I have waited a week to comment on the last episode of Call the Midwife. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone…but wasn’t it brilliant?
We witnessed a miracle of answered prayer and saw a ‘prayer blanket’ in action. I got very excited. I have knitted prayer shawls for years. I have given and been given them. I have knitted my way through a whole theology degree and attracted some weird looks from many at college who took the time to ask ‘what are you knitting?’ but then didn’t know what to do with the answer.
‘Oh’ was the usual nonplussed response. In other words ‘and the point of that is….?‘
The point of a prayer shawl is to knit it with someone else in mind and to pray meditatively for that person every time you pick up your needles. Shawls are easy to knit: the basic purl 3, knit 3 makes a lovely stretchy basket weave that folds itself around you beautifully.
The power of a prayer shawl is not in the shawl: it’s in the love and the prayers that have gone into the shawl. The gift of a shawl says, ‘I want you to feel enfolded and wrapped up in the love of God’ or ‘I have knitted into every stitch a desire for your healing or blessing’.
So last week, when Chummy’s distressed friends spent a night of silent prayer, knitting and stitching together a blanket which was then taken to drape over their unconscious friend, we saw a miracle in action. The miracle was not the blanket, the miracle was the ‘together love’ and ‘together prayer’ that rose up from the community for their stricken sister.
I was on the edge of the sofa with excitement! A mainstream TV programme talking about the power of silent prayer and creativity.
I once offered to do a workshop on Prayer Shawls at St John’s but the subject was either too niche, to avant guard or just too weird . Possibly it was also deemed lacking in words and theological content but that IS the point! Sometimes love, silence and knitting in the presence of God is all that’s necessary. I have knitted my way through some testing experiences, the shawl I am wearing right now, represents my son’s gap year and all the prayers that followed him round the globe. (For him, I moved on to a prayer jumper and now a prayer beanie hat!)
If you want to know more about prayer shawls, the best book on Prayer Shawls is Knitting into The Mystery by Susan S. Jorgensen and Susan S. Izard. It only has one pattern but it has lots of prayers and examples of how shawls can be used.
Here is my favourite prayer from this book. Warning: I can rarely read this without crying….
A Prayer for a Parent with Alzheimer’s
Woven deeply in the stitches
Knitted gently through the strands,
Are the memories –
The funny memories,
The joyful memories,
The painful memories –
The memories of all the love
We have shared.
May you feel the warmth of that love,
Even as the memories escape you.
May you be blessed with the comfort
Of those who hold the memories for you,
Even as you lose their faces and their names.
May this shawl offer security in the confusion,
Courage in the darkness,
Enabling you to walk gently
Into that long night,
Even as I struggle to let you go.
by Kathleen O’Connell Chesto