Looking at this needlework, you might ask Martin Luther’s favorite question! What does this mean??? When I was in Germany in 2014, I saw this Rose everywhere I looked. I knew it was synonymous with Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church, but I didn’t know its history. In those moments in Germany, I felt a calling. I could not recollect if Sheridan Lutheran Church had a Luther Rose anywhere in its halls, but I thought it should! And I was the one who could do something about its absence.
So a plan was in its infancy. I was also taking a class called, “Faith Builders”. During the course, we were asked to practice a Breath Prayer, a form of silent meditation. Breathe in, say some words silently in your head, breathe out, and say something else. Mine became, “Precious Lord….take my hands.” I had just retired from teaching 31 years and I was searching for direction. What did God have in store for me?
Thus began my journey to create this needlework. I had a distinct vision of what was possible. I thought needlepoint would be the most enduring and authentic to the time of Luther. I wanted it to be as large as my arms forming a circle, like I was embracing the Lutheran Church. Not being a Lutheran by birth, I had a lot to learn about this infamous Rose.
A Brief History
While Luther was a Catholic monk praying, he saw a small stained glass window with a rose depicted in it. Something stirred in him to alter the Catholic Church and its practices. October 31, 1517 was the day that changed history. Father Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He was excommunicated from the Church and helped ignite the Protestant Reformation. As he grew in popularity among his fellow Germans, he remembered that Rose window in the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt and developed his own signature emblem to represent his theology.
The center of the Rose is a black cross, signifying Christ’s death and sacrifice for all our sins. It rests in a red heart, being the color of blood and of a living heart. A white rose surrounds it. White is the color of purity and reminds us of angels. The rose is spread to all the corners of the earth, just as the new religion had spread. The blue represents our heavenly home encompassing our daily lives. And finally, the gold ring reminds us of the most precious gift God has given us and is eternal. This symbol has stood for Luther’s beliefs for almost 500 years.
Something else happened during the incubation of this Luther Rose. God had some more plans for me. I heard Him saying, “Cindy, you can’t just slap a Rose up and expect people to understand its importance. You have to teach them what it means!” How was I going to do that? I thought I was a ‘Retired’ teacher, but God said, “Not so fast!” While we were in Germany, I was intrigued with Katie Luther, Martin’s wife. That grew into an obsession. I was soon reading every book, Internet source and resource I could get my hands on. An idea started to hatch. I would ‘become’ Katie Luther with a German accent, 16th century costume, and teach a class to our confirmands and anyone else who would listen. Kathy Paisley, our Faith Builders leader, met this crazy idea with enthusiasm and a plan. I would create a slideshow presentation. But, guess what? I didn’t have a clue how to do that! I enlisted my two tech-savvy sons to help me. During my teaching career, I have portrayed Sacagawea, Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe and a Norwegian immigrant for my students. How hard could it be to become a runaway German nun? I loved it! During the year I labored on the Rose, I gave 11 presentations and spoke to more than 500 souls. What a thrill I get from being a woman few people know anything about but was so vital to our church history! And always, the Rose was the centerpiece.
Stitching the Rose
So I set about the task of creating something from my dreams. Realizing it would take some funds, I applied for a community grant from Thrivent and have received $500 as seed money! I started with a paper pattern, found canvas that was 36 inches X 36 inches, and located wool yarn. Each square inch has 144 stitches! The Lord was truly taking my hands and leading me on a monumental journey. My eyes could only tolerate pushing that needle up and down for a two-hour stretch, so I was learning patience along with needlepoint and church history.
I began the black cross first, since it was the center of Luther’s theology and the Protestant world. Days turned into months and months into a year. Lots of prayers were offered for our church, my family and the world during those 500 hours of sitting. The end was in sight. Then what?
Finishing the Project
I prayed hard for the Lord to lead me to someone to help me finish this project. I thought a member of church who owned a frame shop was the answer but she was unable to do the task. So I took the piece to Michael’s at South Pointe. They recommended that I take it to a cleaners to have it stretched. When I brought it back to Michael’s, our plan was to mount it on foam board then someone else would ‘frame’ it. The manager, a Lutheran, suggested I get in touch with a company called Glass Edge. My eyes bugged out, as I knew the owner, Bob Stamper, a long time member of Sheridan! Things were looking up! Michael’s worked on the Rose for a month! They had all kinds of problems with it. It seems when you try to put 185,000 stitches into a small space; the work gets warped and misshapen. I left there sick to my stomach after the first attempt. I wouldn’t have hung it in my closet! All those hours I had spent seemed like a nightmare. So I prayed for God to guide someone else’s hands. The result was round, centered but not quite perfect. If you look closely, the gold ring is not even all the way around the circle. It is a reminder to me that life is not perfect but I should focus on the center, Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love for me, the living.
Finally, it was ready for Bob Stamper’s hands to get the Rose hanging. After many hours, craftsmanship, resourcefulness and prayers, Bob had me join him at his huge workshop at the Glass Edge. Surrounded by literally tons of mirrors, glass panes and heavy equipment, we worked side by side to create a finished piece.
Even though I created this piece out of a dream, it took many people to bring it to completion. Thrivent, Kathy Paisley, Michael’s, Bob Stamper, all were essential to this project. Did you notice how many times the number 500 came up in my story? Here’s one more, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. And this Rose will be hanging in the sanctuary of our church to commemorate that significant event. God truly does work in mysterious and marvelous ways! Thanks be to God.
Written by Cindy Swanson
2014-2015 Faith Builders Class