16 December 2006

knitting as a spiritual discipline

My mom taught me to knit. I must have been about eight or nine, I don't really remember. But I remember sitting on the side of my parents' bed, my little fingers working intently on some horribly ugly scarf that I probably never finished. I remember the excitement I felt when my mom took me to the craft store (probably a long-gone Ben Franklin) to buy my very own knitting needles: a pair of size 9 straights, made out of a special kind of plastic that looks like ivory. I thought they were actually ivory for years. Until I stepped on my knitting, buried under a pile of something on my bedroom floor, and one of the needles snapped. I still have the intact needle in my stash, waiting for me to lose another size 9 straight, to form a mismatched pair. Since I use bamboo circulars pretty much exclusively now, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Knitting fell out of my interest sometime in middle school or high school. I'm not sure how it happened, but given the many and varied interests I pursued as a kid, it's not surprising that some of them slipped through the cracks. There is still a half-finished rabbit cage somewhere in my parents' basement, from when I built a trap and attempt to domesticate a bunny that lived in our backyard -- but I lost interest before I finished the building part of the project. Name an interest I could have had as a kid, I can tell you a story. I was going to be an astronomer, until I took physics. I was also going to be a cheerleader, until I went to a tryout and realized I didn't like or respect most of the girls in the room.

Unlike astrononmy, cheerleading, and rabbit cages, I picked up knitting again when I was in
college. My girlfriend Jennie invited me to join a design-and-knit-your-own-sweater class that she taught, and I had a study-heavy courseload and wanted a diversion, so I gamely went to the first session. And I haven't looked back.

So two nights ago, I had a hugely important phone meeting with my ordination committee back home. I've been writing a paper on-and-off for the last two years, and this meeting was The Big Grilling. Picture a dissertation defense. I was nervous. Each committee member had been asked to write three questions for me, and they simply went around the room asking things until they were out of questions. Nerve-wracking. They can ask anything, and they did. One of the committee members tried to back me into a corner and say that I think people who are not Christian are going to Hell. Another tried to get me to say that I should stick with working in an elementary school rather than pursuing my call to ordained ministry. And one asked me to describe any spiritual disciplines I follow.

But that last question was easy. It was easy because I knit.

I talked about how knitting is a way to participate with God in the act of Creation, one slow, deliberate stitch at a time. I talked about how the final product is a gift that can warm a cold head, warm a cold heart, make the world a better place for someone else, even if only for a few moments. I talked about how humans are called to create, to care for each other and for the world, and how knitting is a part of following that call. I talked about the growing interest in knitting for charity, and how I work with the Knitting Club at school to get kids to knit afghan squares to donate to Warm Up America!, and I talked about the book Knitting for Peace. There was so much more that I could have said, about building community, and the practice of prayer, and how knitting is love, but I was afraid of spending too much time on any one question. But what I said was enough. I knew it was a satisfactory answer when the woman who had asked the question paused, and then said,

"I know exactly what you mean. I'm a knitter, too. Thank you."

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