Shawls encircle owners in prayer
MARITES N. SISON
She was three months pregnant and in danger of losing her baby
when Vicky Galo's mother asked her to wrap a shawl around her
womb. When she did, she felt "an utter sense of peace and
calm that everything would be okay." It was.
Years later, when she and Janet
Bristow were wondering how to apply the program of feminist
spirituality that they had taken at Hartford Seminary's Women's
Leadership Institute in Connecticut , she looked back on that
experience. It became clear to them that a shawl was "a
perfect metaphor for our experience of a mothering God,"
said Ms. Bristow. "When you wear it, you are wrapped in
God's love." She adds: "Shawls are also symbolic in
many parts of the world. In some cultures babies are carried in
shawls wrapped around their mother's body. Even Jesus wore a
prayer shawl called a talit."
In 1997, the two friends gave
birth to a ministry that would fuse knitting and prayer. Called
the Prayer Shawl Ministry, it has spread worldwide, including
Canada , and has attracted many faiths. "It's been called a
comfort shawl, a healing shawl, a peace shawl; there's not one
word," said Ms. Galo. "It's ecumenical; it speaks of
many faiths and traditions."
Knitters are given instructions
on what yarns, stitches, prayers and rituals to use when making
a shawl on a Web site, www.shawlministry.com.
Ms. Bristow and Ms. Galo make
shawls for battered women in a local shelter. Others knit for
cancer patients in hospitals and for people facing tough times.
"It's like a second wheel for them to turn around,"
said Ms. Galo. "I've heard stories of cancer recipients who
feel they're not ready to die and they make it for others."
They are also given away for milestones and joyful times, she
Saskia Rowley, art director of
the Anglican Journal, received a prayer shawl from Debby Shaw,
secretary-treasurer of the diocese of Caledonia and editor of
the diocesan newspaper.
They had met at a conference and
had talked about each other's lives. Before they parted, Ms.
Shaw told her that she was sending her a shawl. "She didn't
ask me if I wanted it, she told me it was for me," Ms.
Rowley said. "My eyes welled with tears. I was taken aback.
I'd been going through a difficult time, and had isolated myself
Ms. Shaw, who had learned about
the ministry from other dioceses, said she prays for guidance
each time she makes a shawl. "When I pray, names would
Ms. Rowley didn't open the
package containing the shawl that Ms. Shaw had mailed until she
was alone at home. "It was beautiful. Soft ivory white with
mohair carefully woven through it in a subtle pattern, and a
The shawl has been a source of
comfort for Ms. Rowley's family. "A few months ago, as I
was pulling into the driveway, my 13-year-old daughter, Laura,
came running out of the house towards me, crying," she
recalled. "Something terrible had happened at school that
day, and she couldn't wait for me to come home. She was wrapped
in the prayer shawl. The first thing that she said through her
tears was that she hoped I didn't mind that she was wearing it,
but that it had made her feel better while she was waiting for