Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Prayer Shawl

It’s 4:30 in the morning. I ease myself out of bed, careful not to wake my husband. I get up, throw on my robe and pad out to the kitchen for my coffee. The hot liquid stimulant is as much a part of my ritual as any other aspect, and on some mornings, much more needed. At this hour the house is still and quiet. I can hear the clock tick and the refrigerator hum. This is my meditation and prayer time, before the sun rises, before the clutter of the day attacks my consciousness.

I like to open the curtains on the window so I can stare out to the sky. If it’s cloudless, I can see the stars. This week, I’ve been able to see Orion’s belt from my east-facing windows. I always hope to see a falling star, like a sign God is joining me, but I rarely do. It’s been cooler in the mornings, the chilled breath of fall seeping inside. I throw a blanket over my legs and settle in to "my chair" with my coffee mug warming my hands. Then I reach down for my prayer shawl, holding its sacred length tenderly.

When my son was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, we were cruelly launched into a whirlwind of appointments with specialists and life-altering conversations and decisions. One Sunday, when I felt like I was drowning in all the medical hoopla and worry, I grudgingly showed up for church, feeling more like hiding and skulking than "fellowshipping."  Despite my furtive demeanor, a friend approached me. Catherine, dressed in a long skirt, peasant top, and sandals, walked up to me and handed me a small, brown bag, “I have to go to work, but I’m glad I caught you,” she said.

I smiled. Reaching into the bag, I pulled out a lovely crocheted scarf.

“It’s a prayer shawl,” she said.

I knew it was her creation; I’d seen her handiwork before. It was made of the softest of yarn, a lovely subtle green, like the color of lichen, with bands of purple and turquoise and mossy brown decorating it. I gasped. “Oh, it’s so lovely!”

“I hope it brings you comfort.” She smiled and gave me a hug before leaving.

Once home, I looked up the meaning and tradition of prayer shawls, sometimes called a mantle, peace or comfort shawls. Prayer shawls come from an ancient Jewish tradition, rooted in the Bible. The word tallit, the Hebrew word, is made up of two smaller words, tal meaning “tent” and ith meaning “little”.  A prayer shawl is meant to be a hiding place with God, a covering and protection while praying.

According to the Shawl Ministry, green symbolizes the earth, healing, prosperity, fertility, clarity, sympathy, hope, renewal, health, balance, confidence, abundance, growth and life. 

As I snuggle in my chair with my coffee and reading material, watching the sun awaken the sky, I finger the soft mantle, draping it carefully over my shoulders. It's leaf-like hue is appropriate for the many emotions and needs brewing in my heart and unsettled mind.



When I cover my shoulders in this shawl, I think of Catherine and all the friends who have reached out to us, and I feel wrapped, not just in yarn, but in sweet love and comfort. I feel their prayers.


As the yarn’s journey starts,
It becomes a prayer that comes from the shawl maker’s heart,
The yarn becomes a journey of silent prayer,
Through it’s twists and knots, the prayer is still there,
The quiet clicking or the swish of the yarn,
Tells you the prayer is still going on,
The Shawl maker adds on another skein,
The prayer is anew and doesn’t wane,
As time goes by and the shawl maker’s mind sometimes wanders,
The yarn goes on and prayerfully ponders,
A prayer is said and the stitching subsides,
The yarn comes to an end and is knotted and tied,
It begins a new journey and given with prayer,
It’s Hope, Faith and Love the recipient wears,
But in the silent echoes you can prayerfully hear,
The prayers, the quiet clicking, and the swish of the yarn,
The yarn never ceases and its silent prayers are still going on…
(prayer source)



34 comments:

  1. Julie, everything about this blog post is so warm and comforting.....just like your prayer shawl! Thank you for sharing your story and the meaning of the shawl. I've heard of a prayer blanket, or prayer shawl, and I'm glad to know more about it. I love how you so humanly proclaimed you really didn't feel like going to church, and then your wonderful friend had such a thoughtful gift for you! Big hugs to you!

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    1. Hi Becky-- what sweet feedback. Thank you. I love the symbolism of the prayer shawl, especially when someone is going through something difficult. It can be so hard to find tangible ways to comfort, and I loved her creative expression in finding that way.

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  2. Beautiful and comforting --- just like our Father God holding us in His arms. How He longs to do that! A wonderful post, Julie.

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    1. And I love when friends allow themselves to be the human delivery of that love-- it's so sweet.Thanks, Mary Ann. :)

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  3. It was so thoughtful of your friend to knit you a lovely prayer shawl. Both of our boys began wearing tallits at their bar mitzvahs. I'm sending lots of positive thoughts to you and your family. Your son is fortunate to have a mom who shows him the beauty in all things.

    Julie

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    1. Julie, I loved learning about the tradition and the meaning. I learned about the tassels (which mine doesn't include) of the traditional talits. It's beautiful and meaningful.

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    2. oops "tallits" I hit publish and realized I misspelled it.

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  4. Well written, Julie. I felt like I was right there with you waking up, drinking coffee, and watching the morning sky. I could see the shawl vibrantly, in my own hands, and feel everything you were feeling as if it were my own emotions. :) Sending love and prayers your way as you continue on this journey.

    Xo,
    Anna

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    1. Hi Anna-- thanks for stopping by and for such sweet affirmation. And thank you for the prayers-- we'll take them!

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  5. Beautifully put, as always! I'm sending positive thoughts your way. Stay strong!

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    1. Yup-- that we will do. Thanks, Daynelle. :)

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  6. That is so lovely and what a sweet and thoughtful gift. I imagine as you are wrapped in the comfort of the shawl, you also wrap yourself in the comfort of His words and pleadings of your heart to Him...Hope your son is okay...Is this in the past and he's come through it, or is it a recent development?

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    1. Hi Lisa-- it's just a cozy feeling to wrap it around my shoulders-- both for the warmth and for the heart. He was diagnosed this summer, so it's a current journey. We are confident we will see it through to the healing side. Thank you.

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  7. Beautifully-written, Julie! Having a prayer shawl sounds like a wonderful idea. My prayers are with you and your son, take care!

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    1. Thanks for the prayers and for stopping by :)

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  8. Hi Julie, I appreciate your words on the post about my dad. What a wonderful gift you received. I'm sorry to hear about your son, and I will be thinking of him, you, and your family through this time. He's got a strong, caring mom to give him what he needs through this.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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    1. Ahhh so hard. I have a writer friend who has gone through all kinds of hard stuff lately too-- a lot of hurt out there. Glad we have our writing to comfort us (and family and dear friends). Thanks for your kind words.

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  9. We have a prayer shawl, made by our church's prayer shawl ministry. It was given to us when we were leading the singles ministry. And last Sunday, our pastor gave a full history of it and how it represents the shadow and the wings of God.

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    1. Oh Diane, I didn't see that reference online-- sounds so beautiful. What a wonderful ministry for a church to offer people.

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  10. This was lovely, Julie. Quite moving. Those words sound simpler than I want them to, because I was touched even more by this post and the tradition of the prayer shawl. I was touched by the woman's care and generosity and thoughtfulness.

    I too, have a prayer shawl...actually a Jewish tallit, of which you mentioned. It's beautiful, and has tassels down the sides with larger ones in the corners that you twist or something when you pray. I can't remember for sure. I'll have to take a picture. From the House of David or Joshua or somebody.

    This truly was a special post. It reminded me that maybe now is the time to break out the tallit and return to church. I've avoided going for four months.

    Thanks for this today.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. I saw pictures of the real thing in my research-- lovely and I love the meaning. Yes, I saw something about the meaning of the tassels too but didn't pursue it since mine wasn't like that-- taken directly from the Bible I think.

      Church can be a lot of intimate confrontation when you're still feeling all hiding inside.

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  11. I love the tradition of prayer shawls; your post expresses it so eloquently. And your shawl is positively gorgeous. I'm glad it gives you so much comfort, Julie:)

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    1. I love the meaning too, but never explored it much before now. Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  12. I love the idea of the prayer shawl. And yours is beautiful. What I love about this story even more is how this person knew what you needed the most when you needed it. How did she know that? Stories like this renew my spirit and belief that we are not here alone, that God is looking out for us and works in mysterious ways!

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    1. Margo, I believe God leads people in this way, too. Which, in turn, reminds me that I need to be a willing vessel too.

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  13. Wow, thanks for sharing, Julie...

    I know it's "only" a piece of fabric, but I can understand the power behind your prayer shawl.... my wife had a miscarriage in 2006 and a friend gave us a special throw with the words "An Angel is Looking Over You" and that throw was a life-saver to me on many occasions over the following year...

    (And even though we have been blessed with the three boys, the throw still takes pride of place, as it hangs over one of the couches in our living room...)

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    1. Oh yes, your throw is like my prayer shawl-- it's just symbolic of love and comfort and of people who offered that to us during a difficult time.

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  14. Awesome. Wow--now that's a true friend. I think sometimes the Lord allows tragedies to strike just so we can be uplifted by the angels around us, and sometimes so we can pass on his love to others. Thanks for sharing this, Julie.

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  15. Julie this is lovely. It reminded me of a dear friend's husband. He had Alzheimer's but was still functioning. On his last day he had an unusual spurt of energy at church. He prayed with the Pastoral team, sang out beautifully in choir and enjoyed a brownie at the fellowship hour. At home after lunch, his wife tucked him in his prayer shawl in his favorite chair and went into the bedroom. When she came back, he had quietly slipped from the comfort of our love to his home in eternity. Prayer shawls are holy for the love and comfort they offer.

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    1. Oh this story is so touching. I'm so glad you shared it. Just the image you wrote feels sacred. Thank you.

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