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Outlier art–Quilt from Gee’s Bend

In this Lenten season of taking delight, I am savoring good memories with delight. Sacred texts reminds us to mark and remember the goodness of the Holy One, for God’s sake, and as a marker of the Grace that has brought us safely thus far. I notice that the concrete way I have taken delight in happy memories is through my gathering of quilts. In my living room in pride of place is my Amish quilt that I acquired when I finished my last degree program. On the back of the chair in that room is the quilt my husband has made of all of the ties he wore in his 50 years of teaching. On the bed in the guest room is a quilt made for me by friends on a big anniversary of my ordination. I have a collection of quilts on the adjacent chair, given to me by friends who knew I loved them. And in the corner where I go to pray each morning, I lean into an antique quilt, restored and given to me by my late spiritual director, Betsy, a legacy which unfolds around me each day. Each one captures memories of the good, the true and the beautiful.

If left unchecked my mind can turn to the dark side of memory with ease–the bad, the rumor and the ugly. Wasn’t that awful? weren’t they unkind? if only I had… And I know from experience, as Shakespeare has said, that way madness lies. So my Lenten practice this year is to take delight in the memories, not denying the dark and painful, but asking myself, How was God present in those events? those conversations? those outcomes? The quilts are one visual reminder of the way that God has been there through it all–those delightful things–the joy of studying despite the loads of papers and attention to detail; the call to teaching faithfully followed by my husband for all those years; the friends and family who have accompanied me in the long and winding road to and through ordination to retirement; and the strong and gentle direction I was given for so many years, taking me more deeply and truly into the Mystery we call God.

And yes, there were hurts and slights on the journey, some that still sting. However, in many of them I can remember moments of laughter, of surprise, and most, amazingly, lessons that were learned that gave me strength for the rest of the journey. I think of Joseph who became ruler in Egypt when facing his treacherous brothers, saying to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” Gen 50:20. Some sad memories can’t be understood with a meaningful gloss though, and I find that I need to let then go, again, again, again.

Meanwhile, I am taking delight in the good things that are in my narrative, and In the wider world, and the memories that can be reframed. And I love to witness the memories of others. At the art museum this spring as part of an exhibit of “outlier art” were several quilts from Gee’s Bend in Alabama, an isolated town of African-American sharecroppers, creating quilts out of what they had available to cover themselves, to keep warm, and to remember. When the quilts came to greater public awareness in the last part of the 20th Century, viewers were astonished at what they saw–unconventional, daring and beautiful! Taking delight!

I continue taking delight this Lent by remembering the places, names and times I have encountered the Holy. And I am thankful!

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