Over the weekend I officiated at a wedding for a young man who I have known since he was eight years old, when I moved to the town where he and his family lived, and I became his pastor. He is brilliant and funny and now, full of life. However, he has also had his share of dark days as he has walked the path of trying to discover who he is and what he can do with his life. Along the way, he met an amazing woman who decided to walk beside him through those days of darkness and into days of hope and promise. I am so hopeful for their future and so honored that I have been a part of their special day.
Four years ago, I began to pray for this young man through the prayer practice of knitting. I learned a lot about myself during those days of knitting and I wrote about it in a newspaper article. Today, I post an edited form of the original article on this blog only. I post this article in thanksgiving for the blessing of love and life that God has poured upon these two very special people.
Experiences While Knitting a Blanket
I have been a knitter since the winter I turned five years old. When I first started knitting it was mostly to pass the time, since I was sick quite often that winter with repeated ear infections. It was a way to keep me both occupied and somewhat quiet, so that I could rest and heal. With each passing year, I appreciate more and more that my mother had the wisdom and the patience to teach me to knit that winter, especially since she didn’t like knitting at all.
As I knitted and knitted during my childhood years I discovered that the whole process of creating a fabric out of two sticks and string fascinated me. I loved combining colors and textures, even if I had no vision of how things would look when I finished. I loved thinking about the sheep that produced the wool or the cotton plants that looked nothing like the spun yard that emerged from the soft, white puffs on the plants. It was artistry to me.
In my early twenties I put my knitting away. I was too busy to engage in those acts of creativity, or so I thought, but I began to miss it and so one day, about a decade ago, I picked up the practice again. It didn’t take me long to realize that this creative pursuit had a deeper layer of meaning than before. Suddenly, for me, knitting had become a practice of prayer. While not everything that I knit are prayer pieces, specifically, this practice is a time when the repetitions of knitting row after row become meditative and lead me to breathe in and out, knitting into and with the presence of God.
The practice slows me down, calms me down, and brings me peace.
Sometimes, I start something as a practice of prayer for a particular person. That was the case several winters ago, when I began to knit a blanket, for a particular friend of my daughter’s, who was experiencing some dark days in his life and was having some struggles finding his way back into the light. This young man is brilliant; but, through circumstances of his life he lost confidence—in his abilities, in his way, in his God, in his friends. Slowly I was concerned that he had “disappeared.”
In the cold and dark days of a very bad winter, God made clear to me that I needed to knit for this young man. After a lot of thinking and a lot of sitting in silence with God, I decided to knit a blanket for this young man. Since he has always been interested in history, I decided to pattern the blanket after the old Hudson Bay blankets of the 1700’s. I also decided to knit the blanket in cotton instead of wool, since he is vegan. So, on a cold snowy day toward the end of winter, I started the blanket.
I knew that the blanket would take a fair amount of time, so, I decided that if I knitted on it every day as a prayer practice, I would be able to finish it before the summer began. After all, I thought he needed some sort of tangible evidence that someone, other than his beloved family, cared about him and was praying for him, and the sooner I got it done the better.
The first experience I had while knitting the blanket is that knitting with cotton yarn hurt my hands. Cotton yarn produces a lovely weight fabric when knitted, but the process of knitting with cotton can be rough on the hands. At first, I found that I could not knit as long as I wanted, and the discomfort of the yarn interrupted my flow of prayer while knitting. I would knit for several days in a row and then set it aside for weeks at a time.
After months of knitting and setting aside, I picked up the knitting one day and began again. Almost immediately, my hands experienced discomfort, but instead of putting the knitting away, I put it in my lap and just sat with it. I prayed about the frustration that I was having with the blanket and, in the midst of that quiet experience, I thought about the frustrations this young man and those who love him the most—his family—might be having.
Through my own frustrations, God reminded me that the process of knitting this blanket was not about me, but about prayer for a beloved child of God. I made a new commitment to praying and knitting and using the discomfort to remind me that my task was to pray for this young man and for the frustrations of his life.
Through the spring and summer months I took the blanket everywhere—to Annual Conference, to the Parish House, to people I would go to visit, to Harpers Ferry where my family camped, to many, many evenings outside in my swing. I knitted on it everywhere. I wanted to knit on it in the places where I felt prayer and peace.
No matter where I went, when I began to knit on it, I would envision that the cotton–that grew in God’s earth–was absorbing the prayers of worshiping communities, the laughter and joy of good friends sharing time together, the sweet air of the late summer evenings, the first rays of sun on a brand new morning, the simple, sweet morning prayer times at the Parish House, the beautiful sounds of bird’s songs, the sounds of soft rain and deep, rolling thunder, the gentleness of starlight, the deep peace of moonlight, and countless moments of silence.
I sought out as many gifts of God as I could so that I might knit these simple, yet profound gifts of God into the prayers of this blanket. What I experienced in this practice was how these beautiful, simple gifts of God can far outweigh the ugliness of this world. I think that maybe we spend far more time concentrating on the ugliness of this world than we do concentrating on God’s beautiful gifts that surround us in nature and envelope us in love. Where I used to spend so much time glued to news sources, I found myself deeply moved by the songs of the birds, the changing of the leaves of the dogwood trees, and the countless gifts that God gives us to appreciate each day. Noticing these gifts of God has never left me and I discovered the joy in the experience of knitting a blanket.
During the fall of the blanket year, I had the opportunity to spend five days in retreat. Not only was it great for the continuing education that I need each year, but more importantly, it was an experience, deeply moving in healing for my weary being. Of course, I took the blanket with me and, during most of the times of solitude and quiet, I knitted. One morning, as I rocked and knitted I decided to see just how long it took to knit a row. I checked three times and the average amount of time it took to knit a row on the blanket was eleven minutes.
When I measured the blanket and did the math I found that I had just over 60 hours in the blanket at that time. When it was finished, I had around 170 hours in the process of making the blanket. That means that I prayed 170 hours for this young man. How many of us have anyone willing to pray for us for 170 hours? If I had known how many hours that I would be required to spend in prayer for this young man would I have committed to praying that much? Are we willing to commit to that many hours of prayer for any person or situation?
We don’t want God to take that long to answer our prayers do we? And yet, as I approached the end of knitting the blanket and, thus my prayer time for this young man, I was startled to find that I did not want to finish it. I didn’t want to complete my prayers. In the midst of knitting the blanket I had experienced profound moments that really had nothing to do with this young man, but everything to do with my own prayer life and I felt closer to this young man because of all the time God and I sat together sending him love and peace.
God wanted it to take me a long time. God wanted me praying for this young man for hours upon hours. Maybe, sometimes, it takes God a long time to answer our prayers because God wants us to spend hours praying, placing the one we are praying for and ourselves in the presence of God over and over again.
I finished the blanket within a year of starting it. I am grateful for the opportunity to have prayed for this young man and for the changes in his life that I saw throughout that time of prayer and knitting. More importantly I am grateful for the experiences and lessons that came to me as I knitted.
God understands me and God understands knitting and how that practice speaks to me. My favorite psalm, Psalm 139, speaks of God knitting: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13). This is just one of the many verses of this psalm that speak to my soul. On this man’s wedding day, I used another verse from this psalm as the basis for my homily. It is something that I never want this couple to forget. It is this knowledge that I pray that we all know, deep in our souls, now and forever.
“If I take the wings of the morning
And settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me,
And your right hand shall hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9-10, NRSV)
To God alone be Glory!