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