Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6v26)
The first picture is one of several designs I made based on the flight of the swallow. These were made into stencils, which different community groups across Bradford used to print fabric squares. These were then made up into a patchwork blanket and the piece was shown as part of Refugee Week exhibition 2016 in the when the refugee crisis first hit the news. The second image shows the final result.
Take some time to look at the pictures. What does the swallow make you think about? How different does it look when part of a bigger image or idea?
The swallow of all migratory birds flies huge distances without any preparation. They often sleep on the wing and source food as they go. The swallow tattoo has been used by sailors to mark 1,000 sea miles of travel, and prisoners for time inside. For all these reasons, it felt like the most poignant symbol of the experiences of millions of refugees. The blanket also symbolised the temporary nature of their lives, reduced to maybe a tent and a blanket for all their worldly goods – if they were lucky. A powerful photography project called ‘The Most Important Thing’ by Brain Sokol documents the small but precious objects that people take with them when they flee their homes. The objects may be as vital as a crutch, as banal as a cooking pot, as resonant as prayer beads. Check it out at unhr.org/spotlight./2019/05/most-important-thing-global/.
I recently have had a swallow tattoo to remind me of what is important: that change involves risk, that fear (or ‘freezing’) should not stop me taking that risk, that new opportunities are always scary and cannot always be planned for, and that’s ok. I gave up an exciting trip into the unknown because I was scared, and I don’t want to do that again. What I learnt from this experience is that possessions and comfort are not everything and should be held lightly. If they aren’t, they hold us down and stop us from flying, hinder our freedom. A quote from a recent Church of England seminar seems apt and somewhat prophetic, given the time we are living through: “Our God is a God who moves, who invites us to move with, to prise ourselves away from anything that holds us too securely: our careers, our family systems, our money making. We must be ready to disconnect.” I am not suggesting that the virus is an act of God in any shape or form, but it is interesting to note that we have been forced to disconnect and maybe we can take this time to consider what we really value, what we fly towards, and how we make community.
Take time to look at the two pictures and consider the following questions:
- What ties you down?
- What adventures would you like to have?
- What risks do you need to take?
Materials: thin card like a cereal packet, craft knife or sharp scissors, fabric paint or any paint, pencil, piece of fabric
- trace the swallow design in the first picture onto the card. If you can print it out, then you can colour across it on one side of the paper with a pencil and then placing this onto the card, draw around the design, which will transfer to the card. If you do not have a printer, you can open the image on screen, hold a piece of paper up to the screen and trace, then transfer using the same method (colour on one side and draw over onto the card). If you do not have a computer, than I’m afraid you will have to copy the image freehand!
- cut out the design, you need to make holes where the black areas are – this is to make your stencil. This is easiest with a craft knife, but sharp scissors like sewing or nail scissors will work.
- Now place you stencil onto a piece of fabric. You may want to choose something of significance to you. Think about the effort that went into making the stencil and the work that goes into true freedom – ‘the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not a gift given, but a choice made ‘ as Ursula Le Guin writes. Or as Rebecca Solnit says “Paradise is not the place in which you arrive but the journey toward it.” Consider what adventures and journeys you would like to make. If you have used fabric paint, you could iron the fabric to fix it and then sew the fabric onto something you use like a bag or a cushion, if you so choose.
This meditation is part of a series that have been commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission