Have you ever had a moment in your life when you needed extra attention and someone wrapped you in a warm blanket and held you close in loving arms? The winter I turned 6, I was very sick with repeated ear infections. It seemed that I spent the winter with fevers and pain. Each time I would get over the ear infection another one would start.
One Saturday evening, after my bath, I went to my mother to say good night. She took one look at me and just knew that I was sick again. She felt my forehead, took my temperature, gave me some medicine and then wrapped me in a blanket to warm me up against the chills I was experiencing. She put me in her lap and held me for a long time. She hummed to me and after a while I fell asleep. I don't know why I remember that particular moment in my life-I am sure there were others that were similar-but that moment has stuck with me as a moment when I felt wrapped in love and blessed by the prayers of my mother.
As it turned out, that particular winter was also the winter that my mother taught me to knit. It was an attempt to give me something to do as I spent so much time in the sick bed. My mother didn't really knit, but she knew how to knit and thought that maybe I would like to learn. She sent my Dad to the store and he returned with size 7 blue aluminum needles and yellow acrylic yarn. I spent the rest of the winter practicing my knitting by knitting row after row. When the yarn ran out, I pulled out the stitches and started all over again. It was comforting and soothing to me.
Off and on over the course of my life I have knitted, making various items. Mittens are my specialty although I enjoy knitting everything from socks to sweaters. Each article of knitting grounds me again to that year when I was sick and I was wrapped in love.
Almost 10 years ago now I discovered the blessing of knitting prayer shawls during a two-week residency in a spiritual direction course I was taking. Once in the midst of our gathering we spent some time in class praying and meditating on the scripture. Afterwards we were asked to draw a picture to represent our prayer time. In my picture was a prayer shawl. When I was asked what it was I confessed that I didn't really know, but I was reminded during that prayer time of that moment when my mother wrapped me in the blanket and I felt wrapped in love.
We took a break after that exercise and I spent the break thinking about that wrap in my picture. I was looking out the window when I felt something heavy and warm slipped over my shoulders. When I turned to look one of my classmates said to me that it was a prayer shawl that she felt compelled to make before coming to class. She said that she didn't know who it was for until she saw my picture and heard me talk in class about that memory and then she knew that she had been making it for me. It was beautiful and looked so much like what I recognized as a shawl in my picture.
I was intrigued and hooked. My friend gave me the directions and pointed me in a direction where I could learn more about prayer shawls. I took the idea back to the churches I was serving and since that time I have been involved in making many, many prayer shawls. For the people who receives the shawls the knowledge that someone has woven prayers and love into the stitches of their knitting is quite overwhelming. For me, as I am knitting the shawls the power of the presence of God is overwhelming as well and I have received powerful insights for the life of the one I am knitting, for my own life, and for the life of the world.
So many people who have been involved with prayer shawl ministries over the past decade. I think that people are drawn to quiet and prayer and beautiful colors. I think that people are drawn to creating something as they pray. I think that people want to be able to present tangible evidence of their prayers. And I think that people feel the weight and depth and emotion of the prayers woven into the shawls they receive. The process of praying and knitting as well as the giving and receiving are truly blessings. When the shawls are wrapped around the shoulders of those who receive them they feel wrapped in love.
This past Saturday I presented a wedding prayer shawl in the midst of the wedding service of a young couple. The bride I have known since she was 11 and I felt honored to perform the wedding ceremony. After I met with the bride and groom in the early part of the summer I began to think about making them a prayer shawl and after a while felt compelled to make a shawl using a cable pattern that wove in three sections, creating a braid pattern.
The process was quiet and prayerful for me. The color, purple, was calming for me. The pattern was not hard, but I noticed that when I was concentrating on the purpose of the shawl I make noticeable mistakes. I thought about taking out the mistakes, but I realized that the entirety of the shawl represented the ups and downs of marriage. When I started paying attention to the prayer and the pattern the mistakes worked out and the pattern flowed smoothly.
When it came time to pray a prayer of blessing over the bride and groom in the service, I brought out the prayer shawl (which I had the congregation pray over before the wedding), explained the meaning of the shawl and the lessons I had learned as I knitted it, wrapped it around them and prayed. In that moment, I remembered that Saturday evening long ago when my mother wrapped me in a blanket of love and I prayed for that couple to always feel God's blanket of love around them.
There are several prayer shawl groups around our community. I know that First UMC has a group. Chapel Hill UMC is in the process of restarting a group. I am thinking of starting one at the Parish House. I would love to hear of others in the community that are established. If you knit or crochet and this type of prayer practice intrigues you, give me a call.
What I do know is that there are many people all around us that need to feel wrapped in God's love. How can you help?
To God be the glory!
On the parish calendar:
Basement sale, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., First UMC
Executive Committee, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 5-7 p.m., Parish House
CROP Walk, Sunday, Oct. 6
Visit by German pastors, Monday-Friday, Oct. 7-11
Pork chop dinner, Friday, Oct. 11, 4:30-7 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC. Fundraiser for 2014 mission trip. Cost: $10 for age 8 and up, $5 for children under 8 or a half-portion