Dear weaver of our lives’ design
whose patterns all obey,
with skillful fingers gently guide
the sturdy threads that will survive
the tangle of our days.

Take up the fabric of our lives
with hands that gently hold;
bind in the ragged edge that care
would sunder and that pain would tear,
and mend our rav’ling souls.

Let eyes that in the plainest cloth
a hidden beauty see;
discern in us our richest hues,
show us the patterns we may use
to set our spirits free.

Back in my holy roller days, a member of my prayer circle self-proclaimed herself as having the gift of prophesy. In that space and time, we understood that to be a huge gift, but the way it played out was her telling us things about life in poetic language. And yes, she was doing an MA in creative writing. She’d wax poetic about trees and rebirth, crystals and growth, wind and change. Nothing too wild, but our 18-year-old minds were blown away by her 25-year-old wisdom. At one of our gatherings, she went into ‘prophesy’ mode and talked to me about being a tapestry, a life woven through time with many threads coming together; I wouldn’t be able to see it because I was still young and too close, but it would become significant.

As time wore on and I fell away from that path, I forgot most of what happened in those circles and firmly rejected the harmful doctrines; however, her image of a tapestry has stayed with me, more than 30 years now. I return to it time and time again, thinking about how not just our individual lives but our communities and indeed our world are woven into beautiful tapestries we can only see part of. When something especially good or especially bad happens, I think about what color threads are being used, what the image on the tapestry looks like, how it connects to other parts of the design.

So it’s not surprising that I love the lyrics of this hymn. Me, in my theistic, “god is creator and creating and so are we” understanding of theology, resonates deeply with this weaver of our lives’ design. We are plain cloth and tangled threads; we are the sculpture under the stone; we are the unprocessed film; we are the unplayed notes on the piano – all ready to be and already woven into our life’s tapestry. This is creation and creating, this is possibility and anticipation, this is what is and what’s next.

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark, always that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.

Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.

It is a bit of a relief to turn to a hymn I know well, whose lyrics are very familiar.

Which also makes this day an interesting challenge, because it would be easy to sing through without paying attention. If yesterday’s hymn was like learning the steps of a complex dance, today’s is a dance I know so well I have forgotten its actual form.

And so I sang it a second time, paying attention to the lyric – and I noticed something difficult and uncomfortable in the third stanza: “disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.” Now on one hand, this is the beauty of our covenant and of unconditional love – despite the hard times, disappointments, struggles, love still abides.

But the political atmosphere right now – with sexual assault being headline news and many women struggling with the doubts and traumas of their own assaults (physical and emotional) – this line screams out to me. I think of the women who believed their partner’s abuse was somehow their fault. The women who lean on “but I still love him” as reason enough to stay. The women who are told they are a disappointment and it’s only because no one else will love them that he stays.

And then I think of the same kinds of manipulations that can happen in our congregations: Those who excuse bad behavior, because “well, he is a longtime member.’ Those who threaten to take their pledge and their membership if a vote doesn’t go their way. Those who believe the bad behavior was because of something the congregation did/didn’t do.

We are struggling, in this time and place, in our homes, communities, and in the nation, with a callousness that demands love despite disappointment, that blames rather than takes responsibility, that gives too long a rope to bad behavior and is unpracticed in the art of calling in and recommitting to covenant.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what kind of radical, global epiphany we have to have in order to wake up and stay woke. I don’t know what kind of personality characteristic we need to collectively unearth to stand up to that which we know in our guts is wrong, abusive, or harmful. I’d like to think that we’re practicing it in our congregations – churches, synagogues, fellowships, mosques, and circles should be the places where we build these muscles and gain a little bit of courage. But the harm has permeated our walls too – and so what should be safe havens, practice spaces, and soul gyms, become just as harmful, hurtful, and distressing.

“Disappointment pieced me through” – and then I named the problem, I called you back in, we talked about the harm, we developed a plan for reconciliation, we kept each other accountable – and then, “I kept on loving you.”

Let’s not mistake “love” for permission. And let’s stop using “love” as permission. Let’s make sure “love” means calling for, expecting, and giving, the very best of ourselves.

Words by Alicia Carpenter
Music by Johann Ebeling