Sewing as a spiritual practice

“Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” —“The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century” by Thomas Merton

Like many church staff, I’ve been living in my “cell” – my sewing-room-turned-home-office – since our building closed. And, in my cell, I find myself not able to do everything I used to do.

In an attempt to find something spiritually meaningful in this weird pandemic life, I’ve reread some of my old blog posts and attended webinars and virtual continuing education events — all without much enlightenment. My blog “Period Pastor: Menstruant, Feminist, Theologian” is the place I’ve been publicly journaling while trying to figure out a sense of call. It has become fragmented pieces of feminist ideas, Days for Girls reusable menstrual pad projects, psalm reflections, sermons and journaling that almost fits together into something meaningful. These pieces of writing and reflection are scraps of my call that are too important to throw out but haven’t quite been sewn together in an intentional way yet either. Also in my cell/office is a literal heap of scrap fabric that I intended to do something meaningful with for a while. Much like my blog posts, I sometimes try to piece together the pile of red fabric into something bigger without much direction or clarity.

One day I decided to try something new in my search for meaning. I began to work through “The Wisdom of the Desert” by Thomas Merton — a book that reflects on the wisdom of the ancient Christian aesthetics, monks and seekers. I would read sections and then meditate on the words by cutting and piecing the fabric fragments into a scrappy quilt. After several weeks, I had a spiritual discipline and a quilt suitable for the Linus Project (a local non-profit that provides blankets for children in need).

For me, sewing symbolizes the work of theology: piecing together findings about God and self into something spiritually meaningful.

I chose to make this quilt out of scraps so I could think about the relationship between repurposing and redeeming. The pieces of fabric represent pieces of life. Some are beautiful and some are not. None of them are the same shape or size. Some of the fabric I’ve inherited. As the scrap bin overflows, in my sewing room and in my life, I wonder what changes are necessary to create less waste. What can come out of the trash heap to become something purposeful and beautiful? What pieces of my broken past are redeemable? Can all mistakes and sins be mended? What makes something or someone “good as new”? In piecing together this quilt, I am piecing together my spiritual autobiography, my spirituality and my call.

This is what ministry is like: co-creating and learning along the way. Sometimes in sewing and in prayer, things go a different direction, not according to the pattern.  Maybe prayers are my own or inherited but sewn together differently than before. I can rely on God to fix what I can’t. Or maybe it’s ok if it doesn’t get fixed. There are always UFOs (unfinished objects). There is always something left undone. But unfinished projects and unfinished people are all part of the sewing room. They are safe here. They belong here. They can be healed here. They will be redeemed here.

Scraps can be altered and redeemed to be menstrual pads, scrappy quilts or recycled into fabric insulation. I, too, am altered. I am hemmed in by love, repaired, redeemed and sewn in with the love of God.