19 January 2009

Psalm 139

On Sunday, two of my great loves converged: God and knitting. Turns out, the tag on the bottom of my plan (scroll down) turns up in the lectionary -- that is, every three years or so, I *get* to preach on Psalm 139. And Psalm 139 declares in no uncertain terms that God is a knitter:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me,
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it...
For it was you who fomed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works,
That I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
Intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them -- they are more than the sand.
I come to the end -- I am still with you.

So yeah, God is a knitter.
I don't intend to use this blog as a platform for my own religious beliefs, but it is a knitting blog that theoretically is intended to touch on the intersection of knitting and spiritual practice... so yesterday's sermon presented me the perfect opportunity to reflect formally on the metaphor of God as Knitter, and I want to share it with whoever reads this blog. (Hi, Mom.) It would be too much to put the whole text of the sermon here, but I'm going to put in part now, and part later. Here you go:

That’s what Psalm 139 is expressing. The intimacy of God’s knowledge of each one of us. The nearness of God. The immediacy. God knows you better than you know yourself. God knows when you get up, and when you lie down. God knows your thoughts before you think them, and your words before you speak them. God is immanent, close at hand – inside you, even. And the author of this psalm used the metaphor of knitting to express this closeness. It’s a metaphor that probably made a lot more sense before modern industrialization, before the rise of cottage industry, the division of labor, and the invention of the knitting machine – back in a time when people made their own clothes, God as a knitter or a weaver would be an accessible metaphor. Today, we do not make very much of what we have, and so we have lost the sense of intimacy that the psalm is trying to convey.

But I’d like you all to think of something you’ve made. Maybe it’s a piece of clothing, maybe it’s a carving, maybe it’s a delicious turkey on Thanksgiving day, or a treehouse, or a child. And I want you to think about the care and time and attention and work and love you put in to the process of creating that carving or that turkey or that child. And I want you to think about the joy you felt as you were creating something you love, and the pride you feel right now as you think about your accomplishment. Maybe you made it to give away to someone who needs it. Maybe you made it to keep for yourself, to use and enjoy. Maybe you made it just because you wanted to make it – and now it sits in a box in the garage and you haven’t looked at it in ten years, because you made it just to make it. But think about that love, and that joy, and that pride you felt, and that you feel now.

That’s how God feels about you.

God is a knitter.

There’s a lot of thinking and dreaming and planning that goes into knitting, before you even cast yarn onto your needles. What kind of yarn do you want to use? What size? What texture? What color? Alpaca fibers are four times warmer than wool – but alpaca relaxes when you knit with it, and wool keeps its shape better. Silk is shiny and strong– but it doesn’t stretch, so you’re very limited in what kinds of stitches you can use. Linen is very durable, and is wonderful to wear on hot days – but it wrinkles like no other. There are a lot of options, a lot of decisions to make before you begin.

There’s also a great deal of improvisation in knitting – watching the yarn, feeling it as it slips through your fingers, changing the size of your needles, or how tightly you hold the yarn, or what kinds of stitches you make. You listen to your project as you’re making it, and respond to what the yarn is telling you.

And there are no shortcuts in knitting. The average sweater has hundreds of thousands of stitches in it, and you have to make every single one individually. You can’t make five stitches at once. Every stitch you form is intentional – and it becomes very personal. Every stitch is a moment in time, a piece of love. Every stitch is a prayer.

This is what the Psalmist means when he writes that God has searched you and known you, that God knows your every movement and your every thought. God has formed your being, stitch by loving stitch. God knows how those stitches fit together because God made each one of them. God chose the yarn and the needles and the stitch pattern and the design, and God cast on for you – and then sat back and observed, and adjusted, and amended, until you were just right. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. You are one-of-a-kind. You are a custom piece. Even things that are supposed to be pairs – like socks, or mittens, or sweater sleeves – end up being slightly different, because of a snag in the yarn, or an irregularity in the dye, or miscounting by the knitter. You are totally unique, because God formed each of your stitches just-so.

More in a few days...

(and I've finished the cable on the Tangled Yoke Cardigan. And made a pair of mittens. More on that soon, too.)

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