January 14, 2016

Looking Back - The Sewing Room

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Sewing Room by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton
Nonfiction - Essays
1993 Viking
Finished January 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

A lovely book... honest, funny, sad... impossible to put down. ~ Madeline L'Engle


In these insightful essays, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton reflects on a broad range of experiences ministering among merchant seafarers, the homeless, the bereaved, AIDS patients, and others in need of personal and spiritual help. She shares honestly her own emotions as she grapples with the harsh realities of the world, while delighting in the humor and joy found in everyday living.

Crafton compassionately recounts the unique stories of the men, women, and children she worked with during her service as a port chaplain in New York and New Jersey and as a minister at Trinity Church on Wall Street. In doing so, she weaves together threads of the mundane and the traumatic, the lovely and the ugly, and the down to earth and the holy, creating an original tapestry of the richness of life.

My Original Notes:

My mother gave me this book; both she and my grandmother read it and highly recommended it. Nice short essays. "Uncommon reflections on life, love, and work." Some reminded me so much of my grandmother... Strange to know she was reading this just a few weeks before her death.

My Current Thoughts: 

I've had a draft of this post for several years now. Every time I start to share it, I find myself flipping through the pages of the book, re-reading passages, wondering why some spoke to me back in 1996, while others are still just as powerful as they were 20 years ago. I rarely re-read books, but maybe this is the year.

On the passage of years:
But years pass again, and life changes. Love comes again. Marriage. My youngest child is almost grown, and I am astonished at how brief this era, almost past, has been. How brief my life has been. I am aware that the decades left to me will seem even briefer, so they had better be sweet. If I do not capture and celebrate what art I have, it will die. If I do not nourish myself, I will yearn for nourishment. If I do not connect myself with my own past in the things I do now, I will remain adrift from it. Those whom I have loved in the past cannot catch hold of me, for they are dead. It is I who must catch them.
On the loss of a child: 
How long has it been since your son died, he asks? Five years. The man looks at my husband and tries to imagine himself surviving five years of this. He can't. He asks if it gets any easier. It gets different, my husband answers. Not exactly easier. It's hard to explain.
On parental worry:
Separateness with love, though, recognizing that my child is a separate person with a destiny separate from my own, a destiny I cannot completely control:  that's frightening.
... Now you know other fears at night. The stakes are a lot higher. Fears that don't spring from a neurotic need to control everything, but from an accurate assessment of what the world is like. The world is sometimes a dangerous place in which to live. There are things out there that can really hurt your child. And so, you worry.
On imperfection:
I told them that it is good to have one's faults unambiguously revealed from time to time, in order that one may know wherein it is that we are acceptable. It is not in our perfection that we are loved. It is in the honest confession of our imperfection. Our clear conscience does not come from our assurance that we have not sinned. It comes from our assurance that we are forgiveable. 

From Publishers Weekly:
This collection of reflective essays reveals the many-sided life of a pioneering female Episcopal minister. Currently on staff at the Seaman's Church Institute in New York City, Crafton is a wife, mother and grandmother whose ministry has taken her to comfortable suburban and large urban parishes as well as to the waterfront. The essays, "a string of people's moments," illuminate these phases of her life as Crafton ruminates on the human condition and the passage of time. In a book that ranges widely--from homelessness to a remarried parent--two especially compelling essays on dying stand out. "To Be or Not to Be" weighs the death with dignity/death with technology impasse, emphasizing the great desire for life. "If I Should Die Before I Wake" urges acceptance of the inevitable, which frees people to live in the moment. Expressing an ecumenical and gently feminist sensibility, Crafton touches on important human concerns with light grace and common sense.

From Library Journal:
This collection of about 40 simple but profound short essays are reflections on human experience by an Episcopal priest and mother who has been a port chaplain at the New York Seamen's Church Institute as well as a priest at Trinity Church on Wall Street. Often, her essays quietly deal with conflict between her feminist politics--which, as the title essay explains, led her to denigrate her grandmother's sewing accomplishments--and her awareness of life's brevity and the creativity she needs to express--via sewing. Other essays include "My Mother and I Have Gotten Along Really Well Since She Died" and "Ted Who Has AIDS." Highly recommended for public and church libraries.


  1. I love essays like this.

    1. Me too, Kathy. Barbara Kingsolver has a book of essays (High Tide in Tuscon) that I read years and years ago and loved. I also enjoy Anna Quindlen's essays.

  2. I sure get the worry bit about children (and now grandchildren). I can tell myself there's nothing I can do, but still... You gave me a book by her a long time ago and I had some trouble connecting with her words. Not sure why. I love this idea of what you are doing! Have you figured out how many Fridays it will take?!! Probably better not to think about that. I've thought of doing the same kind of thing, though in an email folder, but it is daunting. The reason for me would be the ability to search. It can takes ages thumbing through my print journals.

    1. Hmmm, not sure if I gave you a book by her or by Kate Braestrup. Do you remember the title? Maybe it was this book, who knows!

      No, I haven't figured out how many Fridays it will take, but I think it will be about a year for each year's entries, give or take, since I average about 50 per year.

    2. It was def this author not KB. And it was this book, I think.
      I'm of two minds about the print journal. When I go looking for something, I come upon a lot of others that I enjoy reading. Same with my quote book. Anyhow I look forward to yours.

    3. I vaguely remember sending you this book. Something in it must've reminded me of you. Sorry it didn't work for you, but then again, I'm not surprised. :)

  3. How interesting to read some of the excerpts after all these years. I wish I still had her book, but I gave it to someone ages ago - (Not you - yours was a new one!)

    1. Mom, I'll bring the book out to you this summer so you can read it again.


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