Friday, September 08, 2006

Two Sticks and Some String

I picked up my knitting last night for the first time in several days. When I don't knit for a while and then I do, I am genuinely surprised at the pleasure it gives me. My fingers know what to do. The yarn curls through them and cooperates as I wind it around the needle tip and pull it through the stitches. The motion soothes and comforts.

It is hard to explain this to people who either A) go into a panic at the mention of anything involving needles and fiber; or B) think "crafty" pastimes are trivial and simple-minded. It's odd that knitting occupies this "between place"--frighteningly complex to some, barely worth the notice of others.

Each project has a history--for whom, why, how, when and where it was made. My most vivid knitting memories are of where I sat and worked on something--the old couch in the playroom of my childhood home, the bed in my college dorm room, the end of the sofa or the chair in the window. Some projects are connected to events--rehearsals for a certain show, the older or younger son's basketball season, doctors' appointments. Putting on a sweater or even socks I have made recalls the time when that yarn and work filled my hands, my lap and my knitting bag.

I learned to knit when I was eight, and most of the time since then, I've had something on my needles. It may have been languishing in a tote bag or on a shelf without being worked on, but my knitting is there, waiting for me to finish it, waiting for a time when I need to knit.

Knitting creates a kind of industrious peace. It is a way to stay awake while watching TV and a way to calm myself before going to bed. Have I ever fallen asleep with needles in hand? Yes.

Some people say they meditate or pray when they knit. Some knit prayer shawls to comfort the sick and dying and to shield new parents and others embarking on great adventures. Sometimes I knit gifts to mark important occasions for family members and friends, but the finished product often arrives late. I don't knit on deadlines. I do knit for friends to thank them for their presence in my life.

And now a word about ripping. I must interrupt this pleasant post to report that I just ripped out six inches--two full repeats--of a complicated celtic cable pattern. I have finished the left front of the cardigan, and I am working on the right, but when I set up the pattern for this side, I followed the wrong chart. The cables were the same as the ones on the left side, rather than their mirror image. Would this have been noticed by anyone but me? Yes, designs like this should be symmetrical and I'm not the only one who surreptitiously checks other people's garments for this quality. Besides, this is an heirloom sweater for an 18-year-old niece who has been closely involved in its design. It will take as long as it will take.

But hey, it's only yarn. Pull out the stitches, wind the charcoal grey wool back into a ball, and get it right the next time. Give me a week or less and I'll knit those six inches again and enjoy doing it. But now you see why I don't knit for deadlines.

This week I'm knitting to feel more comfortable in my own skin as I take in the changes and look again at the sorrow connected to my husband's death at the end of many years with Alzheimer's. One of the prayers early in the memorial service for him on Wednesday night asked God to knit together his people. I hadn't noticed this in other funerals I'd been to and checking the Lutheran Book of Worship shows that it's not in the text for the Burial of the Dead. Guess somebody put it there just for me.

But here's another confession: I know too much about knitting to go along with the "knit us together, Lord" metaphor. Where does it come from? I ran a search on "knit" and came up with this in Ephesians 4:15-16:

"But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love."

A mouthful, thank you, Paul.

There are some problems here. According to fiber historians, there was no knitting in the first century. So what word did Paul use really? The New Jerusalem Bible says "fitted and joined together," which makes more sense to me. Knitting uses one long strand of yarn to make fabric. It doesn't join lots of parts together (well, there is the three-needle bind-off, but that's a technical detail we don't need to go into here).

"Fitted and joined" suggests a cabinetmaker at work and some trimming, planing, and sanding that has to happen for things to come together properly. "Fitted and joined" also suggests piecing and quilting, where the quilter collects fabrics, cuts shapes, joins them together and makes something new. something that warms, covers and encloses. The designs, even when carefully planned, can surprise you. Paul was a tentmaker. Fitting and joining with scissors and stitches would have been skills that lived in his fingers.

The search for "knit" in the bible turned up another reference in Psalm 139:13:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I like the idea of being God's project, whether it's quilting, knitting, or cabinetry. I hope the process of knitting me together brings God some genuine pleasure.

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