Too often things made by hand, and especially women’s arts and crafts, are relegated to the trivial. Prayer shawls elevate something simple to a tangible gift of depth and meaning. After learning the four points of prayer shawls, you’ll understand the act and importance of making, giving and using prayer shawls.
Come see for yourself! I invite you to see and touch my prayer shawls during the upcoming MU Staff Art Showcase May 21 from noon to 1 p.m. in Ellis Library, upstairs in room 201, University of Missouri campus. The art show runs from Tuesday, May 21 through Thursday, May 23 if you can’t make the opening. Parking for those off campus is available behind Memorial Union with metered spots (enter from University Avenue to go behind Memorial) or on the top level of Turner Avenue Garage.
Imagine you’re facing a hard time in your life.
You are looking at a difficult health situation like cancer or a tough change like a break-up or job loss. You’re not sure where the happy, healthy you is.
You might be feeling the pinch between the time you have to give and the time needed to meet all the requirements of your life. You feel the pressure to be a good parent, a patient caretaker or a reliable friend.
It might be that you wonder if you still matter. Maybe there are other more vibrant people around and you feel faded in comparison.
What you need is an arm around your shoulder and a sense that you’re blessed in all your circumstances, good and bad, bright and dark. You need to know the loving hand of the holy holds you.
What can give you a feeling of protection and comfort? What is a tangible reminder of the spirit?
A prayer shawl made from love, yarn, time and prayers infuses the wearer with warmth in body and spirit.
Research shows that doing a repetitive and rhythmic action with your hands such as knitting and crochet has psychological benefits. You have less stress and experience a sense of calm while doing crafts. Combine this action with the contemplative practice of prayer and you have a powerful way to bring body, mind and spirit together.
As a maker, you focus on the moment. When you concentrate on the present, you open yourself to a fresh source of energy. Both prayer and craft combine to draw you out of your worries and into your deeper self.
As a receiver, you have a healing item to wrap around you. With a gentle weight and cozy curl around your shoulders, you can rest secure in the knowledge that someone took time to make a gift for you. All the prayers, thoughts and hopes that went into the stitches surround you. A prayer shawl around you allows you to feel safe and valued.
You can always have a hug from your friend even if she’s not there. You can put on the prayer shawl when you meditate, want to feel inspiration or need a reminder that you’re loved.
We live in a time of rushing, selfishness and distraction. How often are you late for something? How often do you only give someone half of your attention—if even that much—because your mind is already gone to the next place you need to be? Or because you’re out of practice, you don’t pay attention to anything anymore? The act of stopping to sit and crochet while praying on each new loop brings us back to a time when the pace of life was humane. It does us good to slow down and think stitch by stitch, prayer by prayer. It builds our depth of concentration.
In moments of contemplation, we hear the song of the spirit and see ourselves as a small part in a greater whole. Someone made the yarn, someone transported the yarn, someone sold the yarn, someone made the prayers that made the shawl and someone accepted the gift of the shawl.
The texture of yarn sliding through our fingers as we loop it together reminds us that making something by hand is an ancient art, as old as humanity. We haven’t always lived in an industrial, technological age with machines embedded in our lives and devices stuck in our hands. It helps us to have the flexibility of fiber between our fingers, rather than only the flatness of screens and rectangles.
A shawl is a simple form of clothing. Women often used shawls so they could stay warm and nurse their babies easily. Many cultures use shawls as protection because they can be fashioned into different items as needed, as a cover from the sun during the day and then wrapped around the neck and shoulders at night. For thousands of years, shawls have protected and decorated us, from the ancient Israelites to modern-day women dressed for a summer wedding.
Prayer can also be simple. A call to the divine can be one word, said with intention.
Caring about someone else is a pure act. To want good things for another brings us out of our selfish concern and focuses our mind on community. Generosity helps everyone. Making an item and giving it away is a bigger stretch than any purchase.
Combine a simple piece of clothing with prayer and affection. Give it away. This is the prayer shawl.
Would you like more information on prayer shawls?
I leave you with this blessing, knit in words, a prayer shawl made of letters for you.
May you feel the presence of God in
hands of the holy on your shoulders with
warmth and weight to feel steady.
In this moment, you can rest.
Your shoulders drop and you relax.
Let the arms of love wrap you
snug to know you’re valued.
You are loved.
May you be at peace in this moment,
the peace of kind hands and wise souls,
the peace of a quiet evening
next to the river where
spring peepers call and starlight gleams,
the peace of friendship offered and accepted.
Peace be with you.