A few years ago I earned an MA in theology. As part of this degree I completed a qualitative study exploring the experiences of extreme caregivers of medically fragile children. One of the questions in my study explored how caregivers engaged in spiritual practices. Simply put, a spiritual practice is an activity that someone undertakes to engage in spiritual care or development. For many it is an integral part of their all-important self care practices. Common examples of spiritual practices that come to mind are prayer, worship, or yoga. I have also heard people offer examples of exercise, hiking or kayaking, playing a musical instrument, singing, and so on. However, one person involved in my study stated that, for her, knitting was a deeply spiritual and contemplative act.
Huh? Knitting? Really?
I remember being both surprised and intrigued by this answer. But, being a curious researcher I probed the topic with the research participant. She identified that when her child was ill or in hospital the repetitive nature of knitting was both grounding and soothing. Knitting gave her something to do, and that something to do usually resulted in a useful object of beauty she could share with someone. At the end of our interview session she sent me on my way with a knitted dishcloth completed during her child’s most recent hospital admission. I still use that dishcloth today.
At the time I didn’t knit, and now that I do knit her response makes much more sense. I have no doubt any knitters out there in the blogworld are ready to scroll on because the idea that knitting and spirituality are connected is so self-evident. I learned quickly that googling knitting and spiritually yielded a bazillion hits.
Many churches in our area have prayer shawl ministries, and books on the subject not only provide patterns but suggest praying during the act of knitting in a tangible, rhythmical manner. The way, I imagine, devout Catholics or Buddhists might pray using a rosary or prayer beads. I recently borrowed Betsy Greer’s book Knitting f or Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch from our local library where Greer advocates that knitting not only is an enjoyable activity, but can also serve as a way to support and create community.
For Greer, the end result of knitting hats, scarves, afghans, or prayer shawls, creates a sense of goodwill and offers practical gifts to people in need – be it the physical need of a warm hat for someone who is homeless, or the spiritual need of a comforting prayer shawl for someone who may be grieving. My personal favourite of knitting for good is a local group that knit tiny Santa hats for premature infants in the NICU at Christmas.
Our regional children’s hospital where my son has spent much time always has a stack of donated quilts and afghans for children. Often a nurse will give a blanket to my son when he is in hospital. But on one occasion when Matthew was very ill I took an afghan for him myself from the basket. As a parent and caregiver I was at a low point and having something comforting that made the sterile hospital room seem more homey addressed something of my own emotional and spiritual needs at the time. I was so grateful to have that colourful blanket amid a sea of IV’s and hospital equipment.
It seems that knitting is not only a spiritual practice, but offers spiritual care with the end result!