In my family, there are two types of people: storytellers and quilters.
Every room in my parents’ home is full of both. We decorate with and seek solace in the cold South Carolina winter under blankets crafted together by generations of my family. We have dresses made with scraps of dresses my mother wore as a child, a pinwheel design made by my great grandmother hanging on the wall in the living room. In my apartment here in RVA, my bed is covered in the quilt made for me by my great aunt. In the living room is the one she made for my brother, something far too precious to be put in the storage unit with the rest of his belongings during his transition from one state to another. My mother quilted the stole I have worn here during Advent and Lent and I cherish it greatly.
We also find room in our homes for stories in my family. Some stories are the new ones that get leaked out when we travel to Nashville to visit my dad’s siblings. After dinner we sit around the table and they remember their childhood, a childhood that looks so different from my small town experience. Sometimes there are stories (and, in my family, jokes) that we can recite along with the storyteller or predict when they are coming based on how the storyteller has set him/herself up for their intros. There are stories that are told as precious memories of family members and family pets who are no longer with us, memories of days past, and stages of life that cannot be redone.
Lately, I have been struck by how similar stories and quilts can be. They both connect me to the narrative of my family. One look at the quilts in our home reminds me of the farm my grandmother grew up on: the little farmhouse with the scratchy sofa that I hated having to sleep on but now think longingly about when I drive past neighboring towns, making trips to or through NC. The quilts in my parents’ home have covered me when I am sick, been tucked tightly around me when our power has gone out and we are being too stubborn to go anywhere to stay the night. The quilts have been wrapped around cold feet, sobbing shoulders, and bodies fatigued from a long day or during a long battle with everything from the common cold to the all too common diagnosis of cancer. It is the history of the quilts that makes me sure they can handle the grief, the exhaustion, and sometimes the joy that I can bring into them as they are wrapped around me. In the same way, stories have been wrapped around me, offering comfort and connections to my family and our narrative that provide me strength. We have stories that show our perseverance, our gumption, our courage. Through our shared memories, we are connected.
The longer I am in the church, the more I understand the importance of our story as a community of faith. Like the stories of any family, the stories of our ancestors in faith and the narrative of the church over time provide connection to the past and comfort in times of darkness, loneliness, sadness, and grief. We can wrap ourselves in the narrative of faith we have heard and experienced and be reminded of not just the hope, but also the perseverance that has come before us.
This week especially I think about the story of the earliest disciples gathered in another upper room. Jesus has died and as far as they knew, that was the end of their story. In John 20:19, we find them there. They are gathered together, doors locked, in fear of those who used to be their neighbors, friends, and maybe family members. Together, they may have been recalling the last time they gathered in an upper room; the meal they had shared and the lessons Jesus taught still fresh in their minds. Maybe they were thinking back even further to all that they had witnessed over the last few years, the miracles, the resurrections, the great meals shared with thousands. These memories seemed to be all they had left of Jesus, their lord and teacher. They sought comfort in each other and their shared history. They gathered as family to mourn and to remember. I wonder if anyone brought a blanket out to cover them as their tears made them shiver. I wonder if in their huddle they found comfort in each other’s company and the company of their shared narrative. I wonder how they looked up as Mary Magdalene ran into the room to share what she had seen.
I wonder how we will tell this story and our stories in a way that comforts and makes the world as safe as a blanket fort and as comforting as a favorite story. What is our “Once upon a time”? I think, “He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” is an awfully good start.
Beth Olker, one of our pastoral interns, is a final level MDiv student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA and a candidate in the PC(USA) ordination process through the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. She grew up in the upstate of South Carolina and graduated from Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC. Prior to seminary, she served in Tennessee as a PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer and as a church director of children’s ministries. She has been active with numerous committees on campus, and is in her second year leading our youth group.