Seven years ago, Vicky Galo and I began knitting shawls of
comfort for people we knew. We had just graduated from the Womenís
Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary in Hartford,
Connecticut. This certificate program explores womenís
spirituality, leadership, and feminist perspective in religion and
society. The shawls seemed to be the perfect metaphor for what we
had experienced and symbolic of the comforting, mothering,
unconditionally loving God that we had come to know. They were also
the answer to the challenge of finding a way to reach out to the
people in our lives with our own gifts and talents, go forward with
what we had learned, and pass on a blessing. We had no idea that our
little ministry would go any further!
As the shawls were passed person-to-person, hand-to-hand, and
heart-to-heart, a grassroots movement began. Others saw that this
was something they could do. In times of sorrow, little can be said
or done that adequately expresses oneís concern and desire to
help. No words can make it all better. But with the giving of a
shawl, few words are necessary. Placing a beautiful, warm wrap
around someoneís shoulders in a hug of empathy and support is
transcendent. For the receiver,
G-dís presence is felt, as she or he realizes that they are not
alone but enfolded in the prayers and good intentions of another.
The process of making a shawl becomes a spiritual practice centered
in prayer, as prayer, for prayer. Throughout the work are sprinkled
the meditations and good intentions of the knitter for the
recipient. When the shawl is passed onto the receiver, itís a
grace-filled moment for the giver, as well, because a part of
herself goes with the shawl.
We like to stress that the shawls are given in good times as well
as difficult ones. Many have been gifts to brides and new mothers,
the newly ordained and those who are graduating. They have been
given as birthday, wedding, anniversary, rites of passage,
christenings, and Christmas presents. Women, children, and men are
being wrapped in loving care.
Vicky and I travel to various churches to present our workshop.
We encourage groups to make it an ecumenical event by inviting
others in their community. This is a great way for people from
different faith traditions to gather together and connect across the
barriers of various religious beliefs.
When I reflect on how and why this ministry has grown so fast and
been embraced by so many, I can only conclude that
G-dís Spirit is the guiding force. Vicky and I just happened to be
open to the inspiration. Itís simple; the concept is based in
love; the method is ancient; the principle is basic with no strings
attached. Knitted into this ministry is a joy that weaves its way
around, over, under, and through the gamut of human experience from
the giver to receiver and back again. It spreads like ripples on the
water, touching and expanding, going where it will, embracing
everyone, like shawls have been doing for centuries.
Janet Bristow works in special education. She is a graduate
of the Women's Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary, the
program that inspired her and Vicky to start the Shawl Ministry.
Janet is a workshop facilitator of women's and youth programs. She
is a member of St. Patrick/St. Anthony Church in Hartford, CT. where
she coordinates the Prayer Shawl Ministry and sits on the Women of
Hope Committee and the Health Cabinet. Janet is married to Matthew
and has two daughters, Beth and Amanda. www.shawlministry.com
Do you have thoughts about spiritual development youíd like to
share with your colleagues? Send an e-mail of any length to info@PlainViews.org.