My grandmother was a knitter, and she taught me as a child first how to crochet and then, when she decided I was ready for a real challenge, how to knit. For a time, I actually got pretty good at it, but it is a skill I would have to relearn (since I haven’t picked up a knitting needle in years and can scarcely remember the distinction between knitting and purling). But I remember the wonderful hand-knitted scarves and sweaters my grandmother used to make for my sister and me. I would wrap up in her work surrounded, not just by the cotton or wool yarn she used, but by the very love that was sewn in each stitch.
Then today, I read a devotional by historian, Diana Butler Bass, that really struck home. In it, she talked about the reality that creation is not hierarchical, as the church has often taught, but that it is a dance or a circle or a woven tapestry. Then she had this quote from Colossians 2 found in the paraphrase of the bible known as The Message:
I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”Colossians 2:2-3, The Message (a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson)
Since reading that passage from Colossians, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. You see, much of Christian theology has focused on distinction and hierarchy. Much of it is based on dualistic notions of otherness (think “us vs them”). This means that we know what it means to be this and not that. We know that we belong here and not there. Even heaven and earth cannot stay together in a dualistic theology … though Jesus seems to think they belong together.
Further, we have divided ourselves as people who are on either of two sides. We almost can’t help dividing ourselves into who is good and who is evil … who is in and who is out … who is right and who is wrong … who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. We use fear, worry, and anxiety to perpetuate these dualistic notions that are, in no way, connected with who God intends us to be.
The perpetual “othering” within human society rips at the very fabric of God’s creation, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves.
Then there is the fear of death. I woke up one day several years ago to realize that I had more years behind me than in front of me, which is even more true today. It was then that I awoke to the fear of the unknown … of what happens to us when we die. We keep trying to craft images that are comforting and that help us overcome our fears … no pain or suffering or death … streets paved with gold. I proclaim everlasting life, but when pressed as to what that means or what that looks like, I tend to defer to mystery that leans more heavily on a faith that is more about unknowing than it is about knowing.
Here is the profound insight I have gained from reflecting on this text: whether we consider ourselves good or bad or in or out or dead or alive, we all belong to the same tapestry … what The Message calls a “tapestry of love.”
This is perhaps the greatest image of the communion of saints. It is what Paul means when he writes: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8) It is what Jesus means when he says that the kingdom of God is among or within us! (see Luke 17:20-21).
It is this incredible notion that everything belongs … nothing and no one is left out … there is no “othering” in this tapestry of love. There is only us! In our harsh political climate from the local to the global level, we find ourselves cut off from one another. In our own United Methodist Church, we are experiencing a tearing of the fabric of a spirituality that is dear to my heart.
Those who insist on dualistic notions of spirituality or creation or human community tear away at that tapestry and end up being those who themselves are torn away … disconnected from its life-giving “wovenness” (yes, I know I just made up a word).
In times like these, it feels as if we are coming unraveled. Colossians tells us that the answer isn’t “out there” on some wild goose chase … it is “in here” … already woven into the tapestry made for the whole of creation. In here, everything is woven together. The good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our lives. Our enemies and our friends. Wholeness and brokenness. Life, suffering, death, and resurrection. All sewn together into something mysteriously more beautiful than we can imagine.
As I was learning to knit, I had been working on a scarf and had made good headway. When my grandmother sat down to inspect my work, she noticed that I had dropped a stitch several rows down. The dropped stitch was already beginning to unravel and would have led to the complete unraveling of the scarf. I thought I completely messed up and would have to start over. She calmly reached over and took the knitting from my hand.
With a technique that still baffles me to this day, she took two other knitting needles and dug into the mess I had created. In a matter of minutes, she had picked up the dropped stitch and made it look as if it had been done right the first time.
That’s what it means to live only in the shadow of grace. It is the grace of this woven tapestry of love that invites us to this all-inclusive creation where we are invited to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8) It is the place where all are truly welcome and where everything belongs. Even when our behaviors or choices harm others and ourselves … even when we violently tear at the fabric of God’s creation … even when we are coming unraveled, God’s grace tends to pick up the dropped stitches in our lives and restore the divine tapestry.
So as we face the harsh realities of life in our world … as we attempt to speak truth to power (sometimes with great risk) … as we attempt to give voice to those who suffer most in our world, may our work be that of knitting and being knitted in the tapestry of love that we might intimately be “in touch with everything there is to know of God.”