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Books we love: Practically Divine

Rev. Karie Charlton shares how a book by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, helped her to claim the holiness of female wisdom and arts and crafts.

Lavender reminds me who I am and whose I am. I’ve planted the herb in a symbolic flower bed among roses, lily of the valley, lupine, sage and rosemary. Each one blooms in their season and lingers in my memories. I run my fingers over the blossoms, leaves and stems, quietly memorizing their forms. I dry the sage, rosemary and lavender so that they last throughout the winter while the garden sleeps.

I find that lavender is the friend I need the most, and I don’t want to cheapen the experience by purchasing the essential oils from a pyramid scheme. So, I’ve searched for just the right vendor and found Thistle Farms, a global movement for women’s freedom. I rub their lavender lotion on my hands and diffuse oils beside my desk. And I’m not immune to adding more items to my bag for free shipping when I need a new lotion. Recently, I added a book by the founder of Thistle Farms, Becca Stevens. The book, Practically Divine, appealed to me as I remembered a recent Presbyterian Outlook review that mentioned how Becca’s stories embody the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 initiative and feminine wisdom.

Becca weaves her mother’s words into a narrative about her life and how the work of justice intersects with crafting, especially for the women she has worked with. I imagine Becca pausing over a cup of tea as I pause in my backyard to smell the lavender, and how we both remember the words we have heard our mothers (in blood and in love) say about wisdom, heartache, hope, joy and the act of creation.

She recalls stories of women in crisis who use what they have around them to make something more, like changing discarded life vests into welcome mats. Their work is practical, and it is divine. The stories of hardship weave together with stories of hope. Memories of loved ones are embroidered with new friends. Practical advice from mom is applied as the healing balm of holy wisdom.

Sewing, baking, crafting, painting, music making, tea brewing and lotion blending, are all typically seen as beautiful embellishments for women, but Becca sees these works as practical and divine. She says, “Here is the truth: I would rather make a rosary than pray one. But one is considered a spiritual practice and the other one is considered arts and crafts. I want to blur those lines and all the lines that we have drawn between the sacred and what we have deemed the profane.”

And Becca does blur those lines ways more beautiful than watercolor. But what is most enchanting is that she invites readers to remember their own mothers’ words. She validates the reader’s life story as perfectly imperfect. And she invites all of us to the messy work of love (life with God) and all things that are practically divine.

As I pick, bundle and hang this year’s lavender, I find I am somehow different and yet very much the same. Becca has called parts of me holy that I had thought of as profane. Her stories have opened my memories of days in my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens, kitchens, sewing rooms and back porches. I think of the women (and people) I know who keep their hands busy, even in a crisis — especially in a crisis. This is not nervous the nervous work of anxiety anymore, but it is the imperfect creating of love; love that is healing, holy and true.