Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
In this era of panic politics, when certain ideologues want to push and shove the rest of us this way and that, rather, I should say, this way or that, so that all thinking is reduced to black/white, either/or, right/wrong as a spirit of divisiveness which knows no other affiliation but destruction polarizes and pits this group against that and unity corrodes down to anarchy, I am reminded of Mrs. Woods’ embroidered “house dress.”
Embroidered house dress?
The Back Story
Mrs. Woods was a neighbor who, with her husband and three daughters, lived around the corner from my family. As contrasted with my family comprised of numerous siblings, crises, and chronically distressed finances, the Woods’ family lived a comparatively normal, quiet, well-ordered middle-class, mid-century family life.
When one entered their modest but tastefully appointed home, peace was palpable even with small children fussing about.
Mr. Woods kept things up. Mrs. Woods kept things comfortable and welcoming, at least in the eyes of this neighbor girl.
But besides serving as one of my role models of “normalcy,” though she didn’t know this nor did I until I began identifying, later on, such things as personal archetypes and early influences, Mrs. Woods, a Christian, served as a testament to me of a different God, a kinder, gentler, more loving God, not the God I was familiar with in my upbringing in a “works” based religious system where, among other severe ideas, children were taught that suffering was spiritual, want noble, and self-denial saintly.
Mrs. Woods was not our kind of believer, though (thus suspect and likely even destined for Hell, which was my church’s view). Although she never talked about spiritual things, I was told she went to some rival denomination down the street, so I kept my eyes open.
If it came to such a thing as comparing Mrs. W’s spiritual life with ours, which was rare as I was mostly just glad to be in her occasional company, the only comparison I had to go by was her real life, her well-cared-for children, the quiet comfort of her home, and the order.
Until one day when I watched her ironing what was known back then as a ‘house dress” that she had just finished making for herself, a simple “frock” meant for just an ordinary day in a string of ordinary days.
What struck me was an extraordinary piece of colorful, filigreed, embroidery she did by hand just for the bodice (a section underneath the front neckline). I mean, she took time out of her likely very busy days to create this small thing of beauty just for…just-fors. She wanted to. It was pretty. It made her smile in the doing and the wearing.
And she embroidered this on a very ordinary dress nobody but maybe her husband, kids, or some neighbor girl stopping by for babysitting instructions might ever see.
You might say, right there, I had, for want of a better term, an “embroidery epiphany,” similar to moments such as when one might be caught up suddenly in another dimension of thought altogether–or just some sudden awe–on viewing the setting sun catching the last burst of reds, oranges, and yellows before sinking into the horizon, or a sudden flush of love on viewing the newborn’s face for the first–or even hundredth–time.
I have come to term this experience as an epiphany because, along with the other elements of Mrs. Woods’ life on display in her quiet corner of our neighborhood and in quiet moments in my reflective life, I caught a glimpse of God, there, too.
I believe that God used, in part, that event to circumvent–and countermand–the mind-controlling elements of the severe religious indoctrination of my youth that would have compelled me to run fast from more traditional presentations of God’s love.
And, perhaps most importantly, it showed me, and shows me still, how no matter the power of forces that imprison minds, emotions, and spirits, God still has a way within which to spread His message of redemption.
Indeed, myriad ways.
As Romans 1:20 indicates, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse,” His creation seen, too, in human representations in art, craft, and literature.
At any rate, Mrs. Woods’ freedom to embellish her life with a bit of colored thread on cloth, along with her “normal,” ordered, quiet life so opposite of ours, inched me further away from the Gospel of suffering, want, and denial mandated by the fearful God I learned about in my church.
“Jesus loves me” was beginning to take root…
On God’s Embroidery…
My epiphany was this, as best I can ever describe it: it is okay to create, enhance, embellish, and even just find pleasure in “the extras”.
Thinking even “bigger,” God does this, too.
As I wrote previously, God could have engineered everything and everyone the same. But even as our DNA is distinctly ours alone, as all the DNA testing is revealing (even in families there is variation in common ancestry “percentages”), our gifts, talents, experiences and interpretation of them are distinct. But among the common elements of being human, what are known as the “universal themes” of life that sweep across all tribes, tongues and eras, is the quest for love, joy, beauty, justice, and many more of the abstracts that prompt flesh-and-blood exploration and expression.
Some paint, others sing. Some dance, others design. Some bake, others embroider. And in so doing, each can experience as did the “Flying Scotsman,” Eric Liddell, “God’s pleasure,” as he described how running made him feel when he ran for the gold in the 1924 Olympics. (His story is also featured in my previous post).
Even though Liddell, whose Olympics experience was re-created in the 1981 historical drama Chariots of Fire, knew he was destined to be a missionary, he knew this as much, too, about running, because “God,” he said, “made (him) fast.” In that aspect of his life he was also able to reach others for Christ. In the film his witness “reaches” even today.
And here, I think, is God’s plan in the pleasure of our pursuits, as much as we also may experience pain and tribulation following Him: these things–bread, art, music, running like the wind–and even embroidery–also touch others, others who might be fenced in by severe interpretations or ideologies, imprisoned by tradition or dysfunction, or voided of joy by that which darkens minds and hearts.
Like God’s own creation that powered all things bright and beautiful to life–flora and fauna and people who were also seeded with the unique ability to replicate through time–the embellishments of our lives, too, may influence others, perhaps in ways we might not even be aware of. What we do for sheer pleasure may even cause others to shift their attention to other dimensions of thought and/or emotion.
Maybe even to God.
(Thank you, Mrs. Woods, once again, wherever you are.)
And these days, we especially need God’s ministries, in every and all forms, as prophecy experts warn there might be significant darkness just ahead, a time when we can “no longer work” or sing, dance, bake, or embroider–let alone spread the Good News of the Gospel to the ends of the earth in all of the usual ways.
…Versus Evil’s Void
So what does all this have to do with “panic politics”?
Compare the pleasure of creation, it joy, power, and influence; it’s ability to touch not only the five senses but the heart wherein resides faith, hope and love, with what happens when evil spreads and would eradicate minds and hearts–and nations–in its quest for power and control.
The best, worst picture I can think of is any that chronicles what happened in Nazi Germany, when the concentration camps were up and running.
Victims sent there due to “wrong” thinking, politics, religion, lifestyle, ethnicity and so on, were summarily stripped of their possessions, homes, families, freedom of expression and all other freedoms, along with their very identities.
No longer were they Mr. or Mrs. X, Y, or Z, but they were known, now, only by pejoratives, the dark side–and arguably the precursor–of what today is known as identity politics, the worst form of which imprisoned and imprisons victims, literally and figuratively, for being the “wrong identity” because they speak truth to the self-proclaimed arbiters and determiners of what is to be the only allowed (politically) “correct thinking”.
The final injustices back then? Names were replaced with numbers burned onto forearms, and the final solution for that generation’s deplorables who didn’t die of sickness or malnutrition was annihilation in gas chambers, ovens, locked burning buildings, or in front of firing squads.
This is the logical conclusion of panic politics coupled with denial of freedom that aim to divide, demoralize, and conquer, in any era.
Think it can’t happen here in the West?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as never before, it is essential that we carry on embroidering, as it were, our corners of the world, in whatever ministry, calling, or serving opportunities we have been endowed in order to prompt those who might yet be touched–and reached–by Jesus Christ, now or later on.
If the prophecy scholars are right, there may not be much time left for your unique and essential contributions to spreading the Gospel as the global effort to suppress freedom of expression–in all of its vast and creative forms–seems to be spreading at an alarming rate.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
For a little musical inspiration, check out the Vangelis Chariots of Fire Theme.