There is something sacred to me about good art. A film can be a homily. A stroll through a bookstore can be a prayer labyrinth. Walking the halls of an art gallery can be like flipping through a hymnal.
This last weekend, EA and I went down to Savannah so that she could attend QuiltCon (No, you do not cosplay as your favorite at QuiltCon. I thought about that too. Although my favorite quilter is my wife, so…let’s not venture any further down that train of thought’s track). I do not know exactly when I got the sense of sacred walking through the many quilts that were on display, but at some point I got the feeling that there was something good and beautiful.
From an uninformed point of view, quilting can be seen as something that is old and outdated. The stereotypical image of a quilter is matronly: an older woman peering over granny glasses as she hand-stitches her craft in a rocking chair. This could not be further from the truth. Take my wife EA, who is neither old nor matronly. There were quilters of all ages and backgrounds in Savannah. I went with EA to a workshop hosted by a quilter named Anna. Anna is younger than me, lives in Seattle, and is far, far cooler than I will ever be. Quilting is far more relevant than people realize and the art form has something to say.
In a way, the church shares a PR problem with quilting. In our present culture, both are considered antiquated unless you get to know it. Too often, the church’s response to that dilemma has been to appear more cool. That strategy is a recipe for failure because there is nothing in the world that makes you look more out of touch than trying to be cool.
How do the members of the Modern Quilt Guild tackle this perceived old-fashonedness? Well, I don’t get the sense that they care. Sure some might be bothered by the false perception, but on the whole it seems like they simply love what they do and want to make the best art possible. And there is something magnetic about seeing a community that is passionate about something and striving to contribute beauty to the world.
All of which takes me back to the sense of sacred I felt while looking at the quilts on display. Like any art gallery there were pieces of beauty and pieces that challenged. There were works that drew me in towards which others were indifferent. Maybe I got the sense of the sacred when I spotted a quilt that looked like a modern, colorful religious icon. Or perhaps it was in the beauty of color of a piece or the intricacy of the stitching in another. Maybe it was when I was blown away by a quilt that featured an impressive portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Or it could have been seeing quilts that were made by local guilds; communities coming together to create a unique whole.
Yet I think what cemented the feeling of the holy is when I came across quilts that had something to say. There was a quilt that depicted an overhead map of the area around Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston and put that church in the crosshairs. There were multiple works that spoke out about sexual abuse. There was another that depicted Trayvon Martin with his obituary stitched into the quilt. There were quilts that were put together in memory of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel and a display that featured pictures of all the quilts that were made and donated to victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.
There was beauty, community, voices that were speaking out about what was going on in our world, and actual action attempting to bring healing to those wounded. There is something sacred about that.
I suppose that there is something sacred about the very idea of a quilt. Taken from different cloths, fabric is pieced and stitched together. The process takes time and care. I have seen EA do this many of times before. She measures, cuts, lays out pieces in different orders. She sits at her machine and sews. She kneels on the floor to pin the layers together. It takes creativity and an analytical mind.
Eventually many pieces of cloth from different places combine with thread and batting to become this new whole. A mosaic. A new body. There is that image in Psalm 51 of God sewing together a person. Then there is the idea of all of us being stitched together into a community. Out of many, something united that is good and beautiful.
I will not go so far as to say that art will save us. That leaves out important factors like God, love, compassion, and selflessness. But I do feel like art is a hand that helps us to our feet, a teacher to which we should listen. Quilts, films, songs, books, paintings, theater, photography, and more can be sacred. Pay close attention.