Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prayer Shawl

This week I cleared books, bric-a-brac, scarves, a pair of binoculars, and a small Asian tapestry off a cedar chest in my room, in order to pull out the shawl pictured here. In the spring of 2005 I encountered a pastor from my presbytery knitting a prayer shawl at a conference we were both attending. She told me that the shawl was part of a ministry that her church had begun; they were knitted for those who were homebound, or ill, or in some need of comforting. The pastor (her name was Barbara) shared the pattern with me:

Use Lion's Brand Yarn, "Homespun," 3 skeins.

Cast on an odd multiple of 3 stitches; she recommended 63.

Row 1: Knit 3, purl 3 to the end of the row.

Repeat until the shawl measures a comfortable length for the recipient.

I'm no knitter, but I thought, hey. I could do that. When I returned from the conference I began to knit a shawl for a member of my congregation (I was an interim pastor at the time) who was engaged in what was to prove a losing fight with breast cancer. (But she never lost. Not really.)

That summer I learned that my mom's cancer was progressing rapidly, and I decided to knit her a prayer shawl. As I posted earlier on the Velveteen Rabbi's site, I knitted and knitted, everywhere I could-- in front of the television, in meetings, in rehearsals (I was in a production of "Pirates of Penzance"), in my office while pondering my next move in a sermon... And the three stitch pattern of the shawl enabled me to pray into the knitting: I used formulae for the Trinity as I knitted. "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," I prayed, "Creator, Christ, Spirit," "Maiden, Mother, Crone," "Lover, Beloved, Love."

My mom wore that shawl, and then had it draped over the hospital bed we installed in her bedroom, for the next eight months, until her death in February 2006.

This week I decided I needed to wear my mom's shawl in my own time of prayer. I prayed Psalm 57. These verses, in particular, resonated in my heart that morning:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.

~ Psalm 57:1, 7-8

In my meditation, a beautiful fantasy evolved: God somehow was a glorious blue-purple-green mother dragon, protecting me as I rode forth to awake the dawn.

For more information on Prayer Shawl ministry, see the Prayer Shawl Ministry homepage.

PS: Yeah, that's fun fur you see. I added a silly glam border for mom, who wouldn't have been caught dead in anything so girly, but who sort of envied those who would.


Gannet Girl said...

I love the idea of God as a blue-purple-green mother dragon.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Magdalene, we are just beginning the prayer shawl ministry in my church. Someone sent a prayer shawl to a young woman from our church, who is serving in Iraq. Her mother thought it was a lovely idea, and suggested that we begin to make the shawls as one of our ministries.

How nice to read about the comfort that the prayer shawl gave your mother.

Oh, my. You're crazy just like me. You have those fantasy things.

steve said...

How lovely -- both the prayer shawl and your meditation, I mean.

Suzer said...

Mags -- I think you are inspiring me to take up the crochet and knitting needles again! Thank you!

Cynthia said...

There has to be some mystical link between knitting and spirituality. Some of the loveliest, deepest people I know just can't put down their needles.

Magdalene6127 said...

WOW. Thank you all so much for your comments. I am so glad to hear from you.



MadPriest said...

A MadPriest Public Service Announcement:

More household fires are caused by candles being placed next to prayer shawls on a fabric sofa than by anything else.
Remember to PUT IT OUT!

Magdalene6127 said...

Yes, MP, thank you. My artsy pretensions are setting a poor example. I'll blow it out as soon as I get home from church. Promise.