Friday, November 23, 2012

For Book Lovers Everywhere

Dear Bibliophiles,

Give yourself a treat, avoid the lines at your local box store today and read this opinion/memoir piece by author Anne Lamott which appeared in the Sunday Week in Review Section of the New York Times last weekend. Lamott is a  popular author of down to earth reflective memoir with realistic insight rooted in the wisdom of sobriety and an adult experience of faith. The love of reading, cultivated by otherwise disfunctional parents, is one of the gratitudes on Lamott's Thanksgiving list.
What would your personal account of early exposure to the wonder of books include? Where do the memories lead you?
Its a great day to curl up with a good book? What are you reading? The middle school  librarian in me is eager to finish "Son" by Lois Lowry, the fourth in her "Giver" series.
Happy Reading!
Anne Lamott is the author of "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Knitted in Your Mother’s Womb

What mortal hand can e're untie
The filial band that knits me to thy rugged strand.   
Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 – The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Little Owl cardigan for my grandniece
Is it the Book of Psalms or the Book of Wisdom in which we hear that our creator God knew us as we were being knit in our mother’s womb? Could it be that our God is a knitter? That may be more than a bit of a stretch. But knitting is an apt image of the work of creation – a slow and deliberate effort of the benign artist. Someone once said that “The act of creating is all we know of God.” When we create something with our own hands, out of our own imagination, from our own design – written, painted, sculpted, woven, knitted, embroidered, molded, carved, sewn, constructed, drawn, etc. – we experience the vital creative function of the divine.
Silk and wool vareigated lace weight
A few weeks ago I posted some pictures of knitted lace shawls, the making of which has become a passion of mine. That some of my life be dedicated to the creation of something beautiful, whatever the art form, is a necessity for me. Handwork of many kinds especially knitting, quilting, and spinning fit as hand to glove into contemplative life. This is true of any effort at artistic creation. Designing a garden, arranging flowers, as  well as any and all of the visual and creative arts fit the life of prayer and serve it well. Each is a creative, slow, repetitious, contemplative process that can remove us from the noise and distraction of 21st century life in the first world.

Handspun merino wool lace weight knit-on edge
Needlework is something practically bred in the bone of my history. I was urrounded by a family and a neighborhood dominated by talk of New York City’s garment industry. Sewing machine operators, sample and pattern makers, pressers were joined by my mother in her youthful pursuit of fashion design. My father would often survey his daughters gathered with their mother around the dinette table all absorbed in needle work of one kind or another and declare, “Another meeting the of the Idleness is Sin Club!” I do not remember being taught to crochet. I just seemed to have always been able to do it beginning with mini-items of clothing for Ginny Dolls of the 1950s. My mother started us in embroidery by handing us a scrap of white fabric, probably torn from an old sheet and stretched in a hoop, along with a sewing needle carrying colorful thread. She would say, “Draw a picture.” Thus we learned how to make a friend of that pesky needle.

Variegated wool sock weight with crochet edge
My mother introduced me to knitting when I was about ten years old but I was significantly helped along by a neighborhood friend a couple of years older who at least knew the knit and purl stitches. Mom’s help was limited. She could not follow written directions and made all of her gorgeous boucle tops via step-by step instructions at the local yarn store. I remember a white blouse with evenly spaced black jet hanging beads and another with a checkerboard motif highlighting the scoop neck. Every Brooklyn neighborhood had at least one yarn emporium in which a sorority of knitters filled chairs pushed up against walls bearing floor to ceiling shelves of  woolen fiber in a riot of color. In high school I decided to knit a real sweater for the first time. Mom was not encouraging and warned that she could not help me with directions. But the older sister of a friend promised I could do it under her guidance. The rest is history. Most of the people I have loved in my life received products of hasty needles performing in the rythym of the continental style of western European knitting.
I tell friends that if I sit in front of the TV without any needlework in my hands they can safely assume that I am dead tired. Years ago, when I began to find myself at many and various meetings, especially evening meetings following a long day of work, knitting came along to keep me attentive and awake. This seems counter intuitive but knitters universally report this phenomenon. We always have a simple project put aside as ‘meeting knitting”. This knitting also helps me to keep my mouth shut. There is also some truth in what Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the author of At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, declares: “...the number one reason knitters knit is because they are so smart that they need knitting to make boring things interesting. Knitters are so compellingly clever that they simply can't tolerate boredom. It takes more to engage and entertain this kind of human, and they need an outlet or they get into trouble… knitters just can't watch TV without doing something else. Knitters just can't wait in line, knitters just can't sit waiting at the doctor's office. Knitters need knitting to add a layer of interest in other, less constructive ways.”

Natural handspun lace weight
Having tired of sweaters, hats, socks, Afghans, plain shawls, and baby attire I tried lace knitting a few years ago. I failed abysmally when following written directions and was told, “You just must learn to read charts.” It is consoling that at my age I could, with discipline and attention, pick up a new skill. So now I am enchanted by knitted lace. The treasures of antique patterns from European countries are being published, particularly those of the British Isles and Estonia. Yes, lace is knitted. What we call Belgian lace is not knitted. It is woven with intertwining threads each one on its own bobbin. But while women of the Low Countries and France were producing this lace, women in Spain and Ireland were creating wedding ring shawls, lace knitted in such fine yarn that the entire thickness of a shawl could be gathered and run through a wedding ring. Interestingly the history of knitting reveals that it probably originated in the Middle East and that Muslims brought the craft to Europe around the 10th century.
Today knitting has enjoyed a great revival, especially in its appeal to the young, and not just women. Taught one of my own sons how to knit as we enjoyed a pre-concert picnic on the great lawn of Tanglewood, the Bershires summer home of the Boston Symphony, in Massachusetts. Later he said, “Mom, now I know why you love doing this.”

(everything knitters want to know about knitting and a zillion patterns)  (history)

Book:    No Idle Hands: The Social History of Knitting by Anne L. MacDonald


Monday, November 12, 2012

Reflection for the Grieving


The elders here will remember a phrase common in Catholic culture of the past; a phrase uttered by a grandmother, a parent, a sister who taught us in school. In response to one complaint or another we would be told, “Offer it up.” Being told to offer our suffering up to God always limped a bit because, as was also part of the culture of the time, we were not given any opportunity to voice the interior experience of disappointment, insult, neglect, pain, sorrow or grief. Today we have been educated to value the need to express feelings. We know that giving them voice is necessary for healing.

But after healthy sharing with compassionate friends, after joining a support group, after praying through the grief, and perhaps after seeing a counselor, a question remains in the heart, “What do I do with the pain?” In this we may need to re-appropriate the concept of “offering it up.”
We are created in the image and likeness of God. The spark of divine life has lived in us since the moment of our conception and that spark was fanned into flame when Jesus entered into the human sphere. We have a Savior who is like us in every way except sin. The gift of the Incarnation, the gift of Jesus taking on the total human experience was to draw us further into divine life. The ancient Fathers of the Church declared “God became human in order than we might become God.” What does that mean? It means that we fully participate in divine life here and now. We participate in the both the glory of God and the pathos of God’s suffering. So we can sit with our pain and say with St. Paul:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…Col 1:24
We need only to read the newspapers, watch T.V. news, survey our own families and friends to see the suffering held within the Body of Christ. Since the Incarnation unites in that Body we are one in the suffering of all humanity. But we do not sink into the suffering. Rather we unite our pain, our sorrow to the entire human experience. By our union with Jesus on the Cross we fully participate in the on-going Redemption of all creation. Even the quantum physicists are telling us that at a mysterious sub-molecular level everything is interconnected. Nothing happens without affecting everything else.
As you contemplate your loss, as you touch your emptiness, as you empathize with the pain of those made homeless by the storm, those being slaughtered in Syria, those who are starving in Africa, those who are homeless in our towns and cities, “Offer it up.” Unite yourself with the God who knows our suffering, who sees our tears and cries with us. Ask that your experience be incorporated into the on-going work of Redemption in our families, in our communities and in our world.
The reflection above was offered at an All Souls Memrorial service at St. Jospeh's Church in Kingston, New York.