Knitting prayers among the purls

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Here are some resources used by the shawl ministry group at the Centered Place:
"Knitting Into the Mystery: A Guide to the Shawl-Knitting Ministry" by Susan S. Izard and Susan S. Jorgensen

WARREN - Over and over again, they repeat the pattern. Knit three stitches. Then purl three. Then start anew.

Like a calming meditation mantra, this simple waltz-like movement - suggestive of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or the triad of mind, body, and spirit - is the heart of every prayer shawl lovingly knitted by a small community of women who meet at the Centered Place here.

A dozen or so knitters gather each Wednesday morning in "The Little Blue House" on Bridge Street to fashion shawls for other women "in need of a hug" at a critical juncture in their lives.

Most of the recipients are in nursing homes or hospice care. Others are in more happy transitions - going off to college, getting married, giving birth.

Nancy A. Nowak, who operates the Centered Place with co-founder Phil Milgrom, used to knit as a child. She recently picked up her needles again, only to realize how important knitting is to her.

"Then I saw an article in a spirituality magazine that said, 'Knit your prayers.' That same day I got a phone call from one of our long-standing students who said 'I just got diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer.' That was it. I went straight out, bought yarn and started knitting for her. I wanted to make her a shawl," Nowak said.

When she discovered that the women in her Friday morning yoga class were all knitters, the weekly group - still in search of a name for themselves - was born.

They begin each session with an opening prayer, they bless and wrap each completed shawl, and they close in prayer, seeking guidance to bring love and comfort to those in need.

While some like Nowak have been knitting since childhood, others have just learned. Jan L. Fitzgibbons of Brimfield, who manages 30 hospice volunteers through Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge, taught herself by watching a video she found on the Internet.

Since January, they've knit and delivered 17 shawls, sometimes with a recipient in mind, sometimes not.

"Every week it seems we have just the right number of shawls, and always the right color," Nowak said. "There's been this wonderful dance happening - some other guidance here that we feel we've tapped into. We kind of get coaxed, just to be open to give what needs to be given and when."

Lynn A. Gedard of Brookfield knit a shawl for a friend whose husband was arrested for drunken driving. "He was sent off to jail for a year," Gedard said, "so there she was, all alone. Every night she comes home and wraps herself in that shawl, and she feels this energy that comes from all of us. Feeling that love that comes from other people is very important."

From the hearts of each knitter, each stitch passes in prayer through the hands that guide the needles ... knit three, purl three ... to create a covering of comfort. "Somehow that spirit seems to be transformed through the shawl to the recipient," Nowak said.

The shawls are exceptionally soft, irresistibly inviting to touch, their gentle weight conveying a warmth both physical and spiritual. And the colors are as soft as the yarn - hues of heather, lilac and lemon.

Norma C. Beaudry of Warren has been knitting a shawl for Annie, a woman she met while visiting her own father in a nursing home.

"As soon as I saw this shade - sierra - I thought of Annie, her hair coloring, her personality. It reminds me of sweet things, the pinks, the cotton candy, the tans, the toffee, the butterscotch. Annie just seems to have that personality. She's a very soulful person."

The knitters say they reap as much benefit from their activity as their recipients.

"The thought of giving to someone else is like dominoes," Beaudry said, "that just ripples through the nursing home, a good feeling."

Ellan N. Catacchio of West Brookfield said, "There's another piece, too, a real sense of community - the knitters, the people to whom we're gifting the shawls and the people they know. And I see the Centered Place as being the real center of that community."

One heartfelt note from a recipient is both thanksgiving and blessing in return: "Thank you so much for the beautiful prayer shawl. From the moment I wrapped it around myself, I felt a warmth and energy like nothing I've ever known. Your prayers, thoughts and love woven into the shawl have been a comfort during this time of change in my life. I wear it every evening till I go to bed. Peace and love to you all."


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