Hands-on Spirituality

People of different faiths are discovering that crafts like knitting can be a form of prayer or meditation.

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"I was frustrated with women being dismissive of their craft," Galo said. "For me, it came with prayer. I was trying to get sacred with my hands."

Initially Galo knit a shawl for a female friend going through a divorce. She showed it to Bristow, who made some suggestions-a touch of fringe here, a few charms and beads there. The pair then took the shawl to members of their women's group, who each wrapped themselves in it and blessed it before handing it over to the recipient.

Soon, everyone in the group wanted to knit shawls for people they knew who were ill or were grieving or about to enter a new stage of life, like motherhood. Before long, the pair began crafting prayers, blessings and rituals for each part of the knitting process-prayers for casting on, for the beginning of each row, and for the binding off.

There are now shawl knitting ministries in Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Catholic and evangelical Christian churches across the United States.

Susan S. Jorgensen and Susan S. Izard, two knitters who brought the ministry to their own Connecticut churches, have written "Knitting Into the Mystery: A Guide to the Shawl Knitting Ministry." It offers guidelines for knitters, from the highly practical, like how many skeins make a good length shawl, to the deeply subjective, like what prayers to say before giving away a shawl. "May God's grace be upon this shawl," begins one prayer. "May the one who receives this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in love."

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Even the stitches can be imbued with religious significance. Knit in sets of three-three knits, three purls-authors Jorgensen and Izard invoke a variety of spiritual ideas including the Christian trinity, the unity of mind, body and spirit and the cycle of past, present and future.

"The pattern is very meditative," Izard said. "You can sit there and knit without thinking about it. It becomes a mantra, a very meditative prayer. It is a very contemplative experience."

Combining knitting and religion is not limited to the Christian community. Marci Greenberg, a marine biologist and conservative Jew, wanted to see if she could connect her beliefs with her love of knitting. The result is "Knitting by Torah," a class she teaches to Jewish high schoolers in Seattle.

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Kimberly Winston
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