The Scars We Carry

The picture above is the result of my very first grafting experience. I used a method that looked simple in the video. I did hear the woman say to swatch and then practice with a contrasting yarn a few times to get the hang of it. I just put my two pieces together and went for it. It did not go well and there is an ugly scar where I tried to graft the two pieces together.

The scar bothers me. It looks terrible in what otherwise is a beautiful piece of knitting. I tried blocking it and pushing the stitches into place but I can’t hide it.

Most of us have scars. Some you can see and others you can’t. I find the invisible scars more difficult. Injuries cause damage and healing often results in scars. Scar tissue is different. It’s not as flexible. It is a constant reminder of the injury.

I had heard and read the scripture about Thomas, who put his hands into the wounds of Jesus in order to believe that it was really him hundreds of times before it occurred to me that even the resurrected body of Christ had scars.

Life is not about perfection. Life is about healing and learning to live with the scars that we carry. What can we learn from the scars we bear?

The scars that Jesus carried helped Thomas to believe that the love that came down at Christmas, could not, would not ever die.

Anticipating a Quiet Easter

By Br. Aidan Owen

We’re nearly at the end of our Lenten journey. The great sun of Easter peeks over the horizon. Lent seems to have gone so quickly this year. I almost feel I’ve missed it. Though, actually, every year I’m a little surprised by Easter. Maybe that’s how it should be. Easter is surprising. It interrupts the comfortable narrative of our lives, erupting, not so much in elation as in astonishment. How can this be?
The experience is not so different from knitting a sweater. At the beginning of the project, it seems like it will go on forever. Then, you’re in the middle of it, comfortably clicking away, stitch after stitch, like saying the rosary. The end always comes all of a sudden. No matter that I can see the shoulders coming together, or that there’s only a collar left. To the extent that I’ve knit my hopes into that sweater, I’m often disappointed when it’s done. No sweater I have ever made, no matter how excited about it I have been, no matter how much I have enjoyed the process of knitting it, has solved the problems of my life.
So, too, with Easter. The years when I’ve longed for Easter as a resolution to the tumult, I’ve been disappointed. This year of pandemic, which has seemed an endless Lent in its way, will not resolve itself on Easter. The tomb may be empty, but so will most of our churches. Somehow, I can see the rightness of it all, though. We get to see a different side of Easter this year. An alleluia thrown out on the wind, echoing in the heedless world. This year, resurrection will not be reflected back to most of us in the grand liturgies we cherish. We will have to search for it in the newly budding daffodils, the return of the birdsong, and the quiet channels of our hearts. 
I wouldn’t want Easter to be like that every year, but this quieter kind of Easter does have a beauty and an authenticity about it. It encourages us to pay attention more carefully than we might otherwise. To find satisfaction in the small joys that pepper our lives. To wrap ourselves or our loved ones in the latest imperfect and beautiful sweater we have made with our own two hands, a lot of time, and probably not a little frustration. That’s an alleluia I can welcome to my lips. 

Project Update: Rows 1-8 Pattern 191 Japanese Stitch Bible

It’s the Little Things

There are hundreds upon hundreds of sweater patterns all based on some fundamental idea of a front, a back, neck, and sleeves. What makes them all different? The way they are constructed and the details. This comfy, cozy sweater (Kemp Town by Erika Knight) has a split rib at the bottom and a line of knit stitches down the garter sleeve that add a small but beautiful detail to this sweater that makes it unique.

As we journey though Holy Week, we can take comfort in the fact that we are unique and God knows us each by name. People like sweaters have the same components but we are differentiated by the details of our genetic expression. God is with each and everyone of us. This is good to remember especially those moments when we are in pain.

This past year has been difficult and there has been much suffering. The positive moments have come from the little things in life. The things we used to take for granted but don’t anymore. Oh what joy it is to be able to visit grandma in the nursing home. Oh what joy it is to be able to gather inside with a small group of vaccinated people. Oh what joy it is to see the shelves stocked with food and paper products.

It’s the smallest things that make a difference, that makes an experience unique and that brings us joy. In the midst of suffering there is always hope.

Pattern Update: 4 rows of Stockinette.

To What Should I Knit Myself?

By Rev. Patti Blaine

Fresh off the needles: (“Unchained,” by Marceline Smith – three hats knit with Lady Dye Yarns DK in colorways “Georgia Pecan” and “Ocean.”)

I did a geeky thing a couple of months ago. I looked up all the times the English word “knit” is in the Bible. The number varies by translation, I learned. I do not recall which uses it more or less than the others, but I remember that where one translation uses “knit,” another translation will use some iteration of the word “bind” in its place.

Many knitters know very well the pain of the dropped stitch – particularly the ones we find after blithely knitting ten or more rows after dropping it without noticing. How did I miss that? I know that if I do not work to catch it up immediately and somehow tie it back in with the rest of the fabric, I will regret having allowed the stitches below to come undone and ladder further than they already have.

Knitters may also know the pain of realizing that a few rows back (or more), one pointy needle pierced and split the plies of one loop of yarn, catching only one strand of the three or four it should have taken up, making a stitch that is a vulnerable, weak spot in the finished fabric. It cannot withstand wear. It will not hold together over time.

We use the terms “cast-on” and “bind-off” in our knitting. We take on something new, and we knit, binding together strands of yarn or string to make fabric. When we are done, we bind-off, in one manner or another, securing the stitches that, together, make up the finished object, whether a hat, a scarf, a cardigan, or what have you. If not bound up correctly, the stitches unravel, undoing our work, threatening, if not destroying altogether, the fabric’s integrity.

Written into our liturgy in the Episcopal Church, in more places than one, is the notion that we are bound together, one to the other, all believers. Take, for example, this line in the Collect said on All Saint’s Day:

“… God, you have knit together your elect in one
communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son …”
(p. 245, The Book of Common Prayer)

What a thought this is to bring to my contemplative knitting! What if I understand that knitting together as my being a teeny stitch in the whole of creation? To whom and what have I bound myself? Where have my threads of connection frayed and weakened? Where have I allowed myself to interweave with destructive patterns or practices that neither edify the community to which I am knit nor me? Can I explore that larger, barely comprehensible fabric like I might examine the cloth I am forming with my fingers as it grows, resting in my lap?

During a Lenten season a couple of decades ago, I participated in a day of meditation at a church in NYC. The priest who led us invited us to meditate on two different hymns. The one that speaks to my thoughts here, and has been on my heart this Lenten season, is St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Hymn 370 in The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church). I include a fraction of it below. It is worth looking up, however, to read all of what St. Patrick thought worthy of binding unto himself. It also makes for a mighty fine contemplative knitting musical accompaniment.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Project Update: Pattern Rows 23 – 28 of Pattern #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible.

Buying Yarn for a Friend

I love getting yarn as a gift. It seems to hold a special energy, a yet to be discerned potential that is almost limitless. What will it be? It’s up to me, the knitter to determine.

Although yarn can be made into many things, I have discovered that some yarn is better suited to some projects than others. No knitter wants to spend hours making a sweater that stretches like elastigirl or pills like a cottonwood tree in April and May. The knitter needs to take the properties of the yarn into consideration before deciding its fate. What kind of yarn will show off the cables or won’t wear out quickly when stuffed inside a hiking boot? The characteristics of the spin, the raw material combination, the dye, the weight and the color all contribute to the suitability for the project. A fingering weight yarn is not a good candidate for an Aran cabled sweater. Even if you could find a needle size large enough to make the gauge work the fabric would be flimsy.

Contemplative prayer can help us discover our potential. It can lead us to the right vocation where our characteristics will be appreciated and valued. The public speaker will flourish in a role where verbal communication is essential but not do well with software development. The software developer will create the perfect application to help people but may not want to give the sales pitch at the crowded convention.

We have preferences, we have gifts and talents, and we have skills we have worked hard to develop. Time in silent prayer can help us get back in touch with the little voice that may be nudging us in a new direction or encouraging us to get back engaged. The only way to know, is to listen!

Project update: Rows 15-26 of Pattern #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible

Sacred Stitches

By Mark Brummitt, Phd.

“So great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

There’s a lot more to knitting than meets the eye, you know. 

Picture this: June 1990. Manchester, England, England. 

I’d be 23, I guess. Wait. 23, I know. I’ve just finished my first year in seminary in London and I’ve been sent on a summer placement. I’m pastor to a small church in Openshaw, Manchester, until October. Alone. 

Alone. And that genuinely scares me. I am okay about running Sunday’s services. But the rest of the week…. The accounts! I’ve no sense of what I should do. How on earth does one run a community let alone a community center? 

And I’ve a crush. A pretty significant one. But the object of my crush has been sent south. Four, nearly five months, with only a phone. Lonely, lovelorn; alone.  

And the church is small. In fact, it is tiny. Well, on a Sunday, that is. In the week we’ll get 40 or more to our Tuesday women’s group and Thursday pensioners’ club. And goodness’ knows how many mothers and toddlers come to Friday’s tea, toast, and toddlers mornings. (Yes. Tea—it’s England, remember—toast and chat while the toddlers toddle and/or crawl.) But on Sunday, 15 including me would be a good week. Still, we had a brass band and a choir and we made a joyful noise. 

And I’d cycle back and forth and be permanently damp—I swear it rained every day—and in the evenings I’d watch tv. Thatcher (*shudder*). Lots about the Gulf War. 

I don’t now remember what prompted me. Maybe it was simply seeing the small knitting shop around the corner from my redbrick church. But I started knitting in earnest. I bought the pattern for an Aran cardigan. Needles. Two balls of off-white yarn. It was a working-class neighborhood—albeit for many folks, more class than work. The lady in the yarn store would reserve enough wool for a project and let you buy a ball as and when you had the money. 

Somehow, I seemed to know what I was doing. When it came to knitting, that is. Double moss stitch. That was easy enough. Cable. I’d watched my aunts and mother—all lifelong knitters. I knew what to do. 

So, I’d settle in my digs and watch more tv than I’d ever bothered with before. And I knitted. A back. A front. A sleeve. And from what I remember, it was good. I was meticulous so I guess that’s not surprising. But I didn’t finish it. A back. A front. A sleeve. Then I returned to London. Seminary. Love. 

A few years later I gave what I had to my stepmother. But I since I hadn’t bought up all the yarn, I don’t think she ever managed to finish it either. 

I do wish I still had that pattern, though. 

And I wish I could remember the name of the lady in the knit shop. I’ve never been good with names; unfortunately, I am not much good with faces either. Common in ADHD I’ve since learned. 

But I have also learned that knitting gives my busy mind focus. Right now, in Zoom meetings, you can be very sure I’ve some out-of-sight project on the go. Something in garter or stockinette stitch so I can look up at the camera rather than down at my work. (Yes. I’ll emerge from this pandemic with a whole new rack of woolens. Unless, that is—as I often do—I end up dissatisfied with most of it or decide to give the bulk away). 

So, I don’t now remember the name of the knit shop lady. But in those days before YouTube I’d sometimes visit her for advice (increases and decreases were not something I’d absorbed from the matriarchs). She was curious about this Londoner who was running the local mission. But she was always friendly, always helpful. More than kind. 

And when her husband died unexpectedly that August, I’d go sit with her now and then. Sit. Knit. Say little. 

She may even have started coming to our midweek clubs. I have a vague recollection that she did. But I can’t be sure. 

I dare say she’s long since entered those Purly Gates. I drove through Openshaw a few years back. Her shop is gone. But the little church is still there. It’s now called a “community church;” it has a website and all. 

Were I to go back there and run that little congregation again, you know what? I be delighted. And I’d also start a knitting group. Wednesdays probably. And we’d sit. And knit. And there’d be a few of us so we’d chat. But we needn’t. 

We’d maybe make blankets for the sick or the homeless. But we needn’t. We could just make hats, scarves, socks, sweaters for friends, our families, ourselves. 

And if we talked, we’d talk about all the things that occupy us. And maybe about knitters we knew—mothers, aunts, fathers, uncles, whomever. And they’d be there anyway, present in the stitches they once taught us. 

And whenever I’m knitting thereafter, all those who had came to the knitting group would then become part of a great cloud of witnesses (“knit-nesses”? No. That really doesn’t work) as has that lady from the shop, forever in my mind curious, friendly, kind; in grief. 

There’s a lot more to knitting than meets the eye, you know. 

Bio:

Mark Brummitt is the Associate Professor of Old Testament Interpretation. He gained a BA in Theology (First Class Honors) at King’s College London, received the English Fellowship to complete the Master of Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, studied theater and performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts/King’s College London, and completed a PhD in Biblical Studies with Yvonne Sherwood at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Dr Brummitt writes regularly for the Expository Times and the Encyclopedia of Biblical Reception; he is publishing Jeremiah: Reconstructing the Prophet (2013) with Oxford University Press and a commentary on Jeremiah for the Fortress Commentary of the Old Testament (2014). Other areas of interest include Bible and culture; reading theory (structuralism; poststructuralism; gender theory; critical theory); and literary reception of the Bible.

Pattern rows 7-14 of #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible.

“Pick yourself up… ‘n’start over again.”

by Mark Brummitt, Phd

“Rich wounds yet visible above in beauty glorified” (Bridges and Thring).

I can be ruthless. “Don’t knit if you don’t like ripping out,” I’ve been known to tell people—typically other knitters who watch in horror as I rip out a whole sleeve. “Ripping is knitting,” I say.  

Ruthless. I’ll rip right away—before I’ve had time to consider whether some fault or other really notices. 

And if I’ve only spotted my mistake after sewing up a sweater, say, I’ll hide the whole damn project away and pretend it never happened. Glitch gone. Shame tucked away. 

Ruthless indeed. To the point of pathology. Not, perhaps, to the point of turning my house into a cardigan’s graveyard. I don’t have reject knitwear buried at the back of every closet or anything. No. Nothing so murder-y. Just a sweater here a sock there. Parcels of occasional regret. 

Of course, the glitch may be gone but then so is all the good stuff. And given that every item is 99.9% okay (that’s a ballpark figure; I am not nearly so picky when it comes to math), that’s extraordinarily wasteful, let alone….  

Well, I’ll let you add your own adjectives there. 

It is not as if I approach life in general this way. It is not, for example, how I approach other people—at least, I hope it is not. I mean, I hope I don’t dismiss someone summarily on the basis of a single misstep (or misstitch, say). Anyway, knitting aside, it is not how I approach myself, even. While I’m often keenly aware of my many mistaken and dropped stitches—sins of commission and omission, to use the more traditional terms—I am nevertheless brazen enough to face the world (rather than stuff myself in a cupboard). 

More than that. If there’s any center to my “spirituality”—for want of a better word—it is a sense that salvation/sanctification/healing/maturity (take your pick) comes by-means-of mistakes not in-spite-of them. I don’t offer this as license to sin boldly (you can do that on your own dime). Rather, I say this to affirm the possibility of grace—that not only might our own sins become sites of transformation, but that those wounds caused by the sins of others can become sites of transformation too. 

Perhaps the Japanese art of kintsugi—”golden joinery”—offers a better analogy for this than knitting. After all, knitting can always be ripped out and redone (even after being finished—if you can stomach it). Not so with ceramics. After clay is finished (fired) a crack is here to stay. In kintsugi, as much a philosophy as an art, a broken item need not be discarded; its cracks, now part of its story, can be filled with golden lacquer and so add to its beauty instead. 

Maybe I should start training myself to think that way about knitting. Maybe I should start brazenly fixing mistakes with a contrast color. And unless they threaten to unravel the knitted fabric, maybe I should simply leave them well alone. 

Hmm. But if I wanted bloody holes in my work, I’d learn to crochet. 

Bio

Mark Brummitt is the Associate Professor of Old Testament Interpretation. He gained a BA in Theology (First Class Honors) at King’s College London, received the English Fellowship to complete the Master of Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, studied theater and performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts/King’s College London, and completed a PhD in Biblical Studies with Yvonne Sherwood at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Dr Brummitt writes regularly for the Expository Times and the Encyclopedia of Biblical Reception; he is publishing Jeremiah: Reconstructing the Prophet (2013) with Oxford University Press and a commentary on Jeremiah for the Fortress Commentary of the Old Testament (2014). Other areas of interest include Bible and culture; reading theory (structuralism; poststructuralism; gender theory; critical theory); and the literary reception of the Bible.

Rows 27-28 and 1-6 of Pattern #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible

The Feast of the Annunciation

By Rev. Patti Blaine

(Fresh off the needles – Carissa Browning’s “Dissent Cowl,” knit with Spun Right Round Squish DK in “Reaper’s Rags” and “Walk like a Cat, Talk like a Fish” colorways.)

For it was you who formed 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. (Psalm 139.13-15 NRSV)

The Psalm I read most frequently to patients is not the twenty-third. Surprising, yes? Instead, it is Psalm 139. Most of my patients are facing the realization that something has come undone in their bodies and that they were and are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” They are less concerned with how they will walk “through the valley of the shadow of death” than they are with figuring out a new way to walk – period – whether that is with a new cancer diagnosis, a double amputation, or limitations brought on by a massive stroke or a heart transplant.

The second half of verse 13 in Psalm 139 speaks to me each time I read it. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God knits! Further, according to the last line of verse 15, God weaves! And God does so “intricately.” When a patient’s unraveling requires my support, we explore together the “awe” of God’s handwork and contemplate new ways of being that incorporate that sense of awe, even in newfound but survivable brokenness.

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day we celebrate the angel Gabriel’s disruption of Mary’s life, announcing that the Spirit of God will impregnate her. God will knit together a baby who is to be called Jesus; God will intricately weave her son in secret, incorporating God-self into human form. Imagine Gabriel’s astonishment. Imagine Mary’s! And imagine God’s gleeful joy – knitting a pattern God knows very well and knitting God-self up into it in a new and astonishing way.

I often begin my morning meditation with these thoughts, contemplating the mystery of a knitting God even as I knit. Some mornings I wonder what Mary thought and did as her child was being formed, hidden in her depths. Did she work with her hands? What did she make? Her song tells us that she knew God was making and doing something new within her. May God, through Mary’s extraordinary son, continue to knit us together and make us whole.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; 

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: 

the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him 

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, 

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, 

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, 

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, 

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, 

to Abraham and his children for ever.

(Canticle 15, pp. 91-92, The Book of Common Prayer)

Bio

Patti is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY, and a per diem chaplain at three area hospitals. Currently, she is a full-time student at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, working on a master’s degree in Religious Studies. In her spare time (and during some classes), she knits.

Pattern rows 19-26 of Pattern #26 of the Japanese Stitch Bible

Mindless Repetition – the good and the bad

     I always like to have something simple on the needles.  I call it my TV knitting. It’s usually a sweater body or sleeves where all I have to do is knit every stitch.  It’s mindless repetition.

     Mindless repetition can get boring even with TV providing entertainment.  My thoughts take over and start needling me.  They say: “You will never finish this sweater.”  “Even if you finish the sweater, it won’t fit.” “You are going to run out of yarn.” I’m sure these are the same thoughts that plague marathon runners in the first few miles.  “You can’t do this.”  “It’s boring.”

     I recently finished the Spring Hazel Pull Over Sweater.  I had the Lang Donegal Merino in my stash. It was originally intended for a Brioche knit along.  My afghan hound decided to chew up a few skeins before I rescued the bag.  I searched Ravelry for a suitable project for what I had left.  There were two colors in my stash – grey and blue.  This sweater was the perfect project.  Except the body took forever.  I got extremely bored with the endless repetition of knitting around and around with some increases and decreases to create a pattern on both sides.  I was bombarded by thoughts that make me want to throw the project in a bag and put it in the back of the closet.  Mainly, I felt bored. 

            I decided to teach myself to knit using the continental method.  I’m an English knitter and I have always held my yarn in my right hand.  Knitting with my left hand was always something I wanted to learn.  I was no longer bored but my knitting had slowed to a crawl.  I was a beginner again, struggling with tension, dropping stitches, and painstakingly creating one stitch at a time.  But, I was riveted.

            Boredom comes from inattention.  There is even a condition called Inattention Blindness. This is when a person misses seeing something right in front of them, not because they can’t see it, but because they aren’t paying attention.  Changing my way of knitting had changed my attention.

     A few years ago, I decided to take a drawing class during Lent.  I took it because I wanted to “see” things in a new way.  It was like putting on a pair of glasses.  I started looking at lines, angles, shadows, and shapes that I had never noticed.

     If prayer time is becoming boring and we are becoming inattentive, we can change it up.  We can us a different word to pull ourselves back in, find a different translation of the Lord’s Prayer, or read the Psalms using the The Message as the translation.  Change it up and see where your attention goes.

Pattern rows 11-18 of Pattern #26

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