‘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

Listening in on Heaven

Last Sunday I was preaching about why the Bible contains ‘horrible histories’ (or are they ‘helpful stories’? Maybe they are both). Almost as an aside I mentioned the idea of living with music of heaven humming in our heads.  When we know ourselves to be in the middle of a difficult story with many twists, turns and uncertainties, it’s really helpful to remind ourselves that a story is defined by the way the it ends.

In Revelation chapter 4-5 we sneak a peek into Heaven, all the imagery is symbolic, some of it is difficult to understand but the some things are easy to grasp:  there is singing, there is hope and there is joy.

As usual Tom Wright puts it better than me: ‘our lives are to be lived in the light of the praise of Heaven… Biblical faith is not a matter of looking away from ourself and trying our best. It is a matter of…seeing the world as God sees it, as it really is’

and again

 ‘Faith is not the mysterious ability to sail through life with a secret key that unlocks all the doors. Faith is the willingness to think and act on the basis of what we know of God (which may be very little) and to trust him that he will not let us down’  ( from Small Faith, Great God, SPCK)

Today I wandered into a tiny country church on my day off.  If I’m honest I was hoping it would be one of those ‘thin places’ where the curtain between earth and heaven seems almost translucent. It looked hopeful. As I opened the door, the lights went on which was a very welcoming touch even though the place was deserted. However my solitude was quickly gate-crashed by the arrival of two noisy, friendly, chatty (but mostly just noisy), cleaning ladies who set about sweeping, polishing and chattering with gusto.

Oh well, perhaps there wouldn’t be a ‘holy moment’ here after all… and then I had a look around anyway and found a file of random prayers and photos left out on a table.  And there it was. This brilliant prayer. It begins from the viewpoint of a bystander watching the scene in Revelation. It  reminds me to look up, to listen in, to remember the end of the story, to keep going, to have faith…

(George Appleton 1902 -1993)