Creation of a Wall Quilt – On Listening to Another

by Mary Holland

Response to reading: Where God Happens By Rowan Williams

In ‘Where God Happens’, Williams has opened for me a much deeper awareness of the significance of what I bring to the act of listening – or more accurately, the significance of who I am as a listener. “My own awareness of my failure and weakness is indispensable……the quiet personal exposure of failure in such a way as to prompt the same truthfulness in someone else……my refusing to judge and (instead) exposing myself to judgment….opens doors for them to healing and wholeness…and in that sense I become a place where God happens for someone else.” (pp.14-24)

I have chosen the creation of a wall quilt as a response from my heart rather than a 3 page written response which would have taken me into my head.

The image I have created in the quilt has come to me over a period of several weeks and was refined in the creating process. The 8 minute listening exercise in our Intensive contributed to this image. The quilt is a visual depiction of the process Williams’ describes of listening to another in a way that offers a place where God can happen for them.

I wanted to use fabric I already had rather than purchasing more. A piece of stained drapery fabric became the single cloth background, symbolic of the wholeness of my life (not pieced together from many smaller pieces, as most quilts are. The drapery as once a window covering – well there are many levels of symbolism there.)  Around the edges of the quilt are stitched tracings of an ECG reading of my heart beat, neuron connections (a chattering brain), and verbs from my ‘to-do’ list (mend, cook, dig, sing, watch, empty, read, fix, sleep, etc.) I stitched these tracings in the same colour as the background cloth as a way of symbolizing the need to turn down the volume of these distractions in the listening process.

Laid on top of this background is a circular, coarse piece of burlap. In its first life the burlap was a bag that delivered beans to the Fair Trade Coffee Company. I washed the burlap many times to rid it of mold and odor, then hung it on the clothes line for several months through a winter season. Rain, wind, snow, and sun gradually broke down the fibers and loosened the weaving. This fabric dominates the quilt and represents my brokenness and humanity, “my own awareness of my failure and weakness”. (The very need for a Fair Trade Company indicates humanity’s corporate brokenness.)

Toward the center of this piece of burlap I cut a hole. In the middle of the hole, a smaller piece of the same burlap is surrounded by a piece of white silk. The center piece of burlap represents the person to whom I’m listening. The white silk, which catches and reflects light, represents God, or at least optimistically the place where God may happen.

I toyed with the idea of representing the other person with a beautiful piece of linen. I thought it would show the honor and deference I want to give my ‘listenee’. However, I immediately became aware of a tendency/desire to evaluate, judge or compare the difference between myself and them. That is exactly what I don’t want to happen in the listening process, and the very thing Williams’ says will destroy the opportunity for God to be present. The solidarity of our common need is where we meet, so I settled on using the same fabric to represent both persons.

Much of the listening process is ‘fleeing’ the stimuli of our colourful, racing, chaotic world. Other than the bright white silk, I have intentionally used only earthen colours as a way of embracing the simplicity, poverty, and palette of the dessert.

This quilt will measure approximately 24” X 31”. I have only the edging and hanging sleeve yet to finish. I have included 3 photos of details of the quilt and one shot of it pinned up on the wall.

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