The students gradually move on to knit items for charity-a chance to teach them the Jewish principle of tzedakah, or caring for others.

"This is showing them that their Jewish identity doesn't have to be something separate from their other identities" as sons, daughters, and high school students, Greenberg said. "It shows them that they can do anything and connect it to their core beliefs."

Publishers have been quick to pick up on the interest in knitting and spirituality. In addition to "Knitting Into the Mystery" there is "Zen and the Art of Knitting" by Bernadette Murphy, the "The Knitting Sutra" by Susan G. Lydon, and The Knitting Goddess by Deborah Bergman.

"I think these books are tapping into American pragmatism about spirituality," said Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publishers Weekly magazine, who has noted a small boomlet in religion-and-craft books. "Americans want their spirituality to be practical, to be part of their everyday lives, they want it to be applicable to their daily activities."

Knitting is finding a home in some seminaries and theology schools as well. Calvin Theological Seminary, a Christian Reformed Church school in Grand Rapids, Mich. drew 29 students of both sexes to a class called "Knitting: Handcraft as a Window into Domestic Culture and Religious Practice." It was co-taught by a knitting theologian and a wool-spinning librarian.

But this hands-on spirituality isn't limited to knitting. Groups of quilters, beaders and even breadmakers have taken a contemplative turn in houses of worship nationwide.

Prayers and Squares began in a San Diego Methodist church when quilters began making knotted quilts for people in crisis, "tying" prayers into each knot they made to hold the layers of fabric together. There are now more than 200 Prayers and Squares chapters throughout the U.S. and Australia.

The Church of Craft, which "maintains no dogma or doctrine beyond what every member believes for themselves" is a loose affiliation of groups who meet in cafes and members' homes to knit, crochet, bead, sew - whatever - now has eight "congregations" including those in New York, San Francisco, Montreal and Stockholm.

In addition to its shawl outreach, Paramount Terrace Christian Church in Amarillo, Tex. has taken contemplative crafting another step with a scrapbooking ministry, focusing each scrapbooker's work on a single scripture passage for the week. But Clarice Cassada, director of the church's women's ministry, says the 85 shawls the church has given away as part of its shawl knitting ministry hold a special place in the church's collective heart.

"The shawls are a tangible reminder to each hurting person that they have been covered in God's love through prayer, comfort and compassion," she said.

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