An Invisible Mending Material: Vulnerability
September 19, 2019
Captured between the “over and under” movement of the needle weaving its’ darning pattern – was also the vulnerable frayed edges, the torn pieces of our lives laid out alongside one another.
by Pastor Ivy
This past weekend we held our 5th annual church-wide retreat. Steadily year after year, we’ve had a crew of 250 or so folks who join together, to step out of their regular rhythm of life and experience something new in the vastness of time and space that a retreat can afford. We had the privilege this year, of welcoming the voice of Laura Everett, (Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches) who took us down a meaningful historical, spiritual, and tactile experience of mending.
Mending is a metaphor that is powerful and rich in it’s introspective call to all of us. It surfaces questions such as, “Where do you feel worn? Where in you needs mending? Where are you feeling stressed, frayed, friction? How do you approach repair?”
On Saturday morning, I watched as these mending questions reached our community. I watched as the mending metaphor went beyond just an intake of historical and technical knowledge and unfolded into an integration of physicality, soul and community. Laura Everett invited each person to take a holey sock, a needle, a thread of yarn and begin the process of repair – through a technique called “darning”.
180 adults were invited to learn something new.
180 adults were invited to be challenged by the unfamiliar.
180 adults were invited to be vulnerable.
And 180 adults started to darn their socks. The magic that was to transpire in that slightly worn, flickering lighted ballroom over the next hour, was of heavenly quality. You see, the challenge was not in the technical learning of the new mending practice, (within a few minutes most people seemed to pick up the necessary weaving pattern). The challenge was in the starting. The challenge was in poking the needle through the fabric for the first time. The challenge was to find what wasn’t visibly provided in the center of the table – not the needle, the thread, nor the apple. The challenge was in finding the essential material that was located within the center of each person. The invisible material of vulnerability. Vulnerability, turned out to be the incredibly powerful key in unlocking the process of mending.
It is so vulnerable to learn something new, and it is so vulnerable to mend. Both, assuredly usher in a measure of awkwardness, self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear – which can lead to postures of concealing, ignoring or retracting.
Yet, at this retreat, I witnessed the power of entering into a space of communal vulnerability that allowed for a greater opening of oneself, of connection to others, and the Spirit of God.
A natural nervousness spread across the room as everyone made that first needle poke into the fabric, and made the long pull of repairing yarn. Glances flew left and right from folks to make sure that they were making the correct stitches and patterns. Helpful tips were uttered from one to another, as thread tangled or needles frustratingly slid off the long tail of yarn. Soon though, the connection across tables shifted from the learned technique that was centering everyone – and stretched into the lives and stories embodied at the tables.
The creative, vulnerable engagement allowed for discovery of one another at deep, transparent and tender levels. The room itself moved from a nervous-quiet, to a convivial, called-to-life tenor. There was an attention on fingers and fabric, but also an attention on hearts and stories. The beauty found in the cross-generational connections, introvert – extrovert connections and all the manners by which we generally separate and align ourselves, was powerful to witness.
What was being tended to, and mended at each table was more than a worn sock. Captured between the “over and under” movement of the needle weaving its’ darning pattern – was also the frayed edges, the torn pieces of our lives laid out alongside one another:
Over: “My child’s neurological testing will come back early next week…”
Under: “I’m so alone.”
Over: “I’m trying to figure out how to move my elderly mom from her
Under: “I needed this retreat so badly.”
Over: “I never knew that about you..”
Vulnerability, as I watched it spread throughout the room, wove a deep belief into each person. A belief that this real life mending process is one that we don’t have to master alone. The belief that other people will lean over our shoulders and look at our efforts of mending, and sometimes laugh with us at our fumbled attempts, but also encourage us as we learn new techniques. A belief that God is devoted to the steady, slow work of repair in us, and that God will not give up on us. And a belief that we are worthy – that our experiences of pain, rifts, weariness and oppression are worth the effort it takes to fix.
Jean Vanier, the recently deceased founder of the L’Arche community says,
“It is the human heart and its need for communion that weakens the walls of
ideology and prejudice. It leads us from closedness to openness,
from illusion of superiority to vulnerability and humility.”
May Vanier’s words that speak of connection and vulnerability, indeed prove to be a powerful mending force that weakens the dividing walls found in our relationships, neighborhoods, cities and nations. The time I spent in the tiny town of Sturbridge this past weekend was an experience that pierced my heart, (my fingers at times), and sewed connecting lines of vulnerability throughout my story to so many others. May the strength of these threads be ones that we can all reach out and grasp onto as we continue our own stories of mending.
We invite you to go through the prayer prompts from Mend: Reservoir’s 2019 Retreat.