Sister Letter :: An Aching Beauty

Dear Sister,

I sit with my own handspan wool in my hands, knitting it into an Elder Tree Shawl. There is frost on the ground and a crocheted afghan on my lap. All is quiet in the monastery. I am the only one up this day after Thanksgiving. We are full to the brim here with oldest daughter and her husband, middle son and his girlfriend from Texas and our dear youngest girl. We have feasted on food and laughter, family, games and a puzzle. Today we might just get a tree and decorate it.

But in these quiet moments I’m filled with something that can only be called joy, though it is dressed not in gaiety, though that is certainly part of it. There is also an ache. A fullness so full to overflowing it verges on overwhelm. I cannot contain it all. All. That is a huge word. For it contains all the memories of Thanksgivings throughout the years, of how life is changing, of where we have been, all that has happened in our little family, and even thoughts of what might be to come. I cannot hold all this. It hurts. And yet it is beautiful.

I have long been familiar with this kind of ache. The ache of longing and Beauty. I feel it when I spin wool and knit. I feel it when I put paint to paper. And at various times thoughout the days, sometimes hitting me with such force I name it “sadness” or “depression”. But really there’s joy behind it all, underneath it all, beribboned throughout it all. Joy has an element of ache…don’t you think so?

I believe this is what Mary was experiencing when she “treasured all these things in her heart.” She could not contain all the memories even of her young life, of her encounter with the Angel, of carrying a baby for 9 months even though she had not been with Joseph or any other man, of enduring the scorn of that, of the travel to Bethlehem, the pain of childbirth and now this…this wonder of wonders…a baby King, the Messiah whom she nursed and swaddled. Indeed I felt this aching beauty after the births of my own dear children who are now sleeping upstairs. The hopes and fears of all the years…yes, so many moments. So many fears. So many hopes.

It occurs to me as I write these words that help is contained in this beloved Christmas carol-

“the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

When I struggle to hold it all, to contain the memories, the hopes and fears, I can remember that I have One who can and does hold it all. That wee Christ child, God come to earth, carries all my, all our, hopes and fears. In Him, they are met and knitted into something exquisite, breathtaking.

I’m beginning to hear stirrings upstairs. Not the pitter patter of little feet as in days gone by. But the thumpity thump of teen/adult feet slowly starting to move. I shall sit here for as long as I can knitting my shawl with this achingly beautiful yarn. Joy in it all. Letting Christ hold it all!

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 :: Silence

Dear Sister,

They say Silence is Golden. It is certainly palpable around here now that our guests have gone. I relish the silence. Our youngest does not.  I must confess that I do miss our oldest daughter and her sweet presence. And as much as I adore a quiet & contemplative space, what happens in my creative mind is anything but quiet.

Much like race horses held behind gates at the start of a race…or a stack of papers held at the ready for flipping through…I feel the tension build during times when creative ideas and juices are not given free reign. Busy times, a full house, and yes holidays, create this kind of containment and boundary around the ability to pursue any of the crazy ideas I may be tossing around in my head and heart. Sometimes I feel much like a wild animal frothing at the mouth, just waiting for the signal to run free! When the gate is opened, or the first paper launched, they all come tumbling out, flying and lurching forward at an alarming speed. I can barely hold it back. Perhaps I’m not supposed to. Or perhaps I need to develop even further discipline to contain the creative horses even when circumstances inhibit free expression.

And so it has been this week: continuing to teach my lovely knit and crochet classes to Sisters wanting to develop their craft, while also giving room for exploring a couple of ideas I’ve had for quite a while. One is a crocheted Advent Shawl. The other is a plan for sketching and drawing through the December days leading up to Christmas. Both are ways for me to focus in on Christ and His Coming, rather than simply give in to the whirl of holiday hustle and bustle. But I fear that I may be creating another layer of activity. What I need is to let go of some things to make room for more thoughtful making and stitching. Would you pray for me in this? Would you pray that I might be able to hear my Father’s voice in it? Even in, and perhaps especially in my creative life, I long to live rightly ordered, so that I might walk this Life in stillness and a slow pace for catching all of the beauty Christ has for me.

What a treasure your last letter was, which you posted on the notice board to me. I laughed and laughed at your account of hospitality gone awry, or at least what we think is so inferior in our attempts at this holy work of offering our home to others. It is not for the faint of heart. Certainly not easy. But I think I would do well to let go of my own expectations of what I have to offer and simply focus on the guests. I am wanting to do this next week as we walk toward the Thanksgiving holiday and on into the Christmas season.

One stocking is done. The next one has begun! These stitches are delicious. Truly, I feel it so! They remind me to slow down. To relish the humble, simple, overlooked elements of life. How is your stitching? Your sketches and drawings? May they reveal the heart of our Father’s constant care and attention.

Your Sister,

Jennifer

Sister Letter :: Hospitality

Dear Sister,

The peregrinos are still here. I call our guests that to help me in the work of hospitality that I am so dreadful at offering. I’m imagining our monastery being visited by the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Compostela, for certainly that is what we all are: pilgrims in the land, walking the Way of Life. Can I not joyfully offer the gift of hospitality to those in need of bed and breakfast as they sojourn here for just a little while? I seem to be able to offer it, but joyfully is the issue at hand.

I’m nearing the end of knitting a stocking for my oldest daughter. I will then begin the stocking for her husband. This is an exciting project for me, as I adore the fair isle pattern with a bit of lacework at the top, trimmed in a beaded stitch. It is, in and of itself, a journey, a pilgrimage of stitches, walking through this glorified sock from cuff to heel to toe and back to knit the actual heel at the end. Then there will be weaving in ends and blocking, the less glamorous work albeit very necessary to the overall piece. Hospitality feels to me something like weaving in ends and blocking. Would that it felt more like the fanciful fair isle knitting. Perhaps our Father can work this in my heart, knitting a deeper love for service into my baskets of wool.

In meditation and prayer this morning, I was reminded that we are to remain in the present moment, enjoying all that God brings us right then and there. When I stay in this posture, I do enjoy our pilgrim hostel much more, finding beauty in faces and conversations. The minute I allow my thoughts to cling to all the stuff sitting around the house, the elevated noise level, the comings and goings, and a sense that I am responsible for all meals, etc…then I am in trouble, resenting the gift I have to offer…hospitality. I am a work in progress, just like my knitting projects. I am thankful that Christ is ever patient with me.

Do let me know how I can be praying for you. I continue to lift up those things which you have entrusted to my knowledge and I ask for His presence with you in each of those situations. May you have a couple of times today to rest and reflect on His love and care.

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

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

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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