Rev. Michael Howard
Sacred Moments, Sacred Places
The 10 quilts of the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry set up for viewing at First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio on Jan. 27, 2023.
God showed up in Cuyahoga Falls this past weekend clothed in a tapestry of many colors. Moments like this remind us how it is that places become sacred.
Saturday evening, people from all over the region gathered at Pilgrim United Church of Christ for a holy moment. Like several churches in our Association, this small colonial church building in downtown Cuyahoga Falls bears witness to our abolitionist roots, having once been a stop along the Underground Railroad. We were there to discuss the ongoing problem of police violence and honor the memory of the lives of George Floyd and Jayland Walker. As we packed in the parlor, the Spirit was palpable. Many of us brought with us the pain of previous wounds, freshly torn open by the recently released footage of the ruthless beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers in Memphis.
The event was part of a traveling tour of the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry. The exhibit showcased ten quilts designed by nine congregations in New Hampshire to capture the last words of George Floyd, a Black man brutally murdered by police officers in Minneapolis in May, 2020. These carefully arranged patterns were like vessels carrying the patterns of pain and grief that stretch across our nation. They bring together a space for collective prayer, perhaps echoing the words of RowVaughn Wells, Tyre Nichols’ mother, “Something good will come from this.”
One quilt displayed the words, “It’s my face, man” with a patch of the viral image of George Floyd’s face. It was surrounded by the faces of others whose lives were stolen by the violence of systemic racism. In “Stitch, Breathe, Speak,” a documentary describing the ministry, Ann-Marie Pratt offered her reflection of the “It’s My Face Man” quilt: “His life was mercilessly being taken for no reason than his face. You don’t get to control your face.”
A final quilt with an African-themed cross was made to honor the memory of Jayland Walker, an unarmed black man shot 46 times by police in Akron last summer. Laden with words of agony and grief, the quilts are hung and arranged at each location with extreme care and reverence. An act of sacred placemaking, the exhibit creates what Rev. David Long-Higgins has called a present-day Tent of Meeting.
We often confuse the way sacred places participate in the work of making moments sacred. We go to sacred places to experience the sacred, but places only become sacred because of sacred moments. In his seminal work on sacred time, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to a thing.” In other words, it is the experience of sacred moments like this that make places sacred.
Through the use of thread and fabric, the patterns of violence and pain that weave throughout our community could be encountered in a way that transformed our sacred geography, even if only for a weekend. If we are to have an incarnational faith, it must be less about what is in our heads and more about transforming our way of being in the world. When we inhabit places in ways that meet the sacredness of the moment, our places are given a chance to revive their sense of sacredness.