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Sunday, November 05, 2006

An Icon in Fabric

Last Sunday, October 29th, my congregation celebrated the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

As part of that, the Vestry, headed up by my Wardens, Jim Mollo and Vern Oakley, organized a marvelous brunch. Allison Pishko, former Director of the Church School, coordinated the children’s project of beautifully hand done cards which celebrated my ministry as a priest.

I simply have no words to tell you what it did to this priest’s heart to read the script of a six year old that says, “You’re the best priest I’ve ever known.”

Lord, have mercy!

As amazing as that was, there was a gift which absolutely astounded me, buckling my knees, reducing me to tears, and rendering me completely speechless.

What could possibly have that much power? I’ll tell you: A stunningly beautiful quilt. The project of many hands, it was coordinated by Ann Rea, Ann Bennett and Allison Pishko.

Not only does it represent hours and hours and HOURS of work, but I have come to know, in the past week of observing it, touching it and cuddling with it in my room, that it has a profoundly sacred meaning which goes even deeper than that.

There are various symbols and images scattered all over the surface of the quilt which represent different parts of my life:

The caricature in yarn and fabric of one of the families that look so much like the individuals it is a marvel.

A trinity of frogs which are the spiritual totem of my priesthood.

A chalice and paten, the Eucharistic vessels of my sacred responsibility.

The imprint of a child’s hand, symbolizing the more than fifty baptisms at which I’ve been privileged to preside over the past four years in this community.

A peace symbol from the 60’s, the passion of activism I share with its creator.

An iron-on transfer of the “miracle twins” born prematurely but now healthy and active and, God help us, in preschool.

A miniature prayer shawl from one woman who didn’t know how to knit when we started this ministry, but is now the most prolific of the group.

And, two different patches of the dismissal blessing I always use which has been a source of comfort and inspiration – even reportedly prompting a wedding.

I’ve been struggling all week how to put into words the power this quilt has had on my soul, to absolutely no avail.

Imagine that! Me!?! The one who is supposedly good with words!

It was in the midst of Presiding Bishop Katharine’s Investiture sermon that I finally realized the problem. In her sermon, she talked about “home,” and said that our “natural home is in God.” She said that we experience God as natural home in relationship.

Then, I got it.

There are no words for this quilt because it is an icon in fabric.

An icon is a prayerful way to image God. Meditation on an icon has been, for centuries, a powerful way to understand a deeper, hidden, spiritual meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus, the events of his life and ministry, and the nature of his relationship to his mother and the apostles.

This quilt is one of the ways into an understanding of God I could not have ascertained any other way. It is the image of God I have come to know in the midst of my relationship with the people whom God has called me to love and serve.

Meditating on this quilt has become one of the paths I can take on the journey to my “natural home” in God.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of these pictures of my Icon in Fabric. I hope to find a way to display it in church for a time. When Bishop Beckwith comes to visit us, I plan to ask him to bless it for us.

In the meantime, I am blessed by its presence. My heart is filled with gratitude, full measure, pressed down, overflowing.

I must be, without a doubt, the most fortunate priest in all of Western Christendom.

Please join me in giving thanks and praise to God for the life and love and mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, New Jersey.

Thanks be to God for the past twenty years. God grant me many more years to love and serve God through the people of God.


revsusan said...

What a wonderful way to start a week ... reading this lovely, lovely tribute to a congregation wise enough to recognize the "catch" they have in their fabulous rector!

My only quibble would be with "the most fortunate priest in all of Western Christendom" ... because that's what I thought when I was back at All Saints yesterday for the most amazingly wonderful All Saints Sunday ever ... but maybe it's like everyone thinks their grandchildren are the most beautiful ... and they are!

Blessings on you, my dear ... and looking forward to the next 20 years of your prophetic priesthood!

Grace said...

God bless you, Mother Elizabeth. You sound like an awesome priest. What a wonderful gift.