I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jane Tomaine's reflection on Little Dresses for Africa.
Sometimes it is just hard for me to get going. Tasks mill around my head like my cats before meal times, walking between my legs, mewing impatiently, rubbing on my ankles to make sure that I don’t forget them. But unlike the cats, there are tasks that I just can’t seem to get to. Have you experienced this dilemma? What is it that we cannot seem to begin? Is it a phone call that promises to be difficult or a long, needed repair or task at home that we dread tackling; is it a project we really want to do, but that’s languishing on the back burner because we aren’t sure how it will fit into an already stuffed day?
In the monastery the bell calls the monastics to prayer. Is it possible that our neglected and avoided tasks are really bells that ring of opportunities to connect us more deeply with God and others? Do these tasks mew like Charlotte, Ricky, Espy and Nikki (my cats) until we take them up and find in them the prayer of our heart?
Until the early 1990’s I was an avid seamstress, sewing nearly everything that I wore. Seminary and then fulltime parish ministry left no time for this once delightful and productive creative work. For years the cabinet that housed my sewing machine was never opened, becoming instead another flat receptacle for books, papers, and a variety of sundry items. A couple years ago I decided to give away both machine and cabinet. Wanting to make sure all was in good shape, I gave both a good dusting, applied oil, and ran a scrap of fabric through to make sure that machine worked. That was the surprise! It was like putting on an old shoe – I realized how much I really liked to sew. There is something immensely satisfying about finding beautiful fabric, choosing a pattern, smoothing out the fabric, cutting it carefully, following the pattern directions to create a lovely and useful garment. Add to this where my machine was placed – right in front of a window with view of sky and trees. Once I ran that scrap of fabric through the machine I was hooked. I wanted to sew again for it brought joy, but I didn’t want to sew for myself. The hought came to me, “Why not sew for others?” But who? An internet search uncovered a project to sew simple dresses for little girls in Africa.
Little Dresses for Africa was created in 2008 by founder and director Rachel O’Neill and is a registered non-profit 501c3 Christian organization. Beginning as a grass roots effort, with a goal to take 1000 dresses to a single village, Little Dresses for Africa has grown to numbers well over 6 million, with little dresses for girls and “britches for boys” currently being sent to 83 countries in and around Africa. The road is especially difficult for little girls and young women in Africa. These simple little dresses plant the seed that they are worthy. The dresses are also like little ambassadors that pave the way for people in the organization to offer needed help in the villages. As relationships are formed, the focus is on projects for clean water, education and community.
Knowing all this, I still dragged my feet on getting started. There always seemed to be something “more important” to do. But the bell to take action kept ringing insistently in my head. In truth, sharing our skills and our time, that most precious and guarded commodity, must be the criteria for how we use this life that each of us has been given. Yet, sometimes we need a community to help us get started and stay the course.
One Wednesday morning this winter at the Eucharist that I offer, I asked the parishioners who attend to hold me accountable to make these dresses. I told them that I needed their help to help me respond to the bell that had been ringing in my head and fulfill what was the desire of my heart – to sew for little girls I would never meet. I vowed to make one dress a week, a promise that I have kept with only a couple of misses.
Sewing for these little girls is a joy, not only because I am giving to someone else, but also because the project has become a way of prayer and of connection with girls who need to know someone cares. As I cut the fabric I pray, as I stitch and press I ask God to protect them, as I hang the finished dress up to take to my church friends the next Wednesday morning I give thanks for the opportunity to help in a small way.
Is there a task or project that finds you looking the other way? Is there a bell ringing in your head that is calling for attention? I encourage you to take a step towards what you have been setting aside. Get others to gently hold you accountable. Then, dive in with an intention to use this task as a way to connect with God and with others. Infuse it with prayer. Any task that we do can become a way of prayer.
Interested in Making a Little Dress?
The dresses are simple to make. They are basically a rectangle of fabric sized to small, medium, large, etc., with a back seam sewn in, hemmed, elastic put in the neckline and armholes cut and covered with bias tape (sewing folk will know what this all means.) If you are interested in making little dresses (they are really fun to make and a wonderful opportunity for prayer), click here for the pattern.
To Act on Their Behalf
Almighty One, we praise you and give you thanks for life, and for all children who start life in innocence, laughter and play. Make us mindful of the world’s children in the name of your beloved Son, who took them into his arms and blessed them. Grant us grace to embrace these little ones with nurturing love, to promote their strong physical growth, so that they may develop keen minds and lively hearts. Awaken our consciences and lead us, we pray, to recognize, acknowledge and repent of our collusion that has cause their suffering – their hunger, thirst, sickness, and early death. Give us holy anger and stir our wills and hearts to act on their behalf, for the sake of your love. Amen.
– Jessica Hatch, Salt Lake City, from Lifting Women’s Voices – Prayers to Change the World
Jane Tomaine is an Episcopal priest, nationally-known retreat leader, avid fan of The Rule of Benedict and author of St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living and the recently published The Rule of Benedict: Christian Monastic Wisdom for Daily Living. She is a priest associate at Calvary Church in Summit, New Jersey. Jane’s website is www.stbenedictstoolbox.org.