They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.Isaiah 2:4
Gian Sardar wrote a book about her father who grew up in Kurdistan. “I saw my father as a boy in fields of blood-red poppies,” she said in an interview. “I imagined the mud huts he lived in, the sound of the call to prayer early in the morning and the howl of the planes that brought destruction to the land.”
“Even if the book never got published,” she continued, “not one second of my work would be wasted because with each detail I was brought closer to my father.”
I recalled those words as I listened to a presentation inside a country church on a Sunday afternoon. The topic was the artwork inside the church: paintings and carvings rendered by World War II Italian POW’s. A starvation diet had been imposed on the prisoners at a nearby detention camp and the pastor decided to use a church improvement project to alleviate some of the hunger.
The speaker described life inside the camp, then spoke of particular artists who lent their skills and creativity to the project. She spoke of her mother, a young girl at the time, who helped cook meals in the church basement while prisoners painted biblical scenes in the sanctuary above them.
A second parishioner took to the podium and pointed out local homesteads depicted in the background of the Annunciation and Visitation murals.
To my left, a stained-glass window of deep blues and sunset reds honored the Assumption of Our Lady. Beneath the window a dedication plaque bore the family name of a friend of mine.
Sunbeams floated like water on the carpet at my feet.
More speakers chimed in. It was as if the lid of a treasure chest creaked open. The community’s memories and layers of history were examined and held up for display. Some as subtle as a brush stroke, others as sharp as a soldier’s knife.
After the presentation, I drove to the cemetery. The following day marked the anniversary of the death of my friend’s grandmother. I told him I that I would visit her grave and offer a prayer.
Upon locating the headstone, I knew that not a word of my prayer would be wasted. Like the writer who honored her father by pondering details from his life, I found myself conjuring images from the life of the saintly woman at whose grave I knelt: the sound of Angelus bells floating across open fields, clapboard houses of dryland farmers, silhouettes of grain elevators on the horizon.
This is not my native place, yet the day’s interweaving of faith and affection knitted me into the fabric of it.
Despite the horrors of war, a small community festooned its church with scenes of redemption. And its stalwart faith continues to shine through colorful windows radiant with light.
How holy the communities that form our faith!
They are like artwork fashioned by the hands of prisoners. They are like melodies hummed by girls drying dishes in a basement kitchen. And their stories, full of hope and strength, ring like Angelus bells across an open plain.