Today’s post is a part of the Lord Teach Us to Pray series, written by Christine Dutton. Christine lives near Liverpool, England, and is a minister in training in the Methodist Church and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. She tweets about prayer, knitting, bread making, ministerial training and life in general @christinedutton.
Since I completed my first knitted jumper aged 13, a chunky rust affair in garter stitch, perfect for beginners, I have never stopped. I can chart the last 30 years of my life by yarn; my first aran, the jumper I was working on when I left home to go to University, the pastel geometric design my friend commissioned, the multi-coloured tank-top I made for my husband, the baby blankets for my three children, and the scarves and hats too numerous to mention. And I have always known that the act of knitting has been a time to slow down, a part of each day where I have taken time to stop. But like many busy people I find it difficult to stop completely; the discipline of stilling my body doesn’t come easy. When my children were born and I spent hours and hours each day pushing buggies up and down to town, to the shops, to school, I once said to my minister in frustration, “When I am going to get time to pray?” His wise counsel was to find a way to stop seeing prayer as a separate activity but to build it into each part of my life.
In 2008, when I began my PhD in the ecclesiology of fresh expressions of church, one of my case studies was a group called Knit and Natter, based at Whitby Methodist Church, Ellesmere Port in the North West of England. Spending time with these women caused me to reflect upon how knitting and prayer could be interwoven. The physical rhythm of a repetitive stitch action can be a way into a simple prayer chant, such as “Jesus is Lord” or “Come Holy Spirit”. A pattern which uses a 3 stitch repetition can be used to as a way to focus on the trinity. But whichever prayer you may choose, each can be a mindful way to keep your hands active and productive while stilling your mind and heart.
Knitting and prayer go hand in hand when knitting is used as an aid to intercessory prayer for the recipient of the garment you are creating. There is the knitting of a garment for someone you know; for example, the ‘cuddle blankets’ I made my children when their cot blankets were no longer big enough! Into these blankets I prayed all my thankfulness for all they brought into our family life, prayers of confession for the times our relationships caused hurt or anger, but most of all that they would know as they pulled their blankets over them that they were surrounded by the love of God and my care and prayers for their life in all its fullness. Prayer scarves or shawls for those who are grieving, or about to go through a transition in their lives are part of many churches’ ministry and outreach programmes in the wake of Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo’s work (see here). Much of the knitting from the Knit and Natter group, however, is for those whom the group doesn’t know. Warm hats and scarves are distributed to the homeless by the Street Pastors in Chester, while premature baby clothes are sent to the local hospitals, and blankets are sent for those at the women’s refuge ready to move into flats of their own, so that they have a brightly coloured throw for a bed or sofa to take into the new stage of their lives. This sense of praying wider, creating a beautiful gift, reflecting and praying for the lives of those who will receive the garments and blankets has been for me a concrete way of embodying intercessory prayer.
Pete Rollins, in an interview with Jonny Baker in Curating Worship (SPCK: London, 2010), said the following:
‘The only true worship is in giving water to the thirsty and food to the hungry and clothes to the naked, and anything else is just window-dressing.’
I often hold that quote in mind as I knit, and hope that my knitting creates a place of prayer and worship, a place where each stitch has the possibility to be used by God in the ushering in of the Kingdom.