Two weeks ago, a professor of art education came to stay with us. He’d seen my knitting monk videos and wanted to interview me for a new project he’s working on exploring the ways that practices of making shape and are shaped by the monastic context. We must have talked for four or five hours spread out over two days. At the end of our time together I told him that I thought I’d probably gotten more from our time together than he had.
There was something holy in the quality of our conversation. I found myself digging into deep places that I’d not known–or had forgotten–were there. I discussed my sense of myself as an artist with him in ways that I haven’t shared with anyone else, even those I’m close to. He invited a vulnerability that I didn’t realize I craved. And he created a context in which it felt safe to bring these aspects of myself to the light.
At several moments in our final conversation, I came close to tears. I found myself telling him that when I’m making a quilt, imagination is a big part of the process. I choose a pattern, lay out fabric, cut, line up seams, and sew. Each moment my fingers and eyes comes watch my imagination taking physical form. I picture what it will look like when it’s done, what it will mean to whoever I give it to, what I will feel like to have made this particular quilt. And then, when it’s done, the result always outstrips whatever I imagined. The finished quilt is always so much lovelier and more beautiful than it was in my mind, even if the seams are crooked, or the quilting bubbled. Because it’s real, it’s tangible, it’s in my hands. Each quilt is a miracle.
I’m often overcome with wonder at what I have made, not because I am so brilliant or skillful, but because somehow my own little effort has become something tremendous and beautiful and rich. And because that miracle of a quilt has, at the same time, nothing whatever to do with my efforts and yet wouldn’t exist without them. I am integral to the quilt, but it’s so much more than I put into it.
Grace is the word, of course. And mercy and love, too.
I sometimes look up and think “how the hell did this ever happen to me?” Like most of us, probably, I can name all the reasons I shouldn’t get to have the life that I do. I can tell you all the things that have gone wrong, some of them my fault, many of them not. I can outline the paltry quality of my attention. I can tell you of the dreams that never came to be, or the falseness of my past ambitions. And yet, here I am, living this miracle of a life that has nothing whatever to do with deserving.
There is, oddly enough, a grief in this kind of grace. A recognition that, if all the hurt and the falseness and the struggles were not exactly necessary, they have by now become the warp and weft of my life. I can’t undo them without shredding the fabric of grace. I can’t separate the wheat from the tares, can’t even, really, tell the two apart anymore.
To live with God’s mercy can be a trial. Much of the time I’d so much rather I were strong enough to fix everything. But that task has not been given to me. Instead, I get the scraps of fabric, the imagination to piece them together, and a little thread to bind it all up. I get the wonder, too, that whatever I imagine this life to be, it is always so much more. Today, that’s enough. Today, that’s a miracle.