of a mystery at least - a miracle more likely.  Most yarn and the threads that form fabrics start out as living things, or part of living things - wools and silks and cottons, tangles of fibers that have to be washed and brushed and spun and plied, or woven and cut into bolts.  We take those single long strands or strips of fabric and mix them up again, connecting loop after loop, piece after piece, until they become a new whole, made up no longer of something unbroken but of partial skeins and cut pieces of cloth.  I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, God says to those who had only remnants of life left.  So will God make a new and beautiful way out of us.  Amen.

The God's Eye we made for Varian last year, with our scraps of yarn and fabric.

KKQ 2016: Saturday Morning, Epiphany

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Saturday Morning, Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12

We know they're going to ask before they do.  We're sitting there, knitting - quilters, I'm not sure whether this happens to you also, as I think you're less likely to pull out your sewing machine in the doctor's waiting room or in line at the DMV; but perhaps you do experience this here at Kanuga when we knitters visit the quilting room - so we're sitting there, knitting, working away at something that does not demand our full attention, and we become aware that someone nearby is watching.  Just stolen glances at first, but they get longer and longer, until it can only properly be called staring.  Finally the question comes, "What's that gonna be?"

This is gonna be a sweater (the fair isle yoke part).

It is a pivotal moment.  Potentially powerful.  For the question, though sometimes mere courtesy, is often genuine curiosity.  A little wonder, even.  A mystery.  A spark.  "What's that gonna be?"

"A scarf," we say.  Or a hat.  Or a shawl.  Or a quilt to fit a cradle.  We work more slowly for a moment or two, exaggerating movements we usually make without effort, to spark more interest, to keep the wonder alive, to fan the flame.  Do we tell them the scarf is for a grandfather who has a hard time keeping warm?  That the hat is for a friend who will soon lose her hair?  That the shawl is made with yarn we bought last summer on our family vacation?  That the quilt is for our first grandson, made with fabrics leftover from his mother's or father's baby clothes?  "What's that gonna be?"  A scarf is only half the story.

This is gonna be yarn.

For everything there is a season...  In the season of Epiphany, we remember how sparks of recognition flew at first like stars in the night sky and finally burst in transfigured glory.  "What's that gonna be," people murmured as Jesus began to be known.  At first they just stole glances, and then they stopped and stared, not fully recognizing the shape of his words and actions but aware they were seeing and hearing something new and wonderful and of God.

"What's that gonna be," they asked as he turned water into wine, or cast out demons, or said blessed are the meek.  "This is going to be salvation," Jesus might have said.  This is going to be forgiveness. This is mercy.  This is love.  This is justice.  This is grace.  This is welcome.  And then he'd tell a story about vines and branches, wheat and chaff, baker women, shepherds and sheep.  What was happening was extraordinary, the eruption of heaven on earth, but it happened in ordinary time, in the course of ordinary days.  Like us on our ordinary days, Jesus went here and there, he worked hard, sometimes he rested.  He met with friends, at his meals, said his prayers, noticed the people around him and asked him how they were.

"What's that gonna be"  Our quilters know the question because I myself have asked it after staring stealing glances as pieces become a whole, as patterns are revealed that I had not seen before, each an epiphany all its own.  I know it's a quilt, but if I linger long enough, I learn the rest of the story, or some of is a sunset over a mountain, or a gift for a golden anniversary, or a prayer for someone who is grieving, or a cover for a college-bound kid.

This is the sunset over a mountain, before it got quilted.

I suppose any moment, whether we are stitching a garment or a blanket or a life, any moment can be pivotal and powerful when we use it to show and tell how we make meaning, to let someone know, because they have asked, who and whose we are.  And the light, like the work in our hands, grows as someone else now knows something about warmth, about love, about grace.  Then we go back to our work, back to knitting, back to quilting, back to living, as though it is the most ordinary thing in the world.  Which, of course, it is.  And of course, which it isn't.  It's extraordinary.  That's why they stare.  That's why they ask.

It is fitting, perhaps, that we have this retreat in the actual season of Epiphany, when every Sunday tells the story of how someone who stared suddenly sees.  The gospel story for this morning does not say so, but surely the wise men wondered, even worried, when the star they followed stopped not above a palace but a place where peasants lived.  They must have stared at the child who seemed far more the son of the carpenter in the corner than a king, let alone the son of God.  Who knows what happened there that night at Joseph and Mary's house that finally helped them see just who he was.  "What's that gonna be?"  Maybe Mary told the story of the angel who came to announce what God meant to make possible.  Maybe Joseph told the story of his dream.  But like that moment when stacked stitches become a fox paw, or when bow ties emerge from an arrangement of fabric, the wise men saw the light, saw everything differently than they had the moment before.

These are the stacked stitches that became a fox paw.

"What's that gonna be"  Perhaps the best answer of all would be to say that we aren't sure yet, even if we know it is, minimally, a hat or an art quilt or a shawl.  The truth is, it's a story that is still unfolding, with epiphanies around every corner, revelation in every row, stories in every stitch.  In the gospel, Jesus had years yet to grow, the wise men had miles yet to travel, the star had light years yet to burn, our own stories were yet dreams in our ancestor's hearts.  So also our projects are works in progress, as we are.

What if, today, we shined a light for every moment of recognition, every time we saw the pattern - in our projects, yes, but better still every time we saw in one another the pattern of heaven on earth as we go here and there, working hard, resting, eating meals with friends, saying our friends, and telling each other our stories.  May this day be blessed and bright.  Amen.