Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lost and Found

The third of five homilies preached at the 2013 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference...

Saturday Morning
Psalm 23; Luke 15:3-6

I had to ask for directions the first time I drove alone to our diocesan conference center.  It's easy, I was told.  Get off the interstate and follow the road through a four-way stop and over a train track.  When you get to the place where there used to be a two-story house, turn left.

It's how we give directions in the south.  If you want to know how to get anywhere, you're going to need a history lesson first, or you'll definitely get lost.

Of course no one asks for directions much anymore.  We just type our destination into our phone or the car's computer and follow the little blue dot to wherever we need to go.  But sometimes even Siri leads us astray, or we wander into an area the GPS doesn't know.  In my mom's old car, the computer would give up and announce we were in "uncharted territory," which gave us a little thrill of adventure as we made our way out into the unknown.

Who knows why we, like that poor little sheep, lose our way.  Maybe we get distracted as we go about our day, or perhaps we are too focused.  Maybe we saw what we thought was a better way.  Maybe we are seeking adventure, or, fearful, avoiding it.  Maybe we get stuck while the rest of the flock, the rest of the world, moves on without us...however it happens, we find ourselves apart and alone and uncertain of where to turn next.

It happens in our handwork, too.  There we are, with directions and charts and patterns printed out and plain to see, and we think we've followed them faithfully until our stitch count is suddenly off, or a seam has been sewn wrong, or we're holding the wrong color in our hands, and we have no idea how we got where we are.

God, like a guide me along trusted roads, our psalmist sang, rejoicing that lost doesn't mean lost forever.  But God doesn't not stop at providing directions.  God does not merely show us the way but is the way, does not merely point out the pattern but is the pattern.  I am the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus said when his friends worried they would never find the place where he was going.  The right pathway, the most trusted road, is a life lived like his, following such directions as love one another, forgive your enemies, feed my sheep, follow me.  Directions like these will seem to take us off the world's beaten path, for the way of Christ winds through side streets and margins and alleyways and through the valley of the shadow of...but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

If you find yourself in uncharted territory today, if you feel a little lost, either in the pattern you are working or in the path of life you are walking, perhaps you are not so far from the way.  The Lord is our shepherd, after all, and comes looking for us when we stray.  As surely as there are people here to help you put one foot (or needle) in front of the other, so does God desire to show us the right path.  Who knows, perhaps the right way lies precisely in having gone the wrong way a while and so having learned to look for and trust that our shepherd is near.

"Follow him," urged poet W.H. Auden.  "He is the Way.  Follow him through a land of unlikeness, and you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.  He is the Truth.  Seek him the kingdom of anxiety.  You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.  He is the Way..."  Amen.

Artwork: Disclaimer...most of the knitting and quilting photographs included with these homilies are actually from the 2012 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat.  This year I actually spent more time knitting than taking pictures.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rest(eth) Here

The second of five homilies preached at the 2013 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference...

Friday Evening
Psalm 23; Matthew 11:28-29

There are many faithful translations of the 23rd psalm, studied renderings of the psalm from one language into another, preserving as carefully as possible the intended meaning of the author's original prayer.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, we read this morning from the New Revised Standard Version of scripture.  Tonight we read the translation we know best, even though we only speak this way when we recite this psalm... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul.

Don't we do the same thing sometimes in our quilting or our knitting?  We read the pattern, which looks to the untrained eye like a foreign language - K1, P2, K2tog, YO - and translate it directly through our yarn and needles into a garment that matches (well, mostly) the designer's original intent and is (well, mostly) clearly recognizable as a sweater or a scarf or a quilt or a pillowcase.

There are other times, though, when we engage in something more like interpretation than translation, faithful to the original pattern, but using different colors or threads or fabrics than are called for, or going up or down a needle size, or using more or fewer strips for a log cabin block, shaping the finished piece according to the author's vision but also to a little of our own.

So are there, in additions to the translations we know, faithful interpretations of the 23rd psalm, holding to its meaning, but shaping and reshaping the words and images to express something of how the text speaks to the person interpreting it.  My shepherd will supply my need, wrote Isaac Watts, turning the psalm into poetry.  In pastures fresh He makes me feed beside the living stream.

Other have taken the psalm and turned it into...well, you tell me if it's faithful or not.  The Lord is my coach, I shall never be defeated, goes the version for athletes.  The Lord is my drummer, I shall not rush, is for bass guitarists.  There is even a version for quilters, He maketh me to lie down in stacks of fat quarters, he leadeth me to bolts of batiks.

In your interpretation of the 23rd psalm, where would Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lead you for rest and refreshment?  Into a quiet chapel?  Out of doors, beneath a wide tree or in a long row of rocking chairs?  Beside a blazing fire in a circle of friends, or down to a room filled with sewing machines, with all the time in the world to knit or stitch before the dinner bugle sounds?

Sheep are not very smart, some say, because they are herd animals who take no thought of their own except for fear.  They wander.  They stumble.  They panic.  They fall over.  They are easily and often startled.  They must be led to places of nourishment and refreshment, or they will starve from lack of food or gorge themselves on things that are not good for them.

So is it interpretation or translation when another psalmist says we are sheep, the sheep of God's pasture and the people of God's hand?  So vulnerable, so needy, so easily worried and distracted and restless, so afraid of the dark, we need a shepherd to settle us, to send us out, to take care of us, to gather us back in the fold.

Come to me, Jesus says.  Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  For sheep, that place of rest that restoreth the soul is in lush green pastures beside gentle, cool, clean water.  Perhaps the shepherd leads you there for rest, as well - perhaps just such a setting is a perfect sanctuary for you.  But the psalmist means less to tell us where to find rest than simply that God provides it, if we will but follow.

We have found rest for our souls here this weekend.  "Knitting [and, I am certain, quilting] is not just a thing that we do but a place that we go," writes a knitter-philsopher.  Knitting or quilting is a place, a space of time and movement and prayer, where we are nurtured, fed, and lulled into a deep knowing that we are securely held, wrapped in love.  Let us know more deeply still that it is God who has led us here.  The Lord is our shepherd...  Amen.

A Knitter Looks at the 23rd Psalm

The title is better in its original setting, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, written by Phillip Keller and published some thirty-five years and two million copies or so ago.  Mr. Keller takes each verse of this psalm we all know best and talks about them through the eyes of an honest-to-goodness shepherd...what happens when sheep don't have green pastures or clean water, when they get lost, when they get hurt...

Knitters are quite interested in sheep, too, of course, and are grateful for the work of good shepherds.  Without them, you'd be getting sweaters knit from dental floss, or socks knit from crabgrass, or worse, no handknits at all.  

Quilters don't use wool as often as knitters do, but they, too, know something about patterns of pastures and pools and pathways.  And of course knitters and quilters alike are able to settle into a rhythm with their work, stitch after stitch, piece after piece, so that the verse after verse of saying a psalm fits right in.

At the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference this year, we gathered in worship at the beginning and ending of each day.  Each service included a brief homily, which I humbly offer here...

Friday Morning
Psalm 23; Matthew 6:25-34

When my mom and I talked about what we were packing to bring to Kanuga, our lists were pretty similar: yarn, scissors, needles, a knitting bag, patterns, stitch markers, a little more yarn, crochet hook, row counter, extra yarn...a bigger knitting bag...

The list for quilters is even longer.  I know this because I traveled here with one, and while the three knitters in the car could squish our extra yarn and knitting bags into corners and under seats, sewing machines and irons don't squish.  Between the four of us, the car was filled to overflowing (although there was curiously enough room for the things we found at the fabric and yarn store we stopped at in Birmingham).  There were bags and boxes and crates and baskets and, oh, a suitcase or two (for the non-knitting or -quilting related things on our lists, you know, like clothes, toothbrushes, never know what you might need).

We had everything we wanted.  Except, we now know, for all the things we forgot.  No matter how detailed we make our lists, no matter how thoroughly we check them off, we always manage to leave something at home, always manage to lack something we might want or need.  A phone charger.  A favorite pair of socks.  A spool of thread in the right color.  The right size needle.  What did you forget?  What do you lack?

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  No psalm is better known or loved, or more often prayed, than this one.  It isn't, of course, about the things we want because we left them at home on the kitchen counter, or on the back step.  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  We lack much more than the pillow or pattern we forgot.  We want so much more than we ever have, whether it is money or confidence or success or strength or happiness or authority or courage or compassion or comfort or patience or faith... What did you forget?  What do you want?  What do you lack?

The 23rd psalm is filled to overflowing with God's goodness and mercy, God's gracious provision, God's good shepherding of so very many sheep (which is to say, us) with so very many wants and needs.  But before we ever get to those green pastures or still waters, before we walk right pathways or wrong ones, before we sit at a feast with our cups running over, before our heads are anointed or our hearts are comforted or our souls are revived and restored...before the good shepherd tends to our needs and wants, at the very beginning of the 23rd psalm, the list of things with which we think we need to pack our lives (a list that, no matter how much of it we check off, never fill us up and always leaves something behind) is reduced to just one.  We need only one thing: the Lord, who is our shepherd, who gave us life, who gave us love, and who in the valley of the shadow of death gave us love and life all over again...

Someone here can lend you that pair of socks or scissors.  You can run into town for a toothbrush.  Between us all we're filled to overflowing with yarn and fabric, creativity and color, courage and compassion and goodness and mercy, and we can surely share what patience and happiness and faith we have.  But before we start too long a list of what we think we need or want or lack, let us not forget what the psalmist says we always already have - the Lord is our shepherd.  What more could we want?

In the words of Saint Julian, let us pray, "God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.  And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all."  Amen.

Artwork: Good Shepherd stained glass window - I used this image on the cover of our worship booklet, but now can't find the source...if you know where it lives, or who designed it, please let me know so that I can give proper credit; needle-felted "Good Shepherd," by Daria Lvovsky.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knitting and Quilting (and Preaching and Purling)

Three Knitters and one Quilter ride travel from Jackson, MS, to Hendersonville, NC, for the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference.  Knitter A packs a suitcase, a knitting bag, a crate full of worship materials (she's the chaplain for the conference), a pillow, and a purse.  Knitter B packs a suitcase, two knitting bags, a pillow, and a heavy coat.  Knitter C packs a suitcase, a knitting bag, several crates and baskets of knitting books and yarn (she's an instructor for the conference), and a pillow.  The Quilter packs a suitcase (for clothes), another suitcase (for fabric), a sewing machine, an iron, a cutting board, and a bag of quilts.

Question: What percentage of the car's rear window is available for the driver to see out of?
Answer: Zero.

We didn't need to see the road behind us, anyway...all that mattered was the road ahead of us as we made our way to Kanuga Conference Center, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.    The trip should have taken about 10 hours, but ended up taking 16 hours, owing to a stop at a dealership to fix a faulty heater and a detour through a yarn and fabric shop that just happened to be several miles off the interstate on the way.

The dealership offered to find us a rental car, but admitted it would take as much time to do that as it would take to repair the heater, so we pulled a few chairs into a circle in the waiting room and stitched away while the mechanics fixed.  Sitting and waiting time is never wasted on a knitter.

A little ways down the road, our feet finally warm, we stopped for lunch and a visit to In the Making, home to beautiful fabrics and yarns and a Hannah Fettig trunk show.  We each found a little something to tuck into corners of the car, a ball of yarn here, a printed pattern there, a fat quarter or two...

We finally arrived at Kanuga around midnight, awake just long enough to make plans for the next day's drive into Asheville for more yarn and fabric fun.  Our first stop was New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Vilage, where our Quilter has some of her stunning work on display.

From there we went to Earth Guild, where they sell everything related to fiber arts but the sheep themselves.  Roving, yarn, spinning wheels, knitting needles, looms, beads, dyes,'s all there.  Except now there is a little less roving there, because some 100% merino came home with me.

The conference itself was wonderful.  There were workshops in fair isle, intarsia, lace, cables, and knitting with beads.  There was a room filled with sewing machines and fabrics.  We had chapel twice a day, at which we took the 23rd psalm one verse at a time and reflected on the ways in which our Good Shepherd cares for us (preach on the 23rd psalm and yarn...please, don't throw me in the briar patch!!)  There were fires in the fireplaces and Kanuga toast on the breakfast tables and rocking chairs on the porch and sweaters and cowls and scarves and quilts and mountains all around and friends everywhere you looked.

Many thanks to Varian Brandon, conference coordinator, for bringing us all together, and to Kanuga for being our holy ground!  Three Knitters and one Quilter from Jackson, MS, definitely plan to return in 2014, and should probably start packing the car now...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


So, yesterday, I was all ready to list my New Year's Resolutions, an assortment of self-improving guidelines for 2013.  Drink more water.  Get more sleep.  Exercise.  Try new recipes (healthy ones, of course).  Keep a dream journal.  Learn fair-isle knitting.  Blog more, at least more than the 7 times I blogged last year.

And then a friend posted this as her status update on Facebook:  I don't make resolutions.  I don't change something about myself.  I add something positive.  I think when you focus on the good within you...the negative tends to fall away

There is indeed much good within Rachel, and I'm so grateful she shared this particular good thing.  All of my resolutions, as usual, were based on some perceived lack in my life - I don't drink enough water, I stay up too late, I should go to yoga more, cook more, write more, knit more, blog more...

All of which will only, in the weeks and months to come, give way to needing to stick to my resolutions more.  Isn't that the way it so often goes?  We start the year with the best of intentions and end it with the worst of disappointment, having not only failed to do the thing we vowed to do, but having vowed to do it knowing that we would probably fail.

What if instead of choosing resolutions we chose resolve instead?  Resolve to remember and celebrate and give thanks for the good things in our lives and about ourselves.  Good qualities we've cultivated, good decisions we make, good friends we've found, good times spent with family and alone and with God.

So in 2013, I hope I'll knit more (knit this, in fact), spin more (did I tell you I'm spinning now?  Maybe I should blog more...), make healthy choices more, be more self-assured.  I hope I'll do all those things and, well, more.  But I resolve to focus on the good within me, to remember and celebrate and give thanks for things like a little creativity, a lot of quiet, a tendency to believe the best about people, a love of Multigrain Cheerios.

I don't mean there isn't room for improvement - of course there is.  There is negative that needs to fall away.  But perhaps it does so more naturally when we're lifting up good from within instead of piling on good from without.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Paul wrote, and that's a little bit what making New Year's Resolutions feels like.  Figure out what will make you better, what will improve you, what will save you, and work at it.  And we do, with fear and trembling, because we might fail.  But what if here, as so often is true in our holy scriptures, fear and trembling mean not anxiety but astonishment and even awe?  For even as we resolve to remember and celebrate and choose things that make for happiness and health and hope, even as we work out our salvation, it is God who works within us.  And that is very, very, very good.

Philippians 2:12

Artist: Elisa Choi