As a preschooler, my parents didn’t need to wean me from a ragged blanket which I carried around for comfort. I was a thumb sucker though, which likely signifies the same thing.
As an adult, I’ve wrapped myself in warm quilts as I read or listen to music on the sofa or watch TV from the recliner.
That’s gotten me thinking about other tangible things which wrap me in comfort and hope. So I’m remembering the prayer shawls I’ve received these last years. I’m thinking about these shawls again as the weather gets cooler. I can wrap myself in them at home and or at church or wherever. I’ve seen people take prayer shawls to cold hospital rooms with them as well.
I especially honour the prayer shawl ministries which have emerged over the past 20 years.
In 1998, Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the Women’s Leadership Institute of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, developed the Prayer Shawl Ministry as a result of their Applied Feminist Spirituality program with Professor Miriam Therese Winter of the Medical Mission Sisters. In a mission statement, Bristow said in 1998, “They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to fly above their troubles.”
In my current illness, I’ve received two shawls – one from the prayer shawl ministry at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church where I have served, and one from an informal group calling themselves Shawl Sisters.
In prayer shawl ministry, people get together to knit or crochet reflectively. Often they do some of the knitting or crocheting at home as well. Some groups pray quietly part or all of the time. Sometimes they have specific people in mind to receive a shawl; at other times they may just knit them and make them available for pastoral staff to give out.
Both groups which have given me a shawl “knew my colours,” which pleased me greatly.
And both times I received the same lovely printed Prayer of Blessing, which had been offered over the shawl before it was given away.
A thoughtful knitter friend recently said to me, “My working theory is that one of the reasons why shawl ministry touches so many people is that the literal and the symbolic come together in ways they usually don’t. That is, shawls are symbols of warmth and comfort, while literally providing warmth and comfort.”
In the same vein, many congregations have shown warmth and support by giving a comforter at some point in the life of a child of the congregation, often via a baby quilt to recognize a birth.
At Rockway Mennonite Church, we give a comforter to persons leaving high school in colours they enjoy as part of our Milestones Ministry. In our litany, echoing that shawl ministry prayer, we say:
May God’s grace be upon you,
Warming, protecting, and enfolding.
May this comforter be a reminder of God’s presence and invitation to follow, as you make decisions about your life direction and relationships.
May you be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in love.
_______, we bless you in Jesus’ name. Amen
Such ministries nourish me and many others in body and in spirit. I applaud them.
Questions for Reflection:
- What tangible things wrap you in safety, comfort, and hope?
- If you’ve been part of a prayer shawl, comforter knotting, or similar ministry, what has that experience meant for you?
Next week: A New Book!