“The Angel: Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going? Hagar: I am running away from my mistress. The Angel: Return to your mistress and act as you should, for I will make you into a great nation. Yes, you are pregnant and your baby will be a son, and you are to name him Ishmael (God hears), because God has heard your woes. This son of yours will be a wild one–free and untamed as a wild ass! He will be against everyone, and everyone will feel the same towards him. But he will live near the rest of his kin.” (Genesis 16:8-12)
I have wanted to share this experience for some time now. I had the most amazing experience this summer, one that has left me with so much hope and peace in my heart, that it will stay with me wherever I go.
Though I took the position of horticultural/herb garden lead at a local museum in August 2017, I spent most of the growing season in one of the households, cooking and baking on the hearth, and straw braiding. I have never considered straw braiding at all but have found that I have a natural aptitude for it. I spent most of this summer also showing others how to straw braid.
For a little background on straw braiding, this skill was typically perfected by young ladies and housewives of the 1830’s. Straw hats and bonnets were the rage and the raw material–the braided rye straw and palm leaves–was in big demand. A yard of this braided material might fetch anywhere from 1 – 3 cents per yard. Once you get the hang of this straw braiding, it doesn’t take long to reach a yard of material. And, in a time period where, due to transportational challenges (no autos; even horses weren’t owned by everyone due to expense…i.e. most people walked everywhere), you may not run to the local store every day…or even every week. In the weeks in between visits, you could easily grow a fairly long braid of, say, 100-200 yards. Especially if multiple family members worked on it in between their other chores each day. That’s anywhere from $1 to $4 in a time period where a pound of wheat flour might be 5 cents. The start-up cost was also low. Many farmers in the day grew rye for the flour to make bread; the straw was a by-product and, likely, discarded if not for being put to use for the manufacture of hats and bonnets. So many families straw braided.
It was an afternoon in early summer when I had my amazing experience. It started out like any other afternoon with me in the sitting room of the house I was working in. I remember it was a fairly busy day. I had an intern with me (student worker) and we were braiding. A young mother came in with her two teenage daughters. They were obviously of Middle Eastern descent and, upon seeing what we were doing, grew very excited and asked if they could learn how to braid. So I started a braid for each of them and demonstrated the braiding technique (7 strand braid). They caught on easily and soon had a good length started. The mother later explained that they had a business making baskets that they took to different craft shows, etc. throughout the country. We spent a good amount of time with each other.
And then the amazing thing took place.
Another family, this one obviously Orthodox Jewish, also came into the room. This time a grandmother and her three teen and pre-teen granddaughters. They, too, wanted to learn. Before long, I had one Jewish, one Muslim family, and one Christian minister (moi) all working together peacefully for a common good. In this case, the very humble endeavor of braiding straw.
Who would have thought?
In our current political climate, it seems the most amazing experience. Our media, whether you’re with “fake” or “faux” news, seems bent on keeping all peoples in separate little boxes. The idea of Christians, Muslims and Jewish peoples all getting along as the brothers and sisters we are, is toted as something impossible. I can’t think of anything sadder. Or less faith-based. But I carry forever the memory of that afternoon and feel the grace of hope that, while our leaders may never be able to bring peace and security to our lands, as always, it is the common people who will pull together as one.
May God bless you & keep you!