Sister Letter :: Underneath It All


Dear Sister,

The monastery sure is hoppin’ this weekend! We have several visitors, family as well as friends, even an 8 month old baby! It has been so long since I’ve been around a baby for longer than keeping nursery at church. Thankfully I am not the sole person caring for this wee one. My oldest daughter is babysitting the boy so his mom could attend a music conference. It is amazing how much attention these little ones require and just how dependent they are on adults to care for them. A good reminder that I am not as autonomous and independent as I think I am…a child of God for sure, always in need of His love and care!

I’ve been knitting as much as I am able while our guests are here. It is a stabilizing endeavor and one in which I am still able to carry on conversation and be present. In my meditation this morning, I had the recurrent image of a flowing river of thoughts. But underneath the water, was a stable solid rock, embedded securely in the bottom of the river by the soil and sediment around it. It struck me that I am this rock and the soil of Christ’s love and care anchors me in the midst of so many thoughts and feelings flowing through and around me in any given moment.

Holding needles or a hook in my hand provides a similar image. The flow of wool through my fingers is stabilized and sorted as they glide through the needles. The tools of a knitter or crocheter serve to organize the constant flow of fibers, whether single, double or triple plied. Even the repetitive action of these knitterly arts provides something solid and soothing in the midst of whirling activity, whether inside my head and heart or outside events.

You mentioned in your last letter feeling the need for a pajama day…a day to just hang out in jammies, taking it easy. I heartily concur! I’m going to try to do just this in the near future. But not this weekend…full house…full heart…thus the need for hands full of wool!

Your Sister,

Jennifer

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These letters are written to my knitting and crochet Sisters in the monastery of Life, where we long to live out the call of Christ to love others, live quiet lives and work with our hands. 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

Read here for the very first post & Letter.

Sister Letters


In the spring, I had the pleasure of having lunch with a dear friend, whom I don’t get to see very often. She doesn’t live too far away, but it’s enough to make seeing one another regularly, quite a difficult task, not to mention our very full and sometimes frantic lives. I dared to breathe to her a vision I’ve had for a few years now. I shared the not-so-organized, nor all-thought-through dream of living in or creating what I called a “knitting monastery”. As I described this place where sisters would live together committed to a rule of living which included prayer, meditation, daily work and service, her eyes got bigger. I figured she might be interested in a life dedicated to serving God and others through creativity, but not so much to raising sheep, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and stitching of all kinds. She and I are both artists, of the paint and pen sort. But she dared to admit to me her very similar visions of a monastic life devoted to working out art and life as entwined and part of a regular routine. My heart leapt within me to find such a kindred spirit! And we have been writing letters to one another ever since, addressed Dear Sister ______.

One pretty major glitch to our vision is that we are both married and have children. Though we often long to run away to a monastery and actually live a singular life of devotion, we really do love our husbands and families and desire to understand how to bring this singularity of mind and heart to our home lives as well as to our creativity. We each are feeling a need to have a rightly ordered life, one in which we can fully engage in loving and serving our families and others while also devoting ourselves to the call on our lives to create, be that paintings, sketches, or stitches. We are still working this all out, and it is in the Letters to one another that so much is sorted out, if even in the admitting to one another that our lives are out of control and we feel tossed about by the busy-ness of our lives…not quite the single purposed life we long for and imagine our monastery to offer us.

I am starting here, today, blog posts in the form of Letters to my Sister. These are not the actual letters that my friend and I share via email. They will include some of the thoughts and wrestlings, hopes and desires of a woman who longs with everything she has in her to live life fully, to have a singular vision of devotion in my work as an artist and knitter as well as in my life as wife and mother. I know, theoretically, that all of life is Beauty. Everything from the painful to the pretty, the mundane to the magical, is given to us by God to live and love with open hearts and willing hands. I know in my head that it is all, every stitch of it, used by our Father to create the fabric of our lives, which only He, the Master Designer, has in mind. My job is to say, like Mary, “behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy will.” Couldn’t I do this better in a monastery? Wouldn’t this job be easier away from it all, working and serving through the knitterly arts? My sister friend and I are coming to realize, or at least concede that it would likely not be easier at all. Wherever we go, there we are! And so we write to one another of our struggle, of the whisperings we hear from our Father encouraging us to stay the course, to remain in the monasteries of our homes and be faithful to work of our hands, be it drawings or dishes, laundry or stitches.

This first Letter is short, to simply introduce the dialog and get the conversation going. In many ways, YOU are my sister as well, and to you I write these things for your thoughtful consideration and perhaps encouragement. We are all in this together. We are stitching our lives even as the Master Designer knits and weaves His Beauty into everything. May He bless the work of our hands!

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Dear Sister,

How delightful it was to walk by the Common Room notice board and see your note to me there! I have read it with relish a couple of times now and am so very thankful for your honesty, your openness about your particular struggles. They seem to resonate with my own. Being so busy really does seem to hurt, doesn’t it? How can we stop this? This rat race feel to our lives? I hear you as you unpack the myriad of things that vie for your time and attention. Being mothers is a full time and a half job! How do we fit in the making and creating we long to be about? Could it really be that we are better mothers if we devote time and space to being the artists we were made to be? On some level we know this is true! But oh how easy it is to think that the real important work is piled up on our washing machines, or that we should be available to our kids 24/7.

I haven’t any definitive answers on this. However I do have some thoughts. Right now though I need to hop in the car to pick up our daughter from high school. So I will write to you later and post the letter to the Common Room notice board. Thank you again for writing! It is so encouraging to know that someone else desires to hold all of life, the laundry and the knitting, as an offering to Christ, or at least as a way to slow down enough to hear Him, instead of rushing through our lives.

Your sister,

Jennifer

Spears & Hooks

It is a constant marvel to me that hard, sharp and hooked objects are the tools I use to create something soft, warm and enveloping. Could I think of the hard and sharp places in my life in the same manner?

Perhaps it is stretching the matter too far, but it encourages me when I consider that many of the difficult, hard-edged circumstances and daily struggles, might just be the tools that are used to make me a softer, kinder person. Or that at least the fabric of my life is being made beautiful by the piercing and hooking of ongoing trials. 


I have known persons for whom difficulties and suffering have made them hard, crusty individuals. I certainly cannot fault them…I have not walked in their shoes, nor experienced the same things they have. Yet it is my constant hope and prayer that my Father is employing His needles and hooks to create in me a soft, yielding, vibrant fabric to my life and heart. I’m trusting that He who began this good work in me will carry it on to completion.


I am hooking my hope into this promise as well: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV

Knitting through the Seasons of Life


On my morning walks I often imagine my legs are like knitting needles. The rhythmic, scissored, criss-cross of steps create an invisible loop and line all around my neighborhood and surrounding streets. The fact that I have walked these same paths for 13 years is akin to the repetitive daily work of knits and purls which create a beautiful fabric.


What if we could see the fabric of our steps? Would it change the way we experience the daily grind if we knew it was achieving an overall picture of beauty and grace?


Morning walks, though they follow the same pattern every day, continue to enchant me. So does knitting. The subtle changes in and through each season delight the eye as colors shift and diminish; as textures evolve with the changing landscape of yards and fields. These same changes occur in the colors and textures of wools, cottons, linens I choose for knitting and crochet. As I walk on even the hottest or the coldest days, my scissoring legs delight in the movement, carry me through familiar views, allow me to breathe, expand, and return home. The very same can be said of knitting, no matter the season or the weather. 


As I turned another year older, I am grateful for these gifts of walking and knitting. They are a grace in my life that continues to sustain, enchant, offer solace and sanity, and to lead me home. May we continue this daily delightful work of regular stitches and familiar steps, keeping in mind that though we may not see it, something beautiful is being made!

But I Can Knit!

My husband stood there gawking at me, unsure how to proceed. It was an awkward moment but there was a slight smile on his face. You see, I had made the coffee early that morning, as I always do when I come downstairs. He had gotten me a new coffee maker, as the old one (really really REALLY old) had fallen apart. Literally. It had been the kind that needed a paper cone-shaped filter. This new one required a paper basket-shaped filter to be placed down into a removable plastic basket.

I had made coffee in this shiny new red coffee maker for several days now. Delicious hot coffee to wake me in the morning. This particular morning it seemed to gargle and spurt a wee bit more than usual. There was some kind of water or brownish stuff leaking out the bottom, but oh that could be explained by a little spillage as I poured the water into the reservoir. I wiped it up. No biggie. Poured myself a cuppa. Good stuff.

But when my husband came downstairs, he stood there asking – Honey…what happened here?

What became evident to everyone standing around by this time (son and daughter too!) was that, whoever made the coffee that morning had forgotten to put the plastic basket into the gizmo. With only a thin paper holding the coffee as it brewed…well…you can imagine.

My son just grinned, got a cup of coffee, and went somewhere else to laugh. Hubby cleaned up the mess. I grabbed my knitting and sat down. Yeesh.

The thing is…things like this are happening more often as I get older. I know, I know…51 is not old. But I seem to be having little glitches of memory, temporary spots of insanity every now and then. For now, they are cute, funny, laugh-off-able.

Later that afternoon, sitting in the living room with my son as he did college homework (he was home on break that week), I was knitting the lace pattern on the yoke of a new sweater. Well, actually I was realizing that as I had stayed up late the night before in a lace-knitting frenzy, I had made a mistake. One little mistake that led to the last four rounds of knitting being off and therefore wrong in one section. When I realize things like this, I put my knitting down and get up and do something. I chose to fold laundry, to put dishes in the dishwasher, pick up stuff and put it away. As I do all this, I ruminate…shall I tink back four whole rows? Shall I just frog it and hope that the cotton/linen yarn will hold their stitches enough for me to get all two hundred and ninety some-odd stitches back on the needles? Should I put in a life-line? Or could I just unknit each stitch down to the fourth row below and re-knit it back up as I do for a dropped stitch? And then could I do this for about twenty stitches AND keep it in the lace pattern, complete with yarn overs, k2togs and ssks?? Hmmm.

I returned to my knitting, with a plan sorted out in my head. I would try the latter idea picking out each stitch with a crochet hook and if that went awry, I would frog it all back to before the offending lace errors. Carefully, ever so carefully, reading each stitch up and down the four vertical lines of rows and following the lace pattern, I unknitted and reknitted, repurled, and made all the stitches, one by one, as called for. I surveyed the resulting fabric and blurted out without thinking –

“D#%n, I’m good!”

Now I’m not one typically taken to such flowery language so you can understand my son’s surprise at this exclamation! I stood up, did a little dance (something to the tune of “I fixed my knitting, I fixed my knitting!” and sat back down to utter these words with some volume:

“I may not be able to make coffee properly, but I CAN FREAKIN’ KNIT!!!”

There is hope, when I am actually old, and can’t remember where I put my teeth, that I will still be able to knit, purl, k2tog, psso, yo, ssk and all the rest!

***

“A life in knitting is a life worth living.”

I just thought of that.

You can quote me on it. 🙂

Trying to Find the Words

I’ve been trying to find the words, but they just won’t come. I sit with knitting in my lap, needles clicking on socks, a sweater, and I swoon. No, maybe “swoon” isn’t the word. It’s a feeling like that though…of love and adoration, for the color, the texture, the yarn, the process of hands moving, producing a fabric.

But there’s something else too, that the word “swoon” doesn’t touch. There’s memory, of past times when I sat making the very same stitches but for my children, or when I was healing, or for gifts for friends, or knitting with my mom or my daughters.

And then there’s focus. A settling down and into a rhythm I would prefer to spend my days. A pace that isn’t frenzied. A repetition of hands that allows my mind to muse and sort out the days events. An anchoring activity that no matter what else is going on, this, these stitches remain the same. And I can do these simple stitches, one after the other, and eventually accomplish something, SOMETHING at least!

All this you say? In the stitches of knit and purl? Well, yes. And yet, so much more. Can the love of knitting be put into words? Perhaps not. Perhaps that is why knitting is wordless, soundless, except for the clicking of needles, the faint swishing of hands.

Perhaps not every knitter swoons. I imagine sometimes the women of past generations who knitted out of necessity, may have just knitted to be knitting and “swooning”, or whatever that feeling is, wasn’t a part of the process for them. But I’m sure some of them did. And perhaps they too couldn’t find the words to describe it.

I’m seeing now that there are a few words here. As little as they may make sense, I have found some words to begin to describe the swelling of my heart, that fullness of contentment, as I knit. Sometimes I even have to put my knitting down just to revel in it without moving the needles, to try to pin down exactly what is going on there as I knit. But then it shyly scoots away and only revisits again when I’m lost in knitting…

…no words, just the clicking of needles and colorful yarn running through my hands.

Everyday Stitching

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If I could climb into each knitted stitch…there would be something there to learn.

weavingspring

If I could freeze a moment in the warp & weft of everyday living…I might be able to find what it feels like I am missing.

I want to be able to experience the same wonder and marvel at ordinary knit stitches, made over and over again, in my everyday tasks. Is it possible to approach laundry, meal prep, cleaning, errands, and all the myriad of things we do every single day, day in and day out, over and over, with the same stillness, calm, and enjoyment as the over/under of weaving?

I don’t know. I haven’t been able to master that. At all.

I’m reading a wondrous book. Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren, is a beautifully honest, life affirming litany of the mundane tasks we engage in every day. Her writing encourages me to remember that these same tasks, boring and never-ending as they are, have the opportunity to be oases from which to drink of the goodness God has for us.

Yes! Yes..this is what I long for. For many months now, I’ve been craving a more contemplative life. I long for this in my creative life as well…to make things slowly, carefully, with presence in body and purpose of mind and heart. I even daydream of living a type of monastic life filled with daily prayer, meditation, knitting, spinning, weaving.

It sounds idyllic. Well, to me it does. The thing is…I would still have meals to prepare. Cleanup afterwards. Laundry to do. Lightbulbs to replace. Repairing broken things. Upkeep and maintenance of everyday appliances. Etc. I’m actually quite spoiled in those latter few…my husband does most of the upkeep and maintenance around our home. And yet I still grumble about all the other stuff that seems to fill much of my days.

I’m in sore need, here at the beginning of a New Year, of reorienting my mind and heart to this truth:

“The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.” -Tish Warren

promiseofspring3

Like knitting the same stitch over and over and over again. Like running a thread over and under and over again. This is where beauty is wrought. I know this. I believe this.

Lord, help my unbelief.

The thing is, I’m a dreamer. I dream of grand things, of accomplishments, of revolutionary beauty being brought into the world. Tish Warren does too:

“I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes.” 

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I won’t get to wear the sweater or give the knitted gift, until I’ve slogged through countless knit stitches. I won’t see a lovely tapestry until I’ve worked the over-under over and over again.

Yes. Today. Tomorrow. And on through 2017.

Knit my stitch. Weave my thread. Do my dishes.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer