Friday, April 03, 2009

The Church of the Knit Stitch

When I was a child, back in the dark ages of the 50s and the 60s, people’s religious affiliations were very much known and defined who they were and what they did on any particular day. For instance, my two best friends in the 6th grade were Jewish and Catholic. I knew that one went to Catechism class on Saturday and mass on Sunday. The other went to temple on Saturday and Hebrew School on Tuesday. Don’t go looking for them! They’re not available. As for me, I was Episcopalian, which was mostly weird to my friends—“we’ve never heard of it, we can’t spell it, and we don’t know anyone else who’s Epis…Epish…Epip … never mind!”

When we moved to suburban Maryland when I was in the 7th grade, our local parish church was a huge part of my life—I sang in the choir, attended services, picked strawberries for the annual Strawberry Festival, went on retreats with the youth group—so many of the people I knew were from the church. That continued through high school. Again, I knew the affiliations of many, if not most, of my school acquaintances. (I have to admit: I didn’t know any Baptists. They came into my life only when I moved south.) The bottom line: we all had an affiliation that might as well have been tattooed on our chests and we all sat in a pew of some sort and if you didn’t you were odd man out.

Over the years, although I still think of myself as an Episcopalian and still attend services on a sporadic basis, my religion no longer defines me – it’s simply one part of who I am. For me, my belief system is in a constant state of flux, and reflects the influences of many different religious and secular traditions and groups, both ancient and New Age. Think ancient Anglican rites with a Buddhist twang. As for my friends, I suspect they’re from many different religious backgrounds, though I really couldn’t say. I know some folks who attend regular services of one kind or another. I know a few who have very strong convictions and more power to them. Others have no apparent affiliation; a few consider themselves “recovering” from one type of religion or another. A recent survey of 35,000 Americans by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life noted that about 16% of those surveyed reported no affiliation at all, so I think it’s just part of a trend.

But we’re an amazingly spiritual group. Almost everyone I know on a daily basis has a rich spiritual life and a surprisingly large number of those folks regularly share their thoughts and hopes and beliefs with people they imagine or know to be open to hearing about them. I’m constantly amazed by the diversity of interests among those I know and those I come in contact with, and the openminded respect most people have for the belief systems of others. For myself, I really don’t care what your beliefs are, I’m just happy you’ve found something that makes you feel better about your life. And happy not to have you force it on me, thank you very much.

More and more, though, my spiritual life revolves around the simple activities in my life that aren’t necessarily found in my local mega-church. My spiritual advisors are the folks I come into contact with on a daily basis. My spiritual experiences are more likely to involve the joy that comes from seeing a butterfly in my back yard or a cherry blossom floating to the ground, and not necessarily a psalm written in a long-dead language. Or the pleasure of watching the yarn go around the needle over and over, making one stitch, then another, then a pattern repeat, then a row. One minute you’re knitting a tube, the next minute you’ve turned the heel. Your yarn has transformed from a ball to a garment. It’s changed. Life changes. We all change.

And the prayers of my childhood have morphed as I’ve aged, too. Now I’m just as likely to send a message to the universe through the knit stitch, as I knit a helmet liner for a soldier thousands of miles away or a pair of socks for a child I’ll never know or see. Knitting safety, knitting warmth, knitting love.

What brought all this up, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. This week, our knitting group celebrated a significant birthday with a member we’ve all come to know a little and like a lot. We waited to hear about the results of some medical tests, and, as we sat and knitted, we sent our good thoughts to her, reassuring that we would be here with her, knitting, no matter what the results meant. A woman I’ve come to care deeply about is home recovering from major surgery—we’ll sit with her this week and knit good wishes and love into our conversations, transmitting hope through the osmosis of knitting. Other friends have lost their jobs, or, praise the knit stitch, kept their jobs. This one’s husband is sick, that one’s is recovering from an illness. Someone’s waking up in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack, someone's embarking on a new career or starting a business, someone else is fussing over the details of an upcoming event. We're all worried about money. And we're all knitting through these experiences, together.

And last night two friends passed on some love to me. They infused me with love as much as if they’d held my hands and prayed with me. They brought me a lovely children’s book about Dog Heaven that made me weep for my lost babies and at the same time remember that they’re not lost at all. They’re still with me. As a matter of fact, I was knitting away on a pair of socks this morning that have been on the needles for at least a year and I found a black pug hair woven into one of the socks. I'm currently out of black pugs, but I’d guess there’s a little black pug hair in most of what I own, and I’ll probably never be black-pug-hair-free. Whose hair was it? Bluto’s? Lightning’s? Doesn’t matter. I didn’t pull it out—I just kept knitting. But I felt the love.

1 comment:

Sheri said...

Very well said! I read it from top to bottom and now have chills! We are all different, but, what difference does it make? There are just as many similarities amongst all of us, including the pug hairs. I still find a black one every now and again but I'll be finding blond one's for the rest of my life. This pug sheds like no other.
Thank you for a great lesson in humanity. I would love to share this with my Baby Girl if it's okay. I will wait to hear from you first.
Sheri in GA