‘Call the Midwife’ and allow her to pray!

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!)

The shawl for Matthew
The shawl for Matthew

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

Advent 4: (Not) Call the Midwife…

 Standing in the Stable   (Luke 2:1-20)

This is a meditation I found in a book called Silence in Heaven, this edited version is reproduced with kind permission of the author Mary Cotes. I think it is just fabulous. It deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully and it is a fitting summary of the conflicting feelings I have been writing about this Advent. 

Come with me for a moment. In your imagination, come with me. Let me take you to the stable. It is a dark, dark night, and we can hardly see to make our way down the track behind the houses. It is cold too. In some ways, we would rather be sitting around a bright fireside, talking with friends… Yet we have come tonight for a special reason. We have come to see the new baby. So we do not mind the darkness too much. And with our excitement, we do not allow the cold to penetrate too deeply.

We push the stable door. Inside it is not much warmer. But it is just as dark. If anything, it is even darker. Pitch dark… and we can see nothing at all, not even our hand in front of our faces. We stand, motionless, in the hopes that our eyes will become accustomed to the darkness… but we can see nothing.

But listen!… A scream, a shout of pain. And then quiet. Then another scream, and quiet again. We huddle closer together in the darkness as if to protect ourselves from the realisation we have come too soon. Too soon. The birth is not complete. We take each other by the hand, and stand without a word, stunned by the inappropriateness of arriving before time.

Another shout, as if it is dredged from the deepest pain. And then quiet. Shall we go out again, discreetly  and pretend we were never here? But now that we are here, we cannot prise ourselves away. The pain holds us. We have become part of the relentless rhythm of silence and screaming…

‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’. Or so the carol goes… But do you believe it, now that you are standing in the stable?

The baby has still not come. How long have we been here? We have been drawn into the pain of this woman for whom nothing else exists…

The screams have become more rapid… we have been accelerated into a rhythm cries and calms that have left us clinging on to each other in suspense.

Then suddenly there is a cry that breaks into us, a scream that haunts the darkness. And then quiet. This time a deep quiet. A quiet of relief and exhaustion. We wait silently, sharing the quiet, not daring to punctuate it even by our own breathing… and then the sound we have been waiting for… Listen… A new voice cuts the darkness. The baby is crying.

The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’. Or so the carol goes. But do you believe it? Now that you are standing in the stable?

The dawn is beginning to break. There is quiet in the stable, and the light is beginning to penetrate. The mother is there in the corner, in the shadows. We can only barely make her out. There is joy in the way she puts her child to her breast. But she is exhausted. She has discovered a tiredness she never knew before. Look at the way she holds herself… all the pain, all the struggle, all the toil, shows in her demeanour.

Yes we are standing in the stable and we are beginning to understand  God does not belong to some false world which pretends that there is no pain. God does not belong to a tinsel stable with full sanitation and cosy romantic lighting, or to some fairy-tale land where people find life comfortable and where homelessness is sweet. No. God belongs to our world, our world of pain and darkness, which yearns for joy and the new life which only struggle and anguish and patience will bring. Now we are beginning to understand. God is to be found not in never never Christmas card dreams, but deep, deep in the relentless rhythm of screams and silence, of joy and pain.

Perhaps you thought you could not find God in your own life, with its relentless rhythm of calm and crying?

Do you still believe that? Now that you are standing in the stable.

mary and child


Revd Dr Mary Cotes is the County Ecumenical Development Officer for Buckinghamshire. The full version of this sermon can be found in Silence in Heaven: A Book of Women’s Preaching SCM Press 1994