Knitting in Defiance
Back in the winter I had the opportunity for several conversations about homelessness. On more than one occasion I had been asked to explain to someone why I had made the statement that we have homeless folks here in Upshur County and that one of my daily prayers is always for the folks in Upshur County who find that they have no place to call home. Another prayer is that we can find some way to have a place to meet emergency needs of these folks. Having a safe place to be at night, especially if children are involved, helps in making progress toward finding a place to settle and getting back to a normal life.
One definition of being homeless is if a person’s name has not been on a lease or mortgage for ninety days. We have many, many people whose relatives allow them to sleep on the sofa or the floor, but these folks are still considered homeless because it is not permanent. At Crosslines we see many people who are in that situation. In the last year we have also seen a rise in sudden evictions which result in families sleeping in their cars. And then we do have some folks who sleep where they can. All of these situations fit the definition of homeless that is used statewide.
It breaks my heart to see folks in this situation, no matter what decisions or circumstances led them to homelessness. We have a coalition in Upshur County made up of representatives of many of the social service help agencies. We meet monthly and are working to find a way to help.
Most of these conversations, that I have had throughout the winter months, left me feeling sad because I was not able to help others understand that homelessness effects us all. When all of our residents feel safe and productive, then our whole community feels safer and more productive. “You will figure it out,” is what I received from more than one conversation. So I sigh and move on and pray for the words to help others understand the struggles that some of our neighbors face.
One afternoon I was thinking about a conversation and I found myself getting angry. I was angry at the conversation because I couldn’t help the people involved understand this issue. I was angry because I know there is a better way but I alone don’t have the means to put it in place. I was angry because sometimes it feels like the whole world is struggling with so many issues and sometimes it just feels hopeless. I was angry because I didn’t know what to do next.
Later that afternoon, I opened up an email that included a newsletter from a group that I am a part of called “Knitting4Peace.” This is a worldwide group of knitters that knit articles of clothing and useful items and distribute them throughout the world, especially in places where people are in danger. I became a part of this group several years ago on one of my yearly visits to Chautauqua Institute, where I met the founders, learned about their work, and spent a beautiful summer day knitting with about 25 people. I appreciated their commitment to faith, their commitment to doing something tangible for people whose lives are difficult, and their commitment to peace.
Over the years I have joined them in ways that I could, supported them with prayer and other resources, and read their newsletters faithfully. That day, I was struck by an article about a homeless shelter in Colorado where people were given hand knitted wash cloths as they entered the shelter. The article indicated that the shelter distributes over 200 washcloths a month and while they could easily buy washcloths at a dollar store for next to nothing, it was important to give out these hand knitted wash cloths because the wash cloths contained prayers from the knitters. These wash cloths also indicate to the recipient that he or she is a beloved person, worthy of someone praying for them and knitting for them.
I have knitted dozens of washcloths over the years, so I was intrigued.
I knew that I had dish cloth yarn on the shelves in my “Quiet Room” at home. I knew that I could knit cloths for this homeless shelter. I knew I was angry about the homeless situation all over the world. I knew that knitting brings me peace and provides me quiet prayer. I knew that knitting would help me work through the anger I felt.
So I started knitting. I decided that I would knit until the anger I felt was taken care of. It took two dish cloths to knit away my anger. So I decided that I would knit dish cloths until I had knitted all the dish cloth yarn I have. The funny thing is that as I have mentioned what I am doing to others, I am finding that people are bringing me yarn and other people have joined in the project. So, now my goal is to knit a dish cloth every day until I have run out of dish cloth yarn.
As of today I have knitted well over twenty dish cloths. It takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes to knit a dish cloth and since this practice is an act of prayer for me that means that I have dedicated around twenty-five hours of prayer for homeless people worldwide. I am no longer angry at people who do not or choose not to understand about the homeless situation worldwide. Instead, as I knit, I am aware of the way my heart feels as I pray for anyone who has no where to lay their heads at night and I am praying for understanding throughout the world.
I know that this practice has not suddenly changed everything. There are still people who have no where to lay their heads at night. We still struggle at Crosslines when someone who is homeless comes to us. The Homeless Coalition still struggles with what to do in the long term. What this practice has offered me is something to do as an act to defy the whole situation of homelessness worldwide.
Prayer is defiance because in its own quiet way, the practice of prayer can change hearts and minds and thus, the world. For me, knitting is prayer and therefore and act of defiance against injustice in this world. When I am knitting those wash cloths I am praying for the people who are homeless and for the people and situations that lead to homelessness. I am praying for individuals, though I do not know their names. I am sitting in solidarity with God who loves all people and longs for the day when all people feel God’s love for them and when all people feel safe and secure and at peace. I believe in the quiet of this practice, the wisdom of God will bring, to my mind and heart, solutions for helping people find homes and safety.
These days, as I knit in defiance of injustice the words from Micah 6:8 fill my heart:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
In some small way, I feel like my knitting prayer practice is helping me to do all three—to do justice, love kindness, and the walk (or knit) humbly with my God?
To God alone be glory!