Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Preach One: Be Still and Know...

Friday Evening at KKQ 2011, Evening Prayer
Psalm 139:10-17, Isaiah 30:15

"This is NOT a conference.  It is a RETREAT," Varian told us last night as we gathered, winter weather weary, in the Fireplace Lounge for our first event of the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference Retreat.  "Take your time," our instructors have said.  "It's okay," they tell us, even as we frog a row of stitches or rip out a backwards seam.  "Just enjoy..."

Indeed, how often do we get to sit all day by a crackling fire with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, in the company of such fine friends?  How often do we get to spend the whole day arranging wonky circles or knitting (and re-knitting) swirls?  How often do we get to stop and really notice what we're doing, rather than rushing to get it done?  How often do we get to stop and notice what others are doing, listen to stories, be attentive to laughter, watch shadows move across snow?

Too often our attention is turned in at least a thousand other directions, usually all at once.  Letters to respond to, emails to send, bills to pay, errands to run, meals to cook, plans to make, phone calls to return...and all this in the midst of working, parenting, volunteering, traveling, cleaning...

How often do we get to be still and know?  We are here, blessedly, on retreat.  We are here to notice.  To be attentive to the patterns we see.  Where are there threads and textures and colors in our work?  In our midst?  Where is there light?  Where is there dark?  Where is there busy-ness?  Where is there spaciousness?  Where are there stories?

Our stories, our lives, and our loves are linked together in the sacred time and space of this weekend.  We are here to learn together, and not just from the remarkable instructors in our midst.  Be still and know, God says, know that I am God...don't we need to learn this, too?

This is not a conference, it is a retreat.  Even as we are attentive to the works in our hands, let us not forget to take time also to be still, to retreat into the patterns of our own hearts and spirits and be attentive to what is there.  Where are there threads and textures and colors deep within us?  Where is there light within our hearts?  Where is there dark?  Where is there busy-ness?  Where is there spaciousness?  Where are there stories?  Where is God?

In Made for Goodness (And Why This Makes All the Difference), a book he co-authored with his daughter, Mpho, Archbishop Desmond Tutu imagines that if we were still, if we listened God speaking in our hearts, we might hear God say:

My child, I made you for myself...I delight in you...
My heart aches...when you smother joy under the onslaught of busyness...

You run everywhere looking for life,
Searching for the life of life.
All the while I am here.
I am as close as a prayer.
I am breathing in your breath...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Preach One: In the Beginning...

We were just a few days into the season after the Epiphany when we gathered at Kanuga for KKQ 2011.  There were indeed many epiphanies in store for all of us as we learned new techniques, saw patterns and shapes emerge, told stories as we worked, and made dear new friends.  Every morning we held a brief and quiet service of Holy Eucharist; in the evenings, we held Evening Prayer.  My joy and delight as chaplain was to weave our prayers and practice together in short homilies, humbly offered.

Friday Morning, Holy Eucharist
Psalm 139:1-9; John 1:1-16

In the beginning...

In the beginning, this is all we have...yarn, needles, fabric, scissors...and somehow they become in time a beautiful creation.  We heard a podcast on the way up here in which Melynda Bernardi, designer of the French Press Slippers, was marveling over this miracle.  It starts with a single line, she said, a strand of yarn working its way toward and through your needles.  Even then all you have is a piece of flat fabric.  A few more stitches, a trip through the washer, and suddenly all the empty spaces are linked together and that flat line becomes three dimensional, warm, soft, and delightful - a pair of felted slippers.

In their book The Knitting Way: A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery, Linda Skolnik and Janice MacDaniels put it this way: "Loops, bumps, color, smoothness, and roughness are all formed from one line, joined together as the construction material for countless objects of beauty and utility."

In the beginning...the possibilities are endless.  How did it happen for God, in the beginning?  Did God start with a pattern?  A plan?  Or as American poet James Wheldon Johnson imagines, did God create according to whim and whimsy and the deep wishes of God's heart?

In Johnson's poem, God steps out on space and says, "I'm lonely.  I'll make me a world."  God flings the sun and moon into place and spangles the heavens with stars.  Where God steps, valleys sink in and mountains rise up.  God bats his eyes to make lightning and the cooling rains that fall.  God curls rainbows about his shoulders.  "I'm still lonely," God says.  And kneeling by a stream, "like a mammy kneeling over her baby," God scoops up mud and breathes over it and makes...us.

We will all be creating today - it is one of the graces upon grace that God has given us, to be creators of things, imaginers of beauty, capable of whim and whimsy and deep wishes for things to be.  Some of what we create will be according to the patterns put before us.  Indeed, the patterns are sometimes our lifelines in the beginning.  But some of what we create will be as free and poetic as God flinging stars and batting eyelashes.  In addition to creating knitted and quilted things we will be creating friendships.  We will be creating community, according to our deep wish and true joy in making connections.

We will be weaving threads and colors and textures.  We will be creating spaces and we will be linking those spaces together.  We will be weaving stories and laughter and learning.  In the beginning all we have is this...yarn, needles, fabric, scissors, and one another...but in the beginning there are countless options and opportunities and a beautiful common thread, how we are joined to and with God in the act of creation.

What will you create today?  What is God creating in and through and all around you in the beginning?

Let us pray.  Holy God, In the beginning, on the very first morning, you said "Let there be light," and there was light, and you saw that the light was good.  So fill us with your light this day that we might see your creating Spirit still at work around us, through us, and within us; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who was in the beginning with you, the light of the world.  Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remember when it was cold?

Just a few weeks ago I added a blanket to the bed on a chilly night... Today, and for the forseeable future, the high temperature is more than twice what the temperature was that night.  We'll be in the mid- to upper- 90's and more from here on out...

So pour a glass of sweet iced tea or pull out a popsicle, sit back, and cool off with a long overdue blog post about snow and ice and yarn...

It all started last summer, when my phone rang while I was on vacation.  The only place I could get reception was out in the steamy southern sun, and so there I sat, listening as Varian Brandon described a knitting and quilting retreat held every January at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC.  She needed a chaplain for the event, and as the thought of holding either wool or piles of fabric in my lap made the summer sweat fall even faster, I couldn't wait for winter!

The first part of January of saw more snow fall in the South than we usually get in a dozen winters.  Schools closed, roads closed, and airports closed, but Kanuga was blessedly and blissfully open, ready to welcome nearly 80 knitters and quilters for the retreat.  A friend from Mississippi was one of the instructors, so we loaded up her car with suitcases and yarn and headed east.

By the time we got to Atlanta, the icy interstate was down to one lane in each direction.  Things were better nearer the mountains, where they know a little more about salt and sand and scraping, but still we risked life and limb to visit The Needle Tree in Greenville, SC.  The steep driveway was sheer ice, but inside, the shop was cozy and bright and warm.  And when you buy yarn from them (which we happily did) they tuck it in fabric bag complete with pockets on the side for needles and notions.

The retreat was amazing.  The knitting instructors were masters at their craft, teaching such advanced techniques as intarsia, fair isle, mosaic knitting, and lace.  My mom took a class on knitting the swirl shawl from an instructor as patient and kind as she is brilliant (mom just finished the shawl last week, and it is stunning!).  I floated from class to class, getting to know participants and picking up bits and pieces of techniques, but mostly marveling at the skill and perseverance and good humor of everyone there.

The quilters were equally talented and even more dedicated, spending nearly every waking hour in the room set aside for their class.  They loved visitors, and I loved visiting, learning as much about colors and shapes as I did about some of the steps involved in making a quilt.  Many of the quilters finished an entire quilt top in the two and a half days we were there.

My role as chaplain was to offer worship services every morning and evening.  We met in a lovely space with a fireplace in the back and great glass windows behind the altar, revealing the myriad ways sun illuminates snow as the day wears on.  For the next few days, I'll post the little homilies I preached while I was there...

It's in the mid-90's today, and only getting hotter...  Thank goodness the Kanuga Knitters and Quilters Retreat is only eight months away!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

All God's Critters Got a Hat

The song actually goes, "All God's critters got a place in the choir, some sing lower, some sing higher..." and the children's choir at St. Andrew's sang it this morning as part of the annual Youth Sunday service.  And of course it was adorable as they sang and clapped their hands and shook their paws and flapped their wings.  All these critters - well, children, but is there really that big a difference? - also had a hat.

The choir director enlisted the help of various knitters and crocheters to create a zoo's worth of animal hats for the children to wear.  Most were crocheted, and were absolutely precious!

My son got to be a lion.  There was a tiger, too.  And a bunny, a dog, a cat, a chick, a duck, a horse, a reindeer, a ladybug...all God's critters were there!

I tried to crochet a cat hat, and while I know the very, very basics of crochet, I quickly realized I didn't know enough to make a hat.  I chained and joined and crocheted the first round, but after that I kept losing my place in the stitches.  It was fun to try, though, and I'd love to get better at crochet.

I ended up knitting two hats - a cat and a polar bear.  The knit patterns came from The Hat Menagerie on Etsy, which included patterns for a lion, a bear, and a frog.  I'm not sure where the crochet patterns came from.

These were my first hats to be seen in public (the only other one I've done hasn't been outside my front yard).  They were fun and quick, and a great stash buster!