One of my most treasured belongings is a quilt my grandmother made. I have others from her that are more technically impressive, but this mismatching simple nine-patch scrap quilt is my favorite. It’s made entirely by hand and the stitches that hold the fabric together are tiny and perfectly spaced. My grandmother would quilt with other women from her small town in Nebraska. They’d set up one of their quilts on a frame, and they’d spend the day sitting around that quilt, sewing stitches and solving the world’s problems.
The story goes that my grandmother would keep her eyes on the handiwork of the women around her. As soon as they left for the afternoon, she’d go over to their portion of the quilt and take out any stitches that were too long or inconsistently spaced. She wanted her quilts to be just right. Eventually, she just started to do most of the quilting on her quilts herself. I’m pretty certain her quest for perfection exhausted her, but my goodness, she made some beautiful quilts.
One of the dominant images we have for God is as a judge, looking upon us from above, keeping close eye on our work. It’s as if God was like my grandmother, watching her friends around the quilt frame, making sure we don’t totally mess up. It can be paralyzing, this fear of imperfection. We aren’t sure that we’ve got the right kind of talent, or enough goodness, or the kind of commitment, or sufficient courage to respond to the world’s needs, or God’s expectations, or our neighbor’s heart ache.
But the reality is, we can trust that God’s gaze is one of grace and not condemnation. And even more, God’s entire mode of operation is exactly the opposite of my grandmother, who just decided to do it on her own. Since Jesus ascended to heaven, imperfect people are the only way that God’s love gets enacted in this world.
As the 16th century mystic Theresa of Avila once wrote, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Our eyes for compassion don’t have to be 20/20 to start noticing. Our steps of goodness don’t have to be properly choreographed. Our touches of blessing don’t need to be planned out and carefully researched. We’ve just got to get to it. Our acts of mercy and justice don’t have to be perfect, but only done in faith, trusting that God will use all our imperfect acts to stitch together God’s broken and beautiful world.
–Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor