Anderson: Holy knitting (column)
June 10, 2016
On Monday, I sat in the living room doing my devotions. Occasionally, a question requiring prayer would come to my mind and I would put down my Bible and pick up my knitting. I'm working on a fluffy purple sweater.
For me, knitting is a part of prayer. As I circle the sweater with stitches created by my yarn and needles, I talk to God. The repetitive knit stitches quiet my mind, so that I can hear God speak.
Stop me if I've already told you this story, but knitting means more than just sweaters to me.
I first tried my hand at knitting when I was fresh out of college and new to New York City. I decided that I needed a creative outlet from days spent in the corporate finance department of an investment bank.
There was a tiny yarn shop on lower Fifth Avenue close to where I lived. I signed up for knitting lessons, and I remember only two things from the experience. There was a young woman taking lessons with me, who wore an impressive antique diamond and sapphire ring and took to knitting like a duck to water. She was right at home, surrounded by elaborately carved walnut bookcases holding yarns of every hue and fiber.
Whereas I felt like an ugly duckling. My knitting efforts were a miserable failure. I can't remember if it was attributed to my being left-handed, but, it would take another twenty-five years before I would summon the courage to try again. This time I found a wonderful teacher in our local yarn store in Evergreen. She was as patient as she was talkative. My first knitted project was a scarf that ended up twice as wide as it was supposed to be, but I not only finished it, I discovered that I loved knitting.
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My other knitting story is bittersweet. Last summer, my ten-year-old Newfoundland, Georgie's health was winding down like a top at the end of its string. In the townhouse I'd rented in Whitefish, Montana, he was unable to walk up the stairs. So we spent every evening, sitting together in the living room downstairs, so Georgie wouldn't be alone. I downloaded each audiobook from Louise Penny's wonderful Inspector Gamache series and listened to them while I knitted. Georgie passed away shortly after we moved to Breckenridge, but the memory of our time together is always in my heart.
Until this year, I'd always considered knitting a solitary activity. But like my experience during our novena at St. Mary's, I have discovered the value of knitting as a community.
The Wednesday knitting circle has been gathering, 1:30-3:30 p.m., at the Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco since 2012, but they have been meeting in various locations for over ten years.
On any given Wednesday there are four to ten women sitting around two or three small tables that have been pushed together. The number varies through the year as our seasonal residents come and go. (I've been encouraged to tell you that drop-in knitters, vacationing knitters, are always welcome. Stop by and grab a seat!)
The group began as a prayer shawl ministry. Beautiful shawls of every color and design are knitted and then taken to St. John's Episcopal Church, where they are blessed and then distributed to Shaw Cancer Center, local hospices, Domus Pacis and anyone who needs the warm embrace of a shawl knitted with kindness and care.
Pat Hoogheem sent a shawl to a young girl who had recently lost her mother. She later heard that the young girl often wrapped herself in the shawl and found comfort in it.
Laura Amble sent a shawl to the hospice in Michigan, where her father spent his final days.
Kathleen Martynowicz crochets baby caps that travel to a hospital in Honduras with Maggie, who does medical missions.
When I asked the ladies why they first came to the knitting group, and why they return week after week, their stories share a common theme: community.
Christy Nelson was recommended to the group after losing both parents within four months, in 2009. For Christy, the knitting group became a place of comfort to grieve for her parents.
Beverly Jones joined the group in 2010 after she moved to Summit County and wanted to meet new friends.
Kristi Dudley walked in to the old yarn store in 2012 looking for a new hobby. She found not only that, but a new group of friends.
When I asked Karen Berg, the owner of the Next Page why she allowed this group of women to meet in her store every Wednesday for over four years, she said, "It's all about community. And community is what we do."
"That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ." (Colossians 2:2)
It's difficult to explain why knitting inspires such closeness and camaraderie among otherwise perfect strangers. Perhaps it is because we often knit something to give away with our love. As we knit, we think of the person. And since knitting a thing can take hours or days or months — we will end up thinking of them a lot. Prayer shawls got their name because the knitter said a prayer as she knit, not knowing who would receive the shawl, but praying that they would be comforted by it.
Christy Nelson, who is the administrator of the Summit Historical Society, said that our knitting group is like quilting bees of former days, a place where women gathered for friendship, and created something to help others in the community. I love that analogy.
What I've discovered in my short tenure in the group is that this common interest has knit together a diverse group, who carry on three different conversations at once, and cover at least ten different topics in one afternoon. Yet, they share a fondness and welcome each person around the table.
That seems to be an important lesson that God wants us to each experience. That when we give of ourselves with an open heart, our hearts are filled. When we join others in a common cause, we become part of God's greater plan for our community.
"From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:16)
When we find our community, God is able to do His best work in us and through us.
I joined the knitting circle in November. I wouldn't have become a regular if it weren't for the encouragement of Pat Hoogheem, who often called me on Wednesdays and said, "Let's go, I'll drive."
And that helped me to overcome my isolation. What I have discovered is that when I become the center of my universe — it means the God has been displaced by fear and I am no longer trusting Him. God wants me out in the world so that I can grow through my relationships with other people and He can rub away my rough edges.
"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." (Psalm 139:13-14)
I started this essay with my fluffy purple sweater and my analogy of talking with God. To end, I want to share another knitting story.
Back in February, Laura Amble taught a beginner's class on Fair Isle knitting. I was thrilled! Fair Isle knitting involves creating intricate repeating designs using two or more colors of yarn. However, the design requires that you pay attention and carefully count your stitches. Therefore, it's not very contemplative and not recommended when you're drinking wine.
But it is a good analogy to how we grow in faith.
Sometimes, we need to be alone with God. And like the simple knit stitches composing my purple fluffy sweater, a simple repetitive motion will help us quiet our mind so that we can hear God speak to us.
But we also need to grow in our faith. And that requires us to go out in the world and learn from others. When we seek God during the week, our faith grows in its complexity, and becomes more beautiful. Just like my Fair Isle sweater.
When we grow in our relationship with God, He will require that we become an active participant in our faith. We will no longer be satisfied with sleep walking through Sunday morning services. We will find ourselves craving a deeper relationship with God, and that is what will send us out into the community to serve others and find God there.
We demonstrate our love for God as we live out His command to love Him and love others. To serve Him as we serve others. As my mother said, "I feel someone's love when they come to see me more often than once in a while. God must feel the same way."
The knitting circle welcomes drop-ins, stop by and bring your yarn and knitting needles. Don't know how to knit, but want to learn? Laura Amble gives lessons! Speaking from experience, she's a wonderfully patient and knowledgeable teacher, whether you are a beginner or advanced knitter. The Knitting Circle meets every Wednesday 1:30-3:30 p.m. at The Next Page Books & Nosh, 409 Main St., Frisco, (970) 668-9291.
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