You Are a Lifeline
“In the face of suffering, no one has the right to turn away, not to see.” –Elie Wiesel
I have been thinking about lifelines lately, since October 16, actually. And throughout the fall and then Advent and Christmas and now, as we move into the week of official change of power in our country, I find myself turning to the notion of lifelines over and over.
I have been knitting off and on since I was 5 years old when I spent the winter very sick and my mother taught me basic knitting skills to keep me quiet and occupied. When I became a teenager and interested in other things I put it away and pulled it out, off and on, only when I was bored.
And then, one day, suddenly, knitting took on a different meaning for me. It became a way of prayer, of sitting in silence, providing space for the Spirit to wash over me and for me to listen to the silent voice of God. Since that day I have not stopped knitting and although my focus changes and what I am knitting changes, it has never ceased to be prayer and I am grateful.
For the last year or so and especially since October 16 the word “lifeline” has become a watchword of prayer during the quiet times of knitting. It was about a year ago that I began to feel compelled to “master” knitting lace. I had tried it a time or two, but I had always failed and decided that it wasn’t for me and then I begin to feel a desire and a need to knit lace and to knit it well. It seems ridiculous, but I began to realize that this was something that I needed to do for my prayer life. There was something in knitting lace that I needed to learn for my prayer life.
So, I found simple patterns—or what I thought would be simple patterns—of repeated 7 rows that created a lace. I delved right in and soon discovered that no matter how simple I thought it would be, knitting lace is complicated and not for the faint hearted.
I don’t mind admitting that I started a simple project over and over again, pulling out the yarn and winding it back into a ball. Time and time again, I celebrated when I knitted a row without a mistake, only to discover I had made a mistake two or three rows previously and had to take all the rows back. After taking rows back I would be lost in the pattern and couldn’t figure out where I needed to start again, so that the knitting would fit into the lace pattern. I was frustrated and ready to give up again, but I felt so compelled by God to keep at it that I couldn’t give up.
And then, I discovered lifelines!
Lifelines are lengths of different colored yarn—different from the lace yarn—that can be woven into knitting at intervals throughout a project. These lifesaving bits of yarn can be placed so that if a mistake is made in knitting lace, the whole project does not have to be thrown out. The knitter simply unravels back to the lifeline and then picks up the stitches and begins again at the point of the pattern where the lifeline is placed. I can’t tell you how much time and frustration, and pain and anguish those lengths of yarn saved me! When I got through difficult sections of lace knitting without having to unravel back to the lifeline, I felt encouraged and putting in the next lifeline was a moment of joy!
As I knitted small lace projects and then larger lace projects, I began to feel that all the lace knitting prayer was leading up to something. By accident, one day, I came across a knitted lace project that, a few months prior, I would never try because it is a complicated lace project, knitted in the round. At the completion of the last round rows of this project, the stitch count is approaching 1000 stitches. The pictures I saw of finished projects were beautiful, but at first I didn’t think that I could attempt it—until I saw the name of the project and saw the colors and realized that the lace project is a tangible expression of how I am aware of God’s presence when I pray.
I knew I had to knit it. I knew that it would take patience and silence and lots of LIFELINES! I knew what date I had to start it—October 16th, which is an important date in my prayer life. I knew that there is much that God could teach me as I pray and knit through this project.
I am no where near completion of this project, but I find knitting it peaceful, prayerful, and insightful. I am discovering all kinds of things about myself and my relationship with God and others as I knit, but one thing that I think about often are lifelines.
As I knit I keep “hearing” the words, “You are a lifeline.” I have thought about that word quite a bit and I have thought about who have been lifelines for me throughout my life. My parents were lifelines for me over and over again as I made mistakes or wanted to quit something or give up. Teachers and friends and even strangers have been in my life at the right moment when things weren’t going well, when I needed extra encouragement or extra prayer. My brothers and dearest friends have been lifelines when they have challenged me to think about something differently and especially when they have encouraged me to act on something that was unjust, unfair, cruel, and sometimes even risky.
Today, as I write I think about other lifelines who have been saving forces in our world when things were at horrible crossroads. Jesus is the first lifeline that comes to my mind especially as he challenged humanity to love deeply, to forgive graciously and often, to work for justice and peace in the hearts of all people and in the heart of the world. He taught others who carried on the work of a lifeline and inspired countless people across the ages of history to be lifelines even if it was dangerous or impractical, because lifelines offer hope in the midst of strife.
On this Human Relations weekend I am thinking about so many lifelines and giving thanks for some that have been most powerful for me, through their lives, their writings, or through their inspirations. St. John of the Cross, who has been a lifeline for me in experiencing and understanding “Dark Night of the Soul.” Saint Teresa and Gandhi, who were lifelines to the poor and who continue to challenge me to see all people as God sees them. Martin Luther King, Jr who was a lifeline for my father, helping him to understand justice in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and who shared that understanding with me. Dorothy Day, through her writings and through the Catholic Worker House movement that was a lifeline to me during a confusing time in seminary.
There are so, so many others. People who are known for one thing or another are lifelines, but so are the people closest to us who pray with us, listen to us, carry our burdens in their hearts and allow us to carry their burdens in ours.
This world feels in such chaos at the moment. At times it feels overwhelming and if we think that we are the ones to fix everything it is overwhelming. However, giving up and hiding ourselves is not an option.
We are called to be lifelines. No matter if the situation is large or small, every time we offer hope or encouragement or prayer we are offering a lifeline.
The quote from Elie Wiesel is profound to me: “In the face of suffering, no one has the right to turn away, not to see.” There is suffering all around us and sometimes it is even our very actions that cause the suffering, but we CANNOT turn away. We MUST see. We MUST act.
When we act on the suffering that we see then we are the lifelines that Christ calls us to be.
You are a lifeline. We are lifelines. May it be so.
To God alone be glory!