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Hearth Fire

the burning place

the burning place

It’s a “perfect storm” in the Northwoods:   extreme subzero temperatures and low availability and high cost of propane.  In churches, restaurants and the post office, all that people are talking about is the weather and propane.  There are lots of stories about wearing winter coats inside, or the couple who took out a short-term loan at the bank to pay for their propane.  I called our propane company this morning to get on the list and was told that from now on, there will be no personal checks accepted.  We have to pay in cash or with a money order, because they’ve had too many checks returned marked “NSF” – insufficient funds.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been their customer and have always been good for the money.  From now on, it’s cash on the barrel head (or left in the propane tank dome cover, whichever applies).

Today, I’m deeply grateful for our fireplace insert and the wood in our woodpile.  I stand in front of my hearth fire to warm myself since we’re keeping the temperatures inside around 60 during the day to extend the amount of propane in our tank outside.  The fire warms up our living space to the mid-60’s, and long underwear does the rest.

Standing in front of the fire got me reflecting on the word “hearth.”   I hadn’t realized that “hearth” refers to the floor of a fireplace, the brick, stone or cement part that usually extends into the room.   It comes from several roots, one of which is West Germanic and means  “the burning place.”  Of course, there’s also the more symbolic reference of “hearth” referring to family life in general, as in “hearth and home.”

Some years ago, I officiated at a winter wedding up here in the Northwoods.  It seems like few couples choose a winter-themed wedding, so in the ceremony, I talked about the season in which they had chosen to be married, when our Northwoods are pristine and lovely, cold and crisp.  It’s a season when we remember what keeps us warm and how important it is to prepare for winter.  I reflected on gathering around fireplaces or wood burners — our hearths.  And when we gather around those “burning places” in each of our homes, we stay connected.

When you burn wood, there is, of course, the spring/summer/fall task of cutting, splitting and stacking one’s firewood.

Making wood while the sun shines

Making wood while the sun shines

You have to think ahead and prepare.  But firewood isn’t our main source of heat, and too often I think of our fireplace as contributing more to a homey atmosphere and as a symbol of warmth rather than as the source of my very survival.

With these on-going sub-zero temps, though, I’m changing my perspective.  I have to attend to my hearth.  I need to attend to my hearth, and home, and all that keeps me connected and alive and warm:  all the most important things that are at the very center of who I am or who I long to become.

For what else in my life haven’t I adequately prepared?  What relationship fires haven’t I tended, what stockpile of disciplines haven’t I practiced?

What is burning in my hearth??  What is burning in yours?  What will be at the heart of my life –  or yours – whatever that life may bring?


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Now Open: Birchmeadow Quilt Goods

Maybe I’ve never quite outgrown the practice I had while employed of setting annual goals.  Even in these past couple of years of retirement, I’ve made a yearly list of things I’d like to learn, do, explore, accomplish – and that’s worked for me in keeping me looking forward and growing.

I had this pent-up need to make things with my hands, so one of my primary goals upon retirement was to learn both art quilting and quilting fundamentals, so I set out to make a queen-sized sampler quilt and some of the “meditation art quilts” that previous posts on this blog have covered.

The queen sampler quilt took nearly two years, but two nights before Christmas, we slept under that completed quilt for the first time.  It gives me joy every night to be comforted and kept warm in body and spirit by my own handiwork (and I think my dear husband enjoys it, too…)

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the sampler quilt – in situ

 Next?  Well, I decided that in 2014 I wanted to delve into the whole modern quilt movement.  Modern quilting is much more spontaneous and innovative, but you still need to have those basic skills that traditional quilting utilizes.  I joined The Modern Quilt Guild online and have been encouraged and stimulated by an online community of individual modern quilters (and modern quilter wannabes like me) all over the world.  So many of the women (I’m sure there are male modern quilters as well, but none I’ve met online) are also blogging their experiences with examples of their work, fabrics they’re considering, and their love, delight and challenges with their own creative process.  It’s been lots of fun, and I’m really happy to be linked with the MQG.

Image As a result, I want to do more blogging about my own creative process and what I’ve been making, so I’m going to revive my blog.  That’s required some remedial tutorial work as I try to figure out how to reorganize the layout and organization.  It is, as they say, “under construction.”

ANNOUNCEMENT!

But, the big news is that I started a CafePress shop today and uploaded several of my quilt blocks and an art quilt (the Goddess of Mindful Eating).  If you’re not familiar with CafePress.com, it’s an online store where original art and designs can be put on every imaginable piece of merchandise.  CafePress handles all of the logistics of producing the merch, shipping and payments and then the artist gets a small percentage of the sales.  For my situation, it works …. well, at least I’m going to try it.  I thought it might be fun and get a little of what I’ve done out there.

In a future blog, I might reflect a little more on this impulse to be “out there” and what that means…. but that will be in the future, and not today.

For those who are interested, my shop name is Birchmeadow Quilt Goods  (click to open the shop on a separate window)  

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a screenshot of the shop home page

I learned that shop owners have the option of choosing which products they can have their artwork printed on, but you begin by choosing extensive packages of set items.  I discovered, for example, that my “Goddess of Mindful Eating” could be printed on a shot glass.  Hmmm.  Not all that mindful, thought I, so I deleted that option.  It could also be printed on a dog’s feed bowl (also deleted).   Chow down mindfully, Fido, in your quilty doggy coat.

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Fido in his quilty coat

So, if you go to the Birchmeadow Quilt Goods shop, don’t be surprised to find some strange juxtapositions of quilted art on odd products.  You never know if someone is looking for a dog bowl or a shot glass with a quilt block on it.  And with my small percentage, I’ll just buy more fabric… What a beautiful arrangement.


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Golgotha:   An Art Quilt for Good Friday

(32” x 45”; based on Luke 23)
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Golgotha: an Art Quilt for Good Friday

Excerpts from Luke 23:

A third time Pilate said to the people, “Why, what evil has this Jesus done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.  So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted…..

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place that is called Golgotha (or, The Skull), they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,  and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

Cross of Christ, detail

Cross of Christ, detail

I save bits and scraps of fabric from other projects, and not too long ago, I was going through this basket of leftovers. I pulled out some pieces that formed themselves into three color-families of crosses: one cross with flowers and a basketweave that reminded me of the crown of thorns, one cross in greens with a sheer fabric rectangle containing a stem of a plant, and a third cross of purples and blues. These three “cross families” of fabrics led me to ponder Good Friday and the three crosses at the crucifixion.

Good Friday.  Re-read all the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels sometime and you will see variations in the stories. I discovered that only Luke has the story of the “repentant” and “unrepentant” thieves.  In Matthew and Mark, the two robbers both join in the mocking of Jesus; in John, there are two others who are crucified with him, but they are neither identified by crime nor do they interact with Jesus.  I also found that traditionally, the repentant thief is on Jesus’ right, and that most crucifixes show Jesus with his head leaning to the right, supposedly signifying his blessing on and acceptance of the one who repented.

After I fused the cross scraps to simple muslin, I began thinking about the hill of Golgotha, the stormy skies dark from noon to three, the earthquake and the tearing of the Temple curtain. A variety of gray fabrics are strip-pieced for half of the hill and fused “shards” of these same fabrics on black make up the side of the hill under the unrepentant thief.  The two sides of Golgotha are broken by an upsurge of under-layers of the earth.

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Three Cross Detail

Ponder the “feel” of the three different crosses: there is a promise of life within the Christ cross, a sense of growth and promise within the cross of the repentant thief, but the cross of the unrepentant thief is broken, angular, angry, unresolved….at least at this point in time. But I don’t feel that this moment in time was necessarily the “end” for that unrepentant one. Notice the red threads going down from the Christ cross into the earthquake-broken earth. Those mean, for me, that the life of Jesus was also given for that unrepentant one — and is still there for him…. always…. as well as always for us…. no matter what….

A question for each of us might be: What cross represents our lives at this moment? Do I choose to live – even in times of suffering – with hope and promise within? Or, do I choose to stay in some angular, angry, chaotic and unresolved place?

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Cross of repentance, promise of hope and growth

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Cross of unresolved anger, chaos, confusion

All three crosses are attached to the gray-skied background with embroidery thread, and a few beads embellish the Christ cross. Movement of the turbulent air is free-motion quilted into the gray sky.

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The skies darkened and the sun’s light failed

From noon to three in the afternoon, Luke says, darkness came over the land and the sun’s light failed. The clouds are outlined and couched in black yarn and swirl in stormy and ominous silence. A layer of black-netted tulle covers clouds, sky, crosses, and reaches down over the earthquake-broken hill. The tulle is torn and ripped up from the earthquake toward the bottom of the Christ cross, just as the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Some strips and pieces of the torn curtain dangle from the bottom of the quilt.

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The earthquake-broken earth, the lifeblood, the torn curtain….

In his last incarnated act, Jesus commended his spirit to God and breathed his last.

We ponder, we pray, we sit and watch silently at this place-of-the-skull: Golgotha.
 
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When You Pray

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“When You Pray” (12.75″ x 21″) – an original art quilt by Patricia Tucker

Every year, one of the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday is Matthew 6: 1-21.  Jesus is teaching about the spiritual disciplines and how they are best practiced.  He gives both cautions and advice:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This meditation quilt focuses on the words in Matthew 6:6:  “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

When you pray.

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Go into your room.

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Shut the door.

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Pray.

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Jesus also recommends a simple prayer that we’ve come to call The Lord’s Prayer.  No “heaping up” of lots of words.

Leave it outside.  

Keep all your implements and temptations to “heap up” words outside….

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Just pray.

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Jesus’ brief prayer just gets to the point.  It teaches us to be simple and quiet.  After all, God knows what we each need, but too often we ourselves don’t.  We think we do, and so we try to spell it out with lots of words to God.  No, says Jesus.  That doesn’t do it. Just sit quietly in your room, open your heart, breathe, and maybe by the grace of God, the Spirit will make known to you what is really important.

“….and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Being quiet in the presence of God, and having the Spirit make known to me what is really important — that is reward and treasure enough.

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The Goddess of Mindful Eating: an Art Quilt

Hachibumme:  Goddess of Mindful Eating

Hachibumme: Goddess of Mindful Eating

I’ve been working on this art quilt for several months, and only recently finished it. It’s titled, “Hachibumme: Goddess of Mindful Eating” and she now graces our kitchen wall to remind me to eat mindfully.

I lived in Japan for nine years, and remember being at dinner with some Japanese co-workers. One man stopped eating, set his chopsticks on his bowl and sat back from the low table. “Are you full?” I asked. In answer, he told me about a Japanese phrase “Hara, hachibu,” which means, literally, “stomach, 8 parts.” It’s a teaching that instructs people to eat until they’re eight parts, or 80%, full. Then stop. (Brilliant!)

I’ve always remembered that. The name I’ve given to the goddess is based on that word for “8 parts”: Hachibumme.

This past year, I’ve been thinking about and trying to practice “mindful eating.” Jan Chozen Bays has a wonderful book I’ve been using, titled “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” The book includes a CD with guided meditations which are very helpful in becoming more “mindful” while eating.

Mindfulness is somewhat “in” right now, but is an ancient practice. The Center for Mindful Eating (www.tcme.org) outlines Principles of Mindfulness as well as a definition of Mindful Eating, which I’ve excerpted below.   Please check out the link above for more information.

May you enjoy and explore what it means for you to “eat mindfully.”

(EDITORIAL NOTE:  I recently opened a CafePress shop where you can order merchandise (shirts, bags, notecards, magnets, lunch bags) with an image of this original art quilt.  Visit my shop,  Birchmeadow Quilt Goods, for more information.  Thanks.)

 Principles of Mindfulness:

• Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally.
• Mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment.
• With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself of reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.
• Mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance of what is.

 Mindful Eating is:

• Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing
opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom.

• Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste.

• Acknowledging responses to food (likes, neutral or dislikes) without judgment.
• Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.

 Someone Who Eats Mindfully:

• Acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food.
• Accepts that his/her eating experiences are unique.
• Is an individual who by choice, directs his/her awareness to all aspects of food and eating on a moment-by-moment basis.
• Is an individual who looks at the immediate choices and direct experiences associated with food and eating: not to the distant health outcome of that choice.
• Is aware of and reflects on the effects caused by unmindful eating.
• Experiences insight about how he/she can act to achieve specific health goals as he/she becomes more attuned to the direct experience of eating and feelings of health.
• Becomes aware of the interconnection of earth, living beings, and cultural practices and the impact of his/ her food choices has on those systems.

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The Night Dragonflies

an original art quilt measuring 14.5″ x 14.5″…

‘midst the sakura 

watching the dragonflies swoop

- mother and daughters -

I’ve been experimenting with some available-light, longer-exposure night photography, and one of the photos I took a couple of months ago was of three wooden kokeshi dolls from Japan, their faces lit up only by candlelight.

I’ve also wanted to play with photo transfers on fabric for incorporating into an art quilt, and so my first foray used the kokeshi doll photo.  From there, I began imagining a scene, partly built on memory and partly on imagination.  A warm spring evening in Kyoto with cherry blossoms and my two daughters…watching the dragonflies swooping in the dusk… the setting sunlight playing on our faces…


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Palms to Passion

A meditation on an Art Quilt for Palm Sunday  (Year B)

“Palms to Passion” is an original art quilt, 12″ x 39″, designed and constructed by Pat

Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Following the modest parade into Jerusalem, we’re puzzled by Jesus’ actions.  He gives no victory speech;  he performs no miracles.  Instead, he goes into the temple and “when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

He looked around at everything….

This Palm Sunday, with Jesus, we look around at everything as we consider the past weeks of our Lenten journey and move into Holy Week.

The meditation quilt for this day is titled, “Palms to Passion,” and shows cloaks and palms on the road laid upon the backdrop of the five weeks of Lent.  Our journey is never direct or uninterrupted, so we see that the quilt’s edges are irregular and zig-zagging.

Starting with the Markan account of Jesus’ baptism on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear the echo of the voice from heaven:  “You are my beloved…”  The voice is represented by the thin strands of gold streaming down from the top.

Remember God’s words to Jesus – and to you – embracing you as Beloved…   Feel God’s affirming words wash over you… This absolute divine Love, if we hear and accept it, can and will shape all of our days.
 

The cloaks of the people are spread on the dusty road.  A person’s cloak was a prized possession – and this valuable possession is what people were moved to lay before Jesus as he made his way into the city.

What valuable part of yourself are you willing to offer, to make a way for Jesus into your life?
 

The people cried “Hosanna!”, meaning “Save us!”  “Save, please!”   In desperation, under the oppression of Roman rule in their daily lives, the people cried out.

Where do you cry out to God?  What is the source of your desperation and need?  How do you lay this need at the feet of Jesus?

Now, notice the large symbolic palm.  It has twelve fronds, symbolizing the twelve disciples, and it symbolizes our own discipleship and inclusion in the body of Christ.  Green pearls mark the stem of the palm, and reminds us that even a simple and common offering – the palm – is beautified and sanctified when offered in love.

What is the gift that you bring today?  What is your simple and common offering from your life that will be sanctified when offered in love?
 

As Holy Week progresses, the fabric reflects the gathering darkness, and finally moves into the black of Good Friday:  The crucifixion. Jesus’ suffering.  Jesus’ death.

Jesus goes ahead of us into everything that the human experience can bring.  He accompanies us.  Think about those places in your own life where you are fearful.  What are you afraid to face?  How does the suffering and death of Jesus assure you that you are not alone in your human fear or suffering?

The two lines of black ribbon mark the two nights after Jesus’ death prior to his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.  Between those two lines are three black beads, reminding us of Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus.  Even Jesus’ closest allies and friends abandoned and denied him

Ponder those times when you have turned your back on your values, or on your faith.  When have the demands of faith commitment made you afraid of what would be asked of you?  When have you denied God’s claim on your life?  Each of us becomes Peter – again, and again…

Our Lenten journey ends here, in darkness, denial and death.  We are left bereft, and – as yet – have no inkling of what hope may break through.

Stay with the darkness.  Don’t run from it or deny it. It is only when we experience and live for a while in the darkness that we’ll really know God’s Light when it appears….

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