I believe in pulling loose threads.
I believe that it is in the unraveling of faith and life that we discover the sacred.
My mother always warned me about pulling on loose threads. Often the hem of my skirt would unravel, but still I would tug. My believing was not a naive belief in the strength of the stitching, I actually (secretly) hoped that as I tugged, the row of stitching might give way. I loved to watch the ‘undoing’ and feel the gentle tension as the loop disengages.
As an avowed unravel-er I have an affinity for paper bags sealed with a looped stitching, the kind where you pull the thread and the bag opens. The trick, however, is that there are two threads and only one will unravel the stitching. If you pull the wrong thread, it actually tightens the threads. Then you almost always have to go find the scissors. Unraveling is an unrecognized and too often undeveloped skill.
Some of the best loose-thread teachers in my life were my professors at Calvin College, where I was admitted as a ‘non-traditional’ student in1980. As I an 18-year-old transfer from a state college with a strong academic background and a passion for Jesus, I was perplexed by the label ‘non-traditional’. I was a loose thread in the otherwise tightly woven cloth of Calvin.
My particular passion for Jesus led me to Calvin but was challenged almost as immediately as the ways in which I did (and did not) change my sheets each week. In religion classes, roommate discussions, and weekly dorm wide bible studies I was asked to define this passion I blithely espoused. The questions were wearying but nonetheless contagious. By the time I had graduated and moved to Wisconsin to teach, the questions were coming from within.
Shortly after graduation, before the final spin cycle of seminary, I found myself back in my professor’s office. “Just tell me,” I pleaded, “when do the questions stop? I feel as though I’ve pulled the string on the sweater and it is unraveling before me.”
Probably responding more to my panic than to the theology of my barrage, my dear mentor appeared to be stumped and said, “Well, Katy, there are some things you just don’t question.”
I don’t think he was convinced and I know that I was not.
Unless I was willing to buy the sweater whole, to return to the safety of fundamentalism and a world of secure assurances, the sweater was going to unravel. And mine did. (Actually many times over.)
Over the years, I have gradually come to see that value in the pile of yarn that is left when the sweater unravels. The lessons from the unraveled mess are endless, three are particularly powerful in this spring of my mid-life.
1. A pile of yarn has little hubris. And a little humility would be a welcome relief in our world where we’re too quickly led to profess that might makes right.
2. A pile of yarn invites not decision but creative engagement. Though not welcome in orthodoxy, questions abound in the arts and serve as the foundation of the sciences.
3. A pile of yarn is defined in relationship. It falls unevenly, shaped by each hand that touches it. The effect of touch on the hapless pile is a prescient reminder of the ways in which relationship shapes our understanding of the sacred.
Sweaters are often very beautiful and also serve an important purpose. When the winds whip and the air is chill, sweaters are comforting and seem even to be life-giving. Understandably, in our world of uncertainty and change sweaters are very much in vogue. There is nothing wrong, and very much right, about life with sweaters.
Still, I opt for something less scripted. I continue to be drawn to the loose thread and the unruly pile that unfolds. For it is in the jumble and the search that I encounter the sacred.
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