The story of a prayer shawl
An old song timelessly echoes through the ages. Today it rings in my heart. I can hear my mother sing it as she cradles my little brother or sister in her arms so many years ago. I feel it vibrating in my ear drum as I rock my child to sleep for a nap two decades earlier. I can imagine grandmother’s on the unbroken plains singing it while they feed the little ones their breakfast of mush and cream.
“Whisper a prayer in the morning,
Whisper a prayer at nooon,
Whisper a prayer in the evening
God keeps your heart in tune.”
Many of my crochet projects are done in specific colors and for specific needs. Shawls, mittens, scarves, afghans, hats, baby blankets and doilies. So many projects get forgotten. So many projects for someone special or for nobody in particular at all. Making the prayer shawl is probably one of my most serene and peaceful experiences.
Through out my house are many shades of color. Eclectic decor was never my original hope some decades ago when my grandmother first taught me to crochet. Never one to consider the large room effect of adding some item to the landscape, a project usually begins with only a thought for what might be on hand. Having tunnel vision in my home is advantages as looking at more than one afghan could be quite a dizzy experience.
There are always leftover yarns. And the leftover yarn projects. Rugs, mittens, hats, afghans, and shawls get the remains in many varying patterns that almost look planned. My mother always calls the leftover meals planned overs. In her quilting there are no pieces of fabrics for the waste bin. Near my working zone I have a stash of scraps that can be used for tied markers or for fringes, or for unbeknownst purposes. About once a month I go through all the projects, arrange their priority and consider who is in need of what gift. Sometimes the gifts sit longer that expected, incomplete or forgotten. Oops.
So this past week as more prayer needs of those loved ones close to me came into focus, I decided it was time to do another prayer shawl.
This prayer shawl has been on my mind for some time. It has so many meanings and thoughts behind the sequences, and colors. The pattern itself is the “Apache Tears Stitch.” I have wanted to do this since the first time I saw it. The “trail of tears” when taken into a prayer has so much meaning.
Consider the natives driven off of their beloved lands and put into reservations. The tears of their lost livelihoods must be a cause for pause as we consider the trials of the modern dilemma. Whether we know the story and plight of those who lived on the plains before us or not, the tearful wailing of change wrought by the hands of another person, reminds us that people can be both cruel and kind.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joy” is a spiritual lesson that few really understand. The best example we have for this is childbearing. The idea that birth is brought forth from pain aught to give us great respect for our mothers who bore us. The joy of holding a newborn baby cannot be fully explained without reference to the begetting. While not beautiful on the face, the trailing tears on this shawl are both desirable and attractive. Though Carrie Underwood just debuted her song “You can’t cry pretty” this blanket seems to defy that.
The frosted green, a hint of growth, comes from the leftovers of the new sofa afghan that was made anew. Green signifies growth and spring. We have had our share of long, winter leftovers this April. But a prayer shawl with some green in it gives hope. This same color popped up through our leaf pile over the flower bed this week. It’s shade of pale green indicated that some tulips and irises were trying to find the sunshine. Spring has finally sprung.
Watery Turquoise is both the symbol of tears and washing. A cleansing experience cannot be accomplished without water. So some blue water must be in this shawl. This turquoise was leftover from a doily patterned shawl. I had planned to wear it with my dress for my daughter’s wedding but that didn’t happen.
While blood, sweat and tears characterized our Lord’s prayerful vigil in the garden of the night before his crucifixion, Claret red is the closest color that I could get to blood. The atonement for sin is blood. This is a sacrificial phenomenon that has existed since the first garden’s disobedient rebellion. What prayer shawl would be complete without the hint of this sacrifice? Christ’s tears, his shed blood, and the trail that was left on his face from the crown of thorns upon His brow. What tears I have shed seem so minimal in comparison.
Rosalee pink is color of skin. The skin of the palm of the hand is pink. No matter what color the top of the hand, the palms are all the same. Some years ago I first learned “red and Yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…”. The pale pink of skin unbleached by the sun was what I though of when I saw this color. The palm and the bottoms of feet are the same hue. Perhaps it’s the pale pink skin that has been bleached by the lack of the sun. While in our flesh we get so distracted with our vanity and our looks that we fail to take into considerations the short time we will be here in these tents. Whatever color your tent is, remember that having an eternal purpose keeps us humble.
In the dark of the night, while the stars burn bright, God never slumbers so don’t you fright. Navy blue is the night sky’s color. While we often sleep all through the night, there are those times when waking, our minds wander towards the care of some individual. Reminding us that God is always watchful can be such a comfort.
Hands folded in prayer have been used for many artisan themes. Some have sculpted wood, stone, and pottery. Others have painted and photographed hands in prayer. One of my favorite pictures is of the elder sitting at the table in prayer. One of both the man and the woman has been done. I haven’t seen this painting in someone’s home for some time.
The pattern of five that is sequentially repeated can teach us so much. When I am asked what I am doing, I often respond with “Counting in sequence.” The stitch for this shawl can be done in many sequences, but because it is a prayer focus, I chose five. Four single crochets (into the back loop chain ) followed by the tear (a dropped treble stitch attached to the third row down). I also chose to double each color in the reminder of two hands folded in prayer.
Five colors in sequence three times. There are so many times that prayers are ended with “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” These three are one. We were blessed recently to attend a local Catholic college spring choir event. After the vocal selections, we visited with two nuns from the monastery. An attendee dipped his fingers into the holy fountain and made the symbol of the three crossed over the heart that we see so frequently. Some forget what it even means. The spiritual baptism and change of heart blessed my thoughts as i considered the gentleman’s actions. The prayer sequenced in three times or words repeated three times are a favorite emphasis tool used in both spoken and written word. So the sequence of the colors is repeated three times. Like prayer morning, noon, and night. Three meals. Three times.
This prayer shawl may have a recipient. Or it may not. I will definitely do another one. I learned I didn’t quite begin with the first chain links long enough for a full wrap of the shoulders, so another one is being constructed in my mind already. Morning, noon, and night the prayers will continue to rise heavenward as I lift up those in need.
While I am sitting in my chair instead of bending on my knees, the project sits on my knees and my prayers continue to rise with each stitch.
Each piece that the choirs sang were prefaced by the tuning sound from the directors pitch pipe. It occurred to me that this little instrument is a lot like the prayer vigils of the nuns. As they go through their days so wholly focused on a Holy God, their days find a rhythm in this pitch pipe of prayer. Oh how I would like to remain in tune throughout my days.
“God answers prayer in the morning,
God answers prayer at noon,
God answers prayer in the evening,
He will keep your heart in tune.”