My great-grandma was a quilter, and I've spent many nights snuggled up beneath her handiwork. So I appreciate the care and precision that go into constructing a fine quilt.
The "Quilts of Gee's Bend" were nothing like Great-grandma's. Hanging proudly on the walls of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many were pieced together from faded blue jeans, old clothes, and flour sacks. The black and white photographs and the placards on the museum wall described a community that has for decades been economically depressed, but the quilts told a different story. They spoke of magnanimous hearts, hope, and determination. They spoke of women who rejoiced in every thread of good, in each remnant and scrap of beauty and usefulness that came into their lives.
As I studied the hip-pocket shadows and knee patches on the denim panels, my thought went back several centuries to a man, also of very modest means, who knew how to make the most of every particle of good that God gave.
Faced with a hungry crowd who'd come to hear him teach, he looked to his companions to share what little food they had with the crowd. After distributing five loaves of bread and a few fish to an assembly of thousands, all of whom ate their fill, he said something remarkable: "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12).
I like to think that Jesus' ability to feed those people was a tangible expression of the spiritual food he'd already shared so richly.
He understood what deep, practical, renewable insights could be gleaned from the simplest truths the sacred texts contained. His trust in the power of the simplest word of truth bespoke an insight into the exhaustless possibilities of one truism, thoroughly assimilated. When he said, "Gather up the fragments that remain," wasn't he talking about more than bread crumbs? Wasn't he talking about ideas?
"Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 3). These compelling words were written centuries after Jesus, by another spiritual thinker who wasn't content to look at things superficially or dogmatically.
Mary Baker Eddy studied the Bible earnestly, searching for the healing principles that enabled Jesus to make those teachings practical in feeding and healing multitudes. Nearly every page of her primary work, Science and Health, draws on some Bible passage and encourages the reader to go beyond a surface reading of the words to consider their profound, healing implications.
"Are we really grateful?" Sometimes when I have prayed for direction or healing, and a simple thought has come to mind, I've brushed it aside as inadequate. "I already know that. Give me something new - something more advanced."
But I'm finding that if I will, in humility, accept a simple truth with a heart ready to understand more fully its implications, if I can see this timeless idea as God's sacred provision for my present need, and ask, "How can I put this into practice?" I find guidance and healing.
A friend of mine has for years repeated a simple theme: "The Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Rev. 19:6). I've heard him turn to that simple spiritual fact under a host of challenging circumstances. He never fails to draw deeper insights and stronger faith from the well-worn but fadeless fabric of that familiar passage.
The quilters of Gee's Bend seem to understand this intuitively. From a bag of worn and faded scraps, from whatever fabric and color they may have on hand, they boldly shape a masterpiece. It's a good lesson for us all, to "gather up the fragments that remain," not in the sense of being content with just a little bit of good, but of seeing that there is so much more right here than meets the eye. We can be grateful for what we have, use it to the full, weave its richness and beauty into the fabric of our lives, and behold - a masterpiece!
• "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" are on exhibit at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in Auburn, Alabama, until Dec. 4, and will be at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from March 25 - June 18, 2006.