Knit Without Ceasing


It was pink, such a bright candy pink that I couldn’t bring myself to knit it up all by itself. When I saw it on the shelf in the craft store, it asked to come home with me, insisting that it belonged wrapped around someone who would receive one of our church’s Prayer Shawls.

I pondered who it might be. A baby? We were expecting two in our church family. But by the time I got around to the pink shawl project, we heard that both new babies would be boys. I went back to the craft store and looked for something, anything, to use as an accent with this pink, pink, pink yarn. After walking up and down the aisles several times, I noticed what looked like a ball of multicolored string. It was a ribbon yarn, made up of a sunny yellow, a cheery orange, a peaceful blue and, yes, a jolly bright candy pink.

We’ve been knitting Prayer Shawls at church for almost two years now. I was sitting at a church meeting that fall when I noticed a woman knitting what looked like an enormous blanket. It was actually a long rectangle, perfect for throwing around the shoulders, wide enough to wrap around a mother and her child, soft and comforting. I discovered that the idea for a Prayer Shawl Ministry had come from two women studying at Hartford Seminary, and I brought the idea home to Small Church in City By the Sea.

I didn’t expect to start knitting again myself. After a case of tendonitis, I had given up knitting. But the needles for a Prayer Shawl are so big, it occurred to me that I might be able to handle them. Soon a group of women at church were meeting to knit, and I was knitting with them.

Isn’t it in 1 Thessalonians 5 that Paul admonishes us to knit without ceasing? Look it up!

Oh, well; maybe not. Perhaps he tells us to pray without ceasing, after all.

Knitting a Prayer Shawl is praying, I find. The pattern of knit 3, purl 3, is rhythmic as music. The yarn of choice is fussy enough that it requires focus from the knitter. It is inexpensive enough that cost is no barrier to participating. It comes in varied hues and solids. Many of its shades form surprising stripes that you would never expect when choosing a skein.

We made Prayer Shawls for homebound church members, for families with new babies, gave them to members in the hospital. We kept knitting when it seemed we had more than we could ever give away, and then they would be needed, and we would start again.

Each Prayer Shawl has been blessed in church. On one Sunday, I brought a dozen shawls into the Sanctuary in a large basket and asked the children to hold them up so that the congregation could see the different shawls. Some children were reverently still, and others danced, and one simply spun around, the colorful shawl spread wide above her head.

There are many ways to give God thanks and praise.

Twelve of the shawls spent the past three months traveling in a box to South Africa, where a couple I know (he’s a pastor; she’s a social worker) recently finished serving as missionaries. She worked with a group of women who are HIV positive to develop a beadwork cooperative as a source of income. Around town I run into people wearing the little AIDS badges they beaded, hanging from safety pins, and we give each other a smile of recognition. Some are wearing pins I took off my coat to give away. Others bought them at church fairs. After two years of handling the work of the beading women’s hands, my knitting ladies wanted to send the work of our hands to them.

Some have gone a shorter distance. I pass them along to my friend, Protestant Chaplain. Her ministry is supported in large part by donations from churches all over the state. Small Church gives a modest donation each year, but we also bring her shawls. Some have gone home with patients who didn’t expect to ever leave the hospital. Others have been wrapped around patients who died there. Could this be the right destination for the unceasing prayers in the pink, pink, pink shawl?

The ribbon yarn wove its way into the rows of pink, creating an effect so merry that I began to understand why this yarn had been so insistent. I don’t know who will wear it, but as I gave it to my friend today, I somehow knew this work of my hands was going to the right place.

8 thoughts on “Handiwork”

  1. I’ve never heard knitting so poetically described.
    The shawl was meant to be. I hope you get to see the delighted face of the deserved recipient!

  2. Is knitting the UCC equivalent of praying the rosary? If so, then quilting is the Presbyterian version–at least at our church. There is definitely a strong connection between prayerful contemplation and repetitive handwork.
    What a great ministry you have with the prayer shawls–loved reading about it.

  3. What a great post. I love reading about these kinds of spiritual practices. I am tempted to start knitting a prayer shawl myself. I haven’t held a pair of knitting needles in years but I still remember how ….

  4. In my darkest hours a prayer shawl from a congregation that had never met me gave me comfort and strength. Bless this ministry and the gifted hands who make it so.

  5. What a gorgeous post, Songbird. I’ve never wanted a tallis until this very moment. Do you suppose a pink pink pink prayer shawl could be a tallis, with the requisite tassels added?

  6. Hi Songbird,
    I knitted my very first prayer shawl last year during advent. What a gorgeous experience! I made it for a friend from church whose husband had died suddenly in October. Now I am working on one for my aunt, who has had a very rough couple of years. I love the multiples of three stitches. It reminds me of the trinity!
    Knit on….

  7. will smama, I am touched to hear it.
    jo(e), it’s like riding a bike, without the knee-scraping.
    And Rachel, I will! You, too.

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