A great gift I received once was when someone taught me how to needlepoint. I was thirty years old and just beginning my ordained ministry. I thought needlepoint was for grandmothers, not young professionals. I was wrong. Needlepoint was for me, and for the past twenty years needlepointing has been a creative, contemplative art that restores my soul. This year I am working on this magnificent piece by Erdman Designs titled Day 1: Light. It is the first in a series of the six days of Creation from Genesis. It will take me a year to complete it. Day one of creation brought forth the Light of the World; light that is not the sun or any other external source. Light that is from God and that is God. It emerges out of the formless void and no darkness can overcome it. Light that is the Creator’s immeasurable love for creation and which brings forth all life.
Working on this piece is a spiritual experience. I imagine God weaving the Creation into being in the depths of the earth. Each time I look at it my heart delights in its beauty, whether it is in my hand or resting in my study waiting for me to return to it, to pick up my needle and begin sewing the light of the world into being. As I work with it I know this: God invites me to stitch with her to bring the light into the darkness with the needle and thread God has provided for me.
It was in seminary, a few years before I was educated in needlepoint, that I was given probably the greatest gift of my life: the revelation that God asks me to give back to God. Mentors taught me that the practice of the tithe, giving ten percent of one’s income, was a concrete way to give from God’s light within. This is not a demand, rather it must be a free will offering, motivated by love. This revelation appears many times in scripture, but one that is particularly beautiful to me comes from Exodus when God is giving instruction on how to build the Ark of the Covenant:
Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me.
This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breastpiece. And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them. Exodus 25:2-8
God asks us to give. What a lovely gift. God wants me to offer something of my life. Sometimes it’s gold, sometimes other gems, sometimes crimson yarns from the abundance of my life. It is how I get to stitch light for the world with God.
The Rev. Elizabeth I. Rechter is Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Beach, California, Diocese of Los Angeles.