The Raven’s Tree of Life panel at the front of the Sanctuary was pieced and quilted by Stephanie Rudig in 2005 from a drawing by UUFF artist Shane Hurd. The design was by Committee. There is a meaningful story behind the quilt’s symbolism.
The quilt created for our sanctuary tells a symbol-rich story that reflects our dual heritage: we are Alaskans and we are Unitarian Universalists. Our fellowship grows amid the natural wonders of our subarctic home and within the traditions of our chosen faith.
The birch tree at center is a northern version of the Tree of Life, a motif in various world religions related to the World Tree or Axis Mundi . In this variant, playful twists of branch and root evoke intricate Celtic knot-work, revealing the interdependent nature of our fellowship and the shelter and nurture it offers.
The tree, set against its colorful pieced background, offers the viewer continual discovery and renewal through the rich symbolism of changing seasons and the circle of life. From the dark but fertile ground of spring, new life awakens in the roots. The tree’s story moves upward through the year with wild roses blanketing summer fields giving way to the early sunsets of autumn and bare winter branches beneath a midnight sky.
Interwoven roots form a chalice with a single, golden leaf as its flame, signifying that love lies at the heart of our fellowship. “Roots hold me close” we sing in the hymn Spirit of Life . The flaming chalice is the symbol of our faith and forms the focal point of worship, but it has no single, official interpretation. Like our faith, the chalice stands open to receive new truths that pass the tests of reason, justice and compassion.
At the heart of the tree, a raven brings life to the quilt while evoking the next line of the hymn: “Wings set me free.” Another northern motif, Raven is the trickster of Native myth. In his guise as trickster, Raven brings both wisdom and humor into our sanctuary. Behind him the suggestion of mountains calls us to lift our eyes, seek physical and spiritual challenges, and remember the powerful role that the land plays in our lives.
Friezes at top and bottom celebrate other elemental features of the far north. The moon moves through its phases, illuminating the winter sky as it marks the rhythm of life’s cycles and invokes the female spirit or Goddess. Below is the Big Dipper, the constellation that adorns our state flag, pointing to the North Star. And though we sing “Eight stars of gold” in Alaska’s Flag, our state song, the quilt is more astronomically correct, showing the double star of Mizar in the handle.
Below the moon and stars, the night sky is streaked with variegated color representing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Science tells us that solar wind storms distort the earth’s geomagnetic field, creating the lights, while some say the fiery lightshows mark where the barrier between worlds is thinnest, and the Yupik see the spirits of their ancestors dancing in the next life.
Beneath the tree roots, seven rivers flow. Silk ribbons interlace in a pattern reminiscent of the great braided rivers of Alaska’s Interior, representing the cleansing, purifying power of water and the ever changing, never ceasing flow of the river of life. The recurring theme of sevens in the quilt honors the seven principles that unite Unitarian Universalists. There are seven suns and seven moons, seven branches emerging from the tree’s trunk, and seven streams in the braided river.
The midnight sun arcs across the bottom of the quilt, mirroring the moon’s journey above. It does not rise and set, but sweeps around a bright summer sky laced with cirriform clouds. Source of our clear arctic light, the sun is personified as the male solar deity or sun god in many mythologies. Counterpoint to the moon’s dark femaleness, its light and heat are the spark and sustenance of life.
The quilt was pieced and quilted by Stephanie Rudig, 2005. Cartoon by Shane Hurd. Design by Committee: Rose Cain, Rebecca Clack, Suzanne Osborn, Jana and Maia Peirce, and Laurie Walton.