People of different faiths are discovering that crafts like knitting can be a form of prayer or meditation.
On Sunday, some people go to church to worship. On Saturday, some go to church to knit.
"We are knitting prayers into shawls to bless those who will receive them," said Julie Tampa, one of 40 women who show up, knitting needles in hand, to spend two hours each weekend knitting and praying at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Great Valley in Paoli, Penn. "It is a time to become aware of God's presence and God's grace."
Tampa and perhaps thousands of others are participants in what has come to be known asThe Shawl Ministry
, a new way the faithful serve the less fortunate by knitting or crocheting warm, colorful shawls they hope will literally wrap them in prayer.
As with other crafting-for-charity programs, like those that make blankets for Afghans, chemo caps for cancer patients, or toys for premature babies, the Shawl Knitting Ministry works to help people in crisis-such as unwed mothers, migrant workers, and victims of domestic violence. But there is something else going on here.
"There is another element to it," said Vicki Galo, co-founder of the ministry, which has needles clicking from Maine to California and in a handful of groups overseas. "Somehow, it benefits the knitter or the crocheter, too."
The women involved are discovering that in the process of helping others, they are helping themselves-spiritually. Knitters say the click of the needles, the tension of the yarn and the sight of the colors winds them into a meditation-like state. For Galo and many others, the combination of craft with contemplation was an awakening.
"You mean I can pray when I am doing this?" Galo said knitters asked. "It was a very new concept for women. And yet it is an old concept known by Tibetan monks and Native Americans."
Melanie Fahey, a shawl knitter at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Houston, put it this way: "When I am working on a shawl, I am far more at peace in my own life. Everything gets done without leaving me feeling frazzled."
Galo, a Catholic, founded The Shawl Knitting Ministry about five years ago with Janet Bristow, a Congregationalist. Both live in Connecticut and had been students at the Women's Leadership Institute at Hartford Theological Seminary where they delved into a study of the divine feminine. A teacher there encouraged them to combine their passion for knitting with their interest in women's spirituality.