Mantles Of Love - Spiritual Development

By: Janet Bristow ©copyright 2004



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.

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