I met my mother for lunch on Wednesday. It was the anniversary of my father's death, but that wasn't why we were having lunch together. It just turned out that way.
While we were eating, my mother unfolded an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper and gave it to me. She said there was something she never told me about the quilt that she had made and given to me a couple of years ago.
My mother has always been good at sewing. She made most of our clothes, and even a spring jacket for my sister and me. She made a pants outfit for me once, and matched the plaids so well that people commented on it. But it is only recently that she had gotten interested in quilting. It was my grandmother, my mother's mother, that was the quilter. She was famous for her beautiful hand-stitched quilts. Everyone tells me that she had an eye for putting together colors. I have one of her quilts, but I don't remember ever seeing her put one together. By the time I was born, it hurt her hands and her eyes too much to do the close work necessary.
Recently, though, my mother has begun quilting. And two years ago she gave me this beautiful lap quilt. I thought the colors were amazing. It holds a place of honor in our living room.
But it turns out that I did not know everything about it.
On the piece of paper that my mother gave me, she told me that this quilt was a collaboration, in a way. After my grandmother died, my aunt discovered some pieces that my grandmother had cut out, and a pattern for a quilt square. She took half of the pieces, and gave my mother the other half. But neither of them knew what to do with them. They had a pattern, but were not sure how to put it together.
One day, one of my mother's friends took a look at the pieces and the pattern, and she could figure it out. Then my mother could begin to make the squares that would form the quilt.
It took a long time; in the process she decided to divide the pieces and make two quilts instead of one; my sister just received the other one. Until Wednesday, though, I never knew that my grandmother had a hand in the quilt I received from my mother.
I see it differently now. It is not just a quilt. It is a story. It was always a story, but until Wednesday I did not know the language that the quilt was speaking, even though I loved it.
My mother's quilt makes me think of the church these days, what has been passed down to us, what we value, what we know. I know many of the older people in my congregation value and love liturgy. They have been singing and praying in a particular way for many years, as it has been passed down to them. They have learned some new rhythms along the way, it's true, but they still sing and pray the basic pattern, and they find it beautiful, and comforting, even, at times (although a seminarian friend recently scoffed at the idea of comforting religion).
And yet I wonder if we still remember the stories behind the rhythms and the words of liturgy, the ones that change it from a beautiful object into a story about us, about our mothers and our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers. I wonder if we still remember the stories that speak about love that pursues us through the ages, that pieces us together, that made us by hand. I wonder if we still remember the stories of why we sing and say and pray the things we do, and if we are even curious.