While I have always been a person borderline-obsessed with crafting, I never thought I would get into knitting. My earliest memory of the art form was watching the older women in my life sit with metal needles and acrylic yarn, knitting up baby blankets in rainbow pastels; the prospect of making a baby blanket just did not excite eight year-old Kristen.
Fast forward a decade or two; after my move to North Carolina, a new friend in the area introduced me to a local yarn shop. The knitting bug bit. Hard. I had no idea that you could make such beautiful, trendy things by knitting, but what I also did not know was that knitting would become a spiritual lifeline.
Lord, give me the words.
In my limited experience, I think many more of us struggle with prayer than those who do not. It is easy to prattle off a laundry list of wishes and wants, but when it comes to the deeper things of the soul, our 140-character brains sometimes just cannot compute. The dilemmas are manifold: How do I name God? What do I say? Is this an okay thing to pray about? What does God want to hear? For how long should I pray? And, none of these account for the manifold distractions that demand our attention hour-by-hour. With such a list, it is no wonder that so many of us become frustrated with our prayer life, and by default, our relationship with God.
I found myself in such a place last fall as we prepared to kick off our programmatic year at church. It was a very difficult time, both in ministry and personally. My spiritual life was moving in more of a downward-spiral than anything mirroring holiness. Chaos erupted, and I had no words. Going through the rudimentary motions of night prayer one evening, a quiet voice inside my head said, “You should really get serious about learning to knit.” I brushed it off as a distraction, but the unexplained urge to tackle the needles never seemed to go away.
Finding Focus Through “Flow”
Researchers in the fields of neurology and psychology have long witnessed to the connection of repetitive crafts such as knitting to improved emotional and mental well-being. Jacque Wilson with CNN published an article earlier this year detailing the positive and restorative effects that crafting has on the brain and the body. The act of knitting mirrors that of meditation in that the knitter often finds herself in a state of “flow,” a phenomenon where the brain is so strictly engaged in one activity that the body relaxes and stress levels begin to decline. Knitting, crochet, needlework, and other activities involving focus and repetitive motion have been linked to a decrease in anxiety, depression, and a heightened sense of satisfaction among participants. When we engage in one activity that requires our entire focus, this frenetic feeling of constantly being overwhelmed begins to dissipate, and our minds are freed to engage our world on calmer, deeper terms.
Eager Hands, Clear Head.
Finally, I did it. I picked up the needles and learned how to knit. My first project was a scarf that is still sitting halfway finished in my dresser. It was hard and awkward at first, but something strange happened in the first moment that knitting felt natural; it became prayer. Knit one, pray two. “Lord I want to believe,” each knit prayed, “help my unbelief,” each purl responded. And stitch by stitch, row on row, I rediscovered the beauty and care of our brilliant Creator.
Currently, I use knitting as a form of lectio divina, a method of reading scripture that stems from the Jesuits. In short: you read a passage of scripture, such as Jesus healing the hemorrhaging woman in Mark, and put yourself at the scene. Who are you in the story? A bystander? A disciple? The woman? What does the air feel like? What does it smell like? Who is with you? What sounds do you hear? How do you observe Jesus acting in the story? How do you feel about this? Then, you listen to what God might be saying through the Word. The beauty of this arrangement is that knitting occupies my hands, allowing my mind to be free to just sit and listen, something that I will admit is difficult to do at times.
You may not knit, but what are the things you do on a regular basis that permit you to focus? For example, I have a friend who prays while she washes dishes, another while she walks the dog in the morning. A seminary friend told our class about how he meditates on scripture while doing yoga. Where are the places in your life that open the door for prayer and focus? You might be surprised at the moments where God shows up for a conversation.