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A Lenten Epiphany

A Lenten Epiphany

I spent Lent of 2012 in Israel.  I was fortunate to be one of a few lay people included on a trip Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark arranged for his clergy.  It was to be one of the most powerful experiences of my life.   When we arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane, our guide explained to us how olive trees are trimmed of their branches on a regular basis and in their place grow many more branches.  He told us of how the roots grow new trunks which, as they grow, eventually merge with the tree causing it to grow ever larger.  As he came to the end of his talk, he invited us to go into the Garden to pray just as Jesus had done all those years ago.
That is when I began to imagine Jesus at the roots of the same olive tree I stood before.  He was a carpenter, he knew all about trees.  He was a man who spoke in parables.  And so it was, I came to believe he found some sense of peace as he prayed.  He knew his life was about to be taken.  But, he also knew olive trees.  When you cut off their branch, new branches grow and the base gets ever larger.  I imagined Him at peace knowing that while they would cut Him down, new followers would arise and band together and keep on living His message of hope and love.  You and I are testaments to that vision today.  Thanks be to God!
And that is how my Lenten epiphany informed the vestments that would follow… the darkness cannot overcome the light, even in the most uncertain of times.

The first picture shows the Lectern hanging and Frontal.  Three fine stands of light appear in the darkness; one is the God thread, another the individual and the third all of human kind.  The God thread holds and supports the individual until human kind joins in.  As the strands get to the frontal, they grow in size with the light getting ever more powerful.

The second picture shows the Frontal with the Pulpit hanging now in view.  The Pulpit is almost all light and you can imagine Easter just out of reach for the moment but promising to be there. If you look closely at the frontal, you will see the strand of light that has a hand painted silk within that includes browns and reds… that is the God thread; that is God saying “give me all your pain, your fears, your worries and I will hold them for you”.
The metaphor is continued on the chasuble and stole.  Be sure to notice how the light comes from the reverse side of the stole in the beginning and spills over to the reverse side as the light grows ever stronger.
The column banners are purple as you look toward the altar and show an ever increasing number of light strands coming into the church.  As you walk away from the altar, the banners are full of light and the strands have turned to darkness being blown away.
It was such an interesting challenge to create the contemporary Celtic knot used in this design but I love the symbolism of how we are all connected, including the God thread!
My First Vestment

My First Vestment

Here is my very first vestment: read on to see how it came to be…

We moved to Baton Rouge LA in early 1980 and began the search for our church home. Having come from Michigan, it was quite a challenge as the norm in Louisiana was for the children to be in Sunday School until they were 13 at which time they were Confirmed, given their First Communion and expected to sit in church. For our 1 and 6 year olds, the norm had been to be active participants in worship. After many an awkward visit to various churches throughout Baton Rouge, a neighbor suggested perhaps we would enjoy St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, the new mission in town. The following Sunday was the start of Lent. Our one year old was ill so I took our son to investigate. They had built their parish hall first and were worshiping there with gold shag carpeting beneath the altar and folding chairs. The Spirit was alive and I can still see Fr. David Powers, a tall man with a deep bass voice, placing a chair on the floor center front and calling all the children to him. Scott ran up to join in as he read Trina Paulus’ Hope For the Flowers to them in lieu of the sermon. Scott was mesmerized and ran back to his seat saying “we’re staying, aren’t we?” and, of course, we were!

At the time of announcements, David asked if anyone would take home the frontal kit that had been purchased for Easter. It was a fancy brocade with a large embroidered cross that had to be hand applied. I volunteered and they gave it to me. So it was the most unexpected and unplanned journey began.

We joined St. Margaret’s and the children flourished. After a few months, I discovered how much the kit had cost and suggested we could have made it for a lot less ourselves to which David responded; “I’ve always dreamt of a Lenten set made of linen symbolic of the curtain torn asunder”. And I thought, why not?

I have always sewn. Being the middle of three girls, if my mom didn’t make it, we didn’t wear it. She had little patience when we were young to teach us but my father collected little old ladies who became a part of our lives and I learned so many techniques at their knees from tatting to hucking to hand work and more. As we got older, mom taught us all about dress making.
I am a Nurse by profession and soon discovered my drawing talents were far from acceptable. I must have drawn at least 70+ designs before I finally arrived at one I thought might be okay. When I showed David, his response was to say “great start”… not what I wanted to hear.

I became quite ill but was recovering in time to go to the Verna Dozier Conference at a Retreat Center. Everyone was concerned for me and chose not to awaken me as I napped through one of the sessions. As I awoke, I remember quickly grabbing the envelope of my registration packet and sketching out what I saw. I was so pleased! It was in that moment that I came to know to wait and see what the Spirit had to say. Sometimes, I see things very quickly; other times, it takes much longer… but I always wait for the Spirit.

As soon as we returned, I went to see David to show him. He was very pleased as well and said, “I see you added in a tear”. I said no, it isn’t a tear but a leaf. He told me I couldn’t have a leaf that this was a Lenten set… to which I responded it was Lent, I needed a leaf. We went around and around until the day the linen arrived and I told him I would be starting that afternoon. He stopped me and in his deep bass voice told me I could have my leaf “as long as it isn’t Kelly green”.

I made the set. Serendipity stepped in as the first Sunday in Lent that year was St. Patrick’s Day. His whole sermon was about how most of us were wearing green and so was he; but we would have to look for it. That little leaf became the start of what would be Fruit of the Vine.

In the beginning, I never expected to have anything come of vestment making so my pictures are not so good. I created a contemporary Celtic knot of thorn vines for the back of the chasuble. The single green leaf grows toward the center. The front of the chasuble repeated the Celtic vine of thorns woven into the Crown of thorns with the Cross within. I used black, gray and purple fabrics for the vine and added in some red threads.

My first blog post

My first blog post

I always imagined my very first Blog post would be on the question I am so frequently asked; how did I come to be a vestment maker?  I find that will be my second post as my heart and mind are heavy from the election cycle we have all experienced.

It has been laced with hatred, bigotry, homophobia, racism, sexism and so much more.  It has been hard for me to come up for air on some days.  Thankfully, I found myself working on a frontal for a church in Illinois with a Celtic knot as its central image.

Celtic knots have always been important to me. My grandmother was ten years old when she emigrated here from Ireland. She was the eldest of three children. After her father died of pneumonia, her mother, the eldest of twelve, had tried to return to her family home with the three children. They lived in County Sligo, where it is written the poorest of the poor lived in the Ireland of her day. Regrettably, her family could not support them so my great grandmother walked with her three children from Sligo in the north to Cork in the south. It took her untold days and months of labor to save enough to book steerage for her and her children to set sail for America. Hers is a story of courage and hope – one lived out every day by the immigrants who still come to these shores seeking the promise emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As I sat at my machine for many days creating the knot seen on this frontal it was a sacred meditation. This particular knot is made of one single strand that is woven over and under, over and under, countless times. There is no beginning and no end, only an interconnectedness and beauty that comes from seeing the whole image before your eyes. As a great-granddaughter, a granddaughter and a daughter, it reminded me that I am inextricably connected to my past. As a mother and grandmother, it reminded me I am responsible to be fully present in the now. As a public health nurse, it reminded me that the many people I encounter in my work life who manage to fall through the cracks of care within this great nation of ours are an essential and beautiful part of the whole. As a woman of faith, it reminded me I need to stand firm for the Beatitudes that call us every day to always remember that:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 5:1-12

I hope you will be moved by the beauty of this Celtic knot as it proclaims we are all connected, we are all part of a greater whole, together we form great beauty, our strength comes from our interconnectedness. I find I must and will speak for those who mourn, who are hungry, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted. Will you? I pray it may be so.