As dawn was breaking on an Early April morning, I was sitting near the windows at the Chapel weaving some of the 1000s of prayer ribbons created by the community of St. Augustine’s. We committed to spend this lent writing prayers on ribbons to hold our thoughts, the names of those we love, the history of our dead and what we long for. For six weeks, acolytes processed torches bearing thistle farms candles tied with our handwritten prayers. As I was weaving, I read the prayers slowly for all sorts and conditions of humanity penned with love. It’s beautiful watching how a single word woven with other words allows a community to pray for the whole world. It occurred to me how weaving and praying are in communion. As I picked up a ribbon, I was praying with the child who wrote simply, “my mom."
I was praying for peace as I read the names of the worn-torn places scrawled onto ribbons interwoven with prayers for strength. As the light grew brighter the weaving was coming to life in the secret hours of the morning. Prayer feels hallowed when our hands do the work so our minds settle to see the sacred threads each day offers. In such moments we feel the blessedness that we have woven from the love, longing, and life we have made.
I remember the holy weaving that depicted the resurrected Jesus with a bright green background surrounded by images of the four gospels. It was a three story high tapestry made by one of the official World War 2 artists, Graham Sutherland. It hung behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral, erected to bring reconciliation after the war dropped a bomb on the original cathedral. During a summer in my early twenties I gave tours in that sanctuary and learned about the amazing tapestry woven by French women who worked 11 years to bring the image to life. The tapestry took the place of the usual high altar carvings or windows to invoke wonder not just for the image itself, but for the way single strands coming together offer a glimpse of heaven.
There must have been a thread of hope to lead Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the story of Matthew to face the soldiers on Easter Morning. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body. And that single sacred thread is enough to weave together the love story. Such a thread was enough to lead her through despair, to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love.
That thread of hope after Jesus’s crucifixion became the beginning of a story that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the shame and fear that keep us from experiencing hope. It sustained Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake and catches her when she fell at the feet of love resurrected. That first fragile thread was strong enough for all of that and to lead her to be the first preacher, to offer those threads for generations to proclaim love as the most powerful force that still ties us together. We still sing of those threads even as we face death: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, May God Be With You Till We Meet Again.
It makes sense to be drawn to weaving in the face of the despair, such as experienced by survivors of war who have fled Syria and have nothing when they land at beaches in Greece except a few items and a life vest. And so for months Thistle Farms under the direction of Abi Hewitt made plans with Luma Muflah from Fugees Family, Ann Holtz from Awakening Soul, Rev. Frannie Kieschnick A Thistle Farms Board Member and visionary, and I Am You to begin the first social enterprise in Ritsona with a group of women to weave the life vests into welcome mats.
Last Sunday, Tara Armistead, Cathy Brown, Ryan Camp, Regina Mullins, Luma, Frannie, Ann and I flew to Greece, none of us sure if the fragile first threads from those vests would be enough. We didn’t know what we would be confronting and if weaving with the women was going to be possible. The luggage holding the spools of thread and the shuttles had been lost. The not for profits who ran the camp were unsure about where to weave and how to help manage a social enterprise that would pay women to weave. It is hard enough to start a business, but to start in the midst of a setting where people walk slowly because there isn’t anywhere to go, where lines of identical boxes form a quarter acre of densely populated sects in the middle of an abandoned and dusty military base, where language barriers flourish, and where lines look like snakes and people in charge have massive key rings, is really difficult.
But on the second day as the sun was climbing on a clear blue Greece spring morning, new weavers and the group from thistle farms gathered in our first circle to welcome one another. One by one the women from the Ritsona camp shared their hopes to help the community, to remember how their ancestors in the middle east wove, to have purpose and meaning, and to help their children. Once they started talking I knew the thread of hope would be enough. That circle is a circle we know. We have seen that circle a thousand times; in the hills of Rwanda and the farmlands of Ecuador and right down the street on Charlotte Avenue in our Thistle Farms Circle.
That circle binds us, even if it is in the face of trauma, broken hearts and inadequate space, and it is enough to start wharfing a loom and weave vests and scraps of cloth. Soon Arabic conversations filled the weaving room as the shuttles from the two looms called out a powerful rhythm. That beating of threads together on big looms became more powerful than all the other issues, and the mantra for the week became simply, “no matter what, keep weaving."
Thread by thread we tore and bound the vests that had traumatized so many. They spoke about the cost of those vests as they ripped them into strips and talked all day about whatever came up. When the first mat came off the loom everyone cheered. There are another 1000 mats to go. We are committed to helping make this business work since less than .01% of any of the refugee families there will be invited to immigrate. And while the women of the camp may have fled war, they cannot flee the violence of poverty. That single thread, woven into a single mat and laid on our altar, is enough to build a community.
And It has always been that way.
Like a first ribbon tied, like a thread from a tapestry woven from the ashes of war, or even like a string from a discarded life vest, we are holding on to an ancient hope that binds us together in love. And the Easter story preaches to each of us that when we take hold of that thread, hope can pull us beyond grief itself. The stone has rolled, shroud has fallen and we are free. We are tied to all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. It binds the wilderness of lent to the garden in Jerusalem in a single band of love. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain.
It's not hard to imagine the Magdalene and the other Mary running to the disciples, starting to weave the story together. The meaning still fragile and not accepted easily. But, Magdalene picks up the the pace as she cannot contain the hope and needs to share it. Let us weave our prayers into the hope fashioned into the first morning of creation. A single thread is enough to bind us to the Easter story. No Matter What, Keep Weaving. It means we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing we are connected to all that is love. The thread is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Read more about The Welcome Project here.