Three levels of Transformation – 3/30/17

The spiritual life is all about transformation. There are three types of transformation that we regularly experience. For example when we are hungry, we eat and thereby transform our condition. If we move from the suburbs to the city, we transform our circumstances. But the transformation that we long for, that requires committing to a life style of spiritual discipline, joining a spiritual community, and working on becoming selfless is the transformation of being. A change of heart that propels us to serve the community. A community dedicated to serving God.

This is the transformation that we long for, the only thing that can fill the hole in our heart. We may avoid committing to this level of transformation for any number of reasons. We don’t want to face our demons, we are prone to distractions, or we mistakenly think we can fill the hole in our heart with something else – food, exercise, mountain climbing, a closet full of yarn, human relationships, etc…

But the nagging persists and it’s only when we give ourselves over to God does the hole start to fill.

Spiritual transformation takes time, effort, the support of a community. There is a quote that I’m not sure where it comes from that says every thought becomes an action, every action becomes a habit, every habit becomes your character and your character becomes your destiny.

I’ve been knitting on a bathrobe for years. It’s long and it has a train (I have joked that the train is to sweep up the dog hair).

This is my metaphor for my spiritual life. One stitch at a time, slowly creates a garment that will eventually envelop me from head to toe. I think Jesus was probably the only person who was totally transformed into the selfless person totally dependent on God and freely loving God and all people. As followers, we are called to do the same, to create a new life one stitch at a time.


Gifts – 3/29/17

One of the greatest gifts a knitter can get is something made by another knitter.  One of my grandmothers (who was an awesome knitter) used to say she would never make me anything because she knew I could knit it myself.   But that’s not the point of a gift.  Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to go buy what we want.  So why give a gift if we can just go buy it ourselves?

Gift giving is about so much more than the gift.  It’s the thought that goes into it, it’s feeling known by the giver, it’s the surprise of the offering, it’s feeling cared for and loved.

Happily my mother gets it.  She is a knitter and she knits for knitters.  I have a few things she has knit for me but one of my favorites is a beautiful shawl made from handprinted yarn.

It’s etherial the way it catches the light and it’s incredibly soft and my mother made it for me even though I am perfectly capable of knitting it myself!

The best gifts are freely and thoughtfully given and made with love for the recipient.  The greatest gift of all is the grace that comes from God.  It’s freely given, totally undeserved and changes everything.  It’s not something we can give ourselves.  All we have to do is say yes.  Grace is real, grace saves, grace surrounds us like the shawl enhancing who we are and helping us become who we are called to be.  Thanks be to God and thank you Mom!

Fear – 3/28/27

I have a box that has been sitting in my closet for just a little over two years.

I opened it for the first time two years ago and I occasionally get it out and look at the contents.

Beautiful, expensive yarn.  I look at the yarn, feel it, pick it up, hold it then I close the box and put it back in the closet.  Why?  Let me back up.  I came across one of the most beautiful knitting books I have ever seen.  The pages were thick, the photos were breath taking almost three dimensional, and the patterns were written out in great detail in a clean font.  If this wasn’t enough, this collection was inspired by the diverse women of the Tudor Dynasty that ruled over England from AD 1485 to 1603.  How can one resist?

I fell in love with the sweater called Katherine Howard.  (Henry VIII fifth wife who was executed after being accused of having an affair with Thomas Culpeper).  Not my favorite Tudor but check out the sweater!

I read the directions and when I got to the word bobbin, I stopped.   I didn’t even own any bobbins (a device to hold yarn that makes it easy to maneuver when knitting with more than one color).  It took me a year to find bobbins.

I’m afraid to start it.  It looks hard, I might have to (God forbid) ask someone for help.  I don’t want to ask for help.  I want to do it myself.  But I’m afraid of getting stuck, making a mistake, looking stupid, having it come out poorly after I spent the money on this yarn, and on and on.  So it sits.

I’ve been thinking about this and today I realized I was cheating myself out of a chance to build community.  I know at least 4-5 people who would gladly sit down with me and help me get started on this project.  These same people (some of you are probably reading this post) would encourage me and support me as I worked on this.   Community makes difficult tasks bearable sometimes even fun.

I have a friend who recently became a real estate agent.  She just joined a group and although she is working hard, it seems much more enjoyable being part of a group.  She and her boss made cold calls together experiencing the adventure of knocking on stranger’s doors.  When buyers get challenging she has people to talk to, ideas to exchange, and people watching her back, and standing in for her when she needs them. Could she do it on her own?  Yes, of course and she has done it alone but working with other dedicated people who are lively and creative makes work a beautiful experience.

When we get fearful, we need the support of others.  Jesus said “Do not be afraid” many times in the gospel.  Fear is what keeps a beautiful sweater waiting to be born in a box on the floor in the closet.  Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of  (fill in the blank).  We all have our moments of fear, or whatever it is keeping us from taking on new challenges.  This is why we need community.  I keep harping on this theme but I wonder where are people finding community these days?  I find it at church with people who are incredibly different than myself.  Their differences prick me in places that spark a creativity I didn’t know I had.  They stimulate me with their questions and support me with their hugs.  Thank God for community, a spiritual community that is continuing to grow in it’s own way in new directions every day.

Feeling the love – 3/27/17

Another restart!  I have spent the last two days taking care of the sick.  Another good reason to ignore this particular spiritual discipline.  A person I know ended up in the ER needing emergency surgery.  Since his family had to travel to be with him, I stood in until they arrived.  There was one funny moment when the Dr. said I should kiss him good bye as they wheeled him away.  I told him to go with God and patted his hand instead.

Often, when I pray with people before surgery, I remind them we are always surrounded by the love of God.  As I say those words, I tried to picture what this would look and feel like.  Then I saw this:

It was just a simple cowl pattern.  The woman in the bottom picture is wearing the cowl draped twice around her neck.  In the top picture, she has taken the cowl that is made out of very soft, silky mohair and pulled it down around herself.

This cowl is not made for warmth.  I can’t imagine wearing it the last few weeks during the blizzard.  The reason to wear this is to feel the softness of the yarn on skin.  It would be like walking through a cloud.  This is how I image the love of God surrounding us.  Like the soft touch of silk, soft and feathery.  And guess what?  The yarn I found to make it is called Angel.

It has to be white.  It’s nice having this image.  I picture draping this knitted garment made of delicate silk mohair yarn around the person I’m praying for, enveloping them in the softness, love manifested in the silky gossamer strands that sit lightly on their skin, barely visible, barely discernible but there.

Going in a New Direction – 3/24/17

I hate picking up stitches.  Probably because I was doing it wrong for years and it never looked right.  If you pick up too many stitches you can create a ruffle.  If you pick up too few stitches, you create holes.  I finally took a page out of my kid’s book and watched a few videos on you tube and now I’m creating beautiful pieces.  I’m in the process of picking up stitches around the arm hole of my hooded vest.

The ribbing goes in a new direction perpendicular to the vest.  The hardest thing about going in a new direction is getting started.  To change requires us to stop, turn, and start again.  It takes time and intention.  It’s much easier to just keep following the momentum we already have.

Lent is about changing direction, turning back toward God.  It’s about picking up the stitches of our spiritual lives and knitting ourselves back to wholeness.   I don’t find either the knitting metanoia or the spiritual metanoia easy but I do find it satisfying.  As my vocation has changed within the church, I have to pick up new structures and routines to stay true to my ordination vows.  When I was preaching every week, I didn’t really have to make an effort to study scripture.  Now, preaching once a month, I have to make an effort to study scripture outside of preparing for a sermon.

Lent is a time to re evaluate what stitches we have dropped and what stitches need to be picked up and knitted in a new direction.  I used a You Tube to get me going in a good direction with a professional method.  The right spiritual community can do the same thing!

Putting together the pieces – 3/23/17

One of the hardest things to do after someone dies is cleaning out their possessions.  Thankfully we have a wonderful place in Rochester to donate yarn, fabric, thread, needles etc (Sew Green) which resells these materials at a reduced price.  Sew Green is run by a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, Georgia Carney.  You get way more than a place to donate your excess fabric and yarn when you go to Sew Green.  You get a pastoral presence and a listening ear as well as expert advice.  If I weren’t still working, I would be hanging out there a lot more.

Letting go of things can be difficult.  Occasionally when we go through the cleaning process we find things that we can’t donate, recycle, or throw away.  Like this:

Here are all the parts of a sweater that needed to be put together.  This sweater had been knitted by my Aunt Rose.  She was an Aunt by choice not by biological relationship and she was an excellent and precise knitter.  After her death, her daughter shipped me these pieces and thought I might be interested in putting it together.  It took me a while to work on it because I was mourning her death.  She had been a wonderful influence on me.  Her love of gardening and cooking, her laugh, and her willingness to try things and go outside her comfort zone.

The sweater needed to be sewn together and then I had to knit the neck line.  It was easy to sew the pieces together since they were knit so well but I sweated the neck since every knitters tension is different.  But it came together.

I shipped it off to her daughter.

I would like to think that someone might finish my projects after I’m gone.  Right now I have a few too many!  But what this made me think about is that there is always work to be done and we may have ownership of a project for a while but then we let it go or give it over to someone else.  It’s good when we can be there  to pick up the pieces, continue the work, and make it whole.

When we live in a community that is based on love, this can happen.  It also reminds me that we don’t have to go it alone.  We don’t have to be alone in our grief, in our work, or in our daily lives.  I am part of a beloved community – St. Mark’s and St. John’s, Sew Green and Grace Church Lyons.  I include my family in these communities whether they are listed on the membership roles or not.  They’re included because they are part of my circle of love.

I know Aunt Rose would have been pleased that her sweater didn’t sit in a drawer but instead was able to broadcast the beauty she saw in her minds eye, when she choose the yarn and knit the stitches.  She too is part of the community of love.

Knitting through grief – 3/22/17

I’ve never done a knit along.  This is when a group of people get together and all work on the same project.  Sometimes this happens in a group that meets face to face to share their work and admire their progress.  Sometimes it happens over the internet with people posting pictures and commenting through social media.

I knew a woman who was grieving the death of her husband and decided she needed a knitting project to focus on that would give her a break from her thoughts.  She took on the Great American Aran Afghan.  This pattern books offers up twenty four squares by twenty four knitters.  Each pattern includes a short biography about the knitter and includes some technique hints.  The Afghan consists of twenty squares and the idea is to take the last four squares and use them for pillows.  This afghan is not for the faint of heart.

My friend decided this was the perfect project for her, so she dived in, bought the yarn and started.  Her best friend for the past fifty years, also a knitter, became intrigued with the project when she heard about it on their daily morning phone calls.  She went out and bought the yarn and the two women embarked on their Great American Aran Afghan Adventure.

When I would talk with my friend she would give me an update on the perils of navigating some very difficult knitting and engineering problems.  She and her friend would discuss each challenge at length over the phone since they were separated by many miles.  The squares started to accumulate.

And the intensity of the grief started to dissipate.  Grief is hard work.  It takes time and attention but using a creative outlet can really help with the intense pain felt by a deep loss.  But it wasn’t just the creative outlet of knitting, it was the friend who decided to walk along side.  She was there every morning on the phone, listening, participating in the project, and just being there for her friend in a profound way.

God works through our hands and feet say the great saints and in this case God was working through a friend who decided to knit along, accompanying her friend during her time of intense grief.  Thank God for her and all those who use their time and talent as Christ would.



Starting again – 3/21/17

This is the key to any discipline, starting again.  I had a plan to write every day during Lent then another priority kicked in – family.  I went to check in with my mother in Florida, that led to a road trip to see the latest grandchild ( the latest greatest grandchild for my mother) Maverick.

Nothing better than a baby to claim our attention.  We were able to spend a few days with Maverick and his two sister, Emma and Scarlet.  Is there a better way to spend time?

I’m not a perfectionist, more of a realist.  However, I have learned that whenever I commit to a discipline, there will come a time where I am unable or unwilling to follow through with my commitment and eventually I will need a restart.

It’s the ability to restart that is important.  When I get off my eating program, I need to restart, when I quit going to the gym, I need to restart, when I quit a spiritual discipline, I need to restart.

So here is the restart.  Don’t give up, restart.  More tomorrow and back to the knitting!

Schematics – 3/16/17

I like patterns with schematics.  Probably because I’m a visual learner and instructions make more sense to me when I can see the finished shape as well as the measurements.  I have saved myself a lot of knitting when I realized that the back of the sweater was actually 22 inches wide instead of 18!

As they say pictures are worth a thousand words.

It’s good to have visual so it’s easy to see if we measure up.  My measurements never match exactly but they get close.  Some projects are easier than others.

Jesus is my schematic.  Although the Jesus I know can be very different than the Jesus I sometimes hear about.  The Jesus I know would be working right beside us in the garden, laying his hands of those who show up for food shelf, chatting up the drug addicts, and standing with those who live in the shadows.  There is a wonderful spiritual discipline called Lecto Divina where we are invited to enter into the Bible story, imagine ourselves there, try on different parts, and see what we see.

I aspire to be the woman at the well.  She has been betrayed, shunned, and still Jesus treats her as one of the apostles.  He sends her out to tell the people who rejected her about him.  She lets go of all of her struggles and is filled with new energy.  The schematic here is very different than what was expected.  It’s not hard to measure up to the schematic of apostle.  Jesus doesn’t look for perfection, he looks for openness, a curiosity, the will to persevere to understand what the living water is all about.  People today are thirsty, come and drink.

Markers – 3/15/17

There are some projects that absolutely require stitch markers.  Lace is a good example especially when there are repeat patterns.  Instructions might read, put a stitch marker every fifteen stitches in the set up row.  Markers keep us from getting lost.  

These markers are made for lace projects and small needles.  They have to be slipped from one needle to the other and when I drop them off the needles accidentally, it can be disastrous.

We need markers, some help to keep us on the right path, something that signals us to do something, start a pattern over, decrease, increase, start a new pattern.  I tend to miss markers.  For me they have to be interesting, noticeable and grab my attention.

These are just a few examples of the creative markers that are out there for knitters.

The colors remind me of the markers in my spiritual life.  I used to have school years as markers.  I had my appendix out my sophomore year of high school, I had my son during the second year of graduate school etc.

Now, I have liturgical markers.  This is Lent, it’s purple, it’s a time of reconciliation, prayer, fasting, and a time to renew my relationship with God.  Soon it will be Easter, white, a time of resurrection, new life.  Then Pentecost, green, a time to grow, ordinary time, a time to be.  After Pentecost, Advent, for some blue others purple, a time to anticipate, to wait, to wonder.  Then the 12 days of Christmas, the inbreaking of the love of God, a time of celebration, followed by Epiphany, the season of light, a time of illumination.  I love these markers.  They tell me where I am.  They signal the things I should focus on in my spiritual life.  They grab me and keep me grounded.