Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wrought by Prayer

Today's must read for Church Ladies, "Sock Knitting and the Christian Life" comes from CJ at Light and Momentary.

The weekend before last I started knitting a pair of Monkeys. Then I started again. And again, and again. On the fifth try, I got them going. (A 32-inch needle is really too short for magic loop, but it can work if you are stubborn enough.)

A couple of days later I talked to a dear friend who has been having a hard time. I got it into my head that I would make these socks for her, praying for her whenever I sat down to knit, and offering up the frustrations that came my way in the process. I wondered if this was a dumb idea, and if maybe I should just take her a casserole if I wanted to do something concrete. But I think, on reflection, that sock knitting and the Christian life have more in common than you might expect.

Both require perseverance, for one thing. A pair of socks requires about 30,000 stitches, which roughly corresponds to the number of days in an average American woman's life. It takes patience and discipline to keep going through all those stitches, all those days. Sometimes I am tempted to throw my knitting across the room, or throw up my hands and plan a move to New Zealand. Second Sock Syndrome is a fine metaphor for midlife, "the long, dull, monotonous years," as Screwtape advised Wormwood, which are "excellent campaigning weather."

Remember the bit in A Wrinkle in Time where one of the Mrs. W ladies compared human life to a sonnet? The form presents many constraints, she said, but you are free to make something lovely of it. So also with socks. Within the requirements of cuff, leg, heel, gusset, foot, toe, you have the freedom to do whatever suits you: lace or cables or top-down or toe-up or some kind of crazy Cat Bordhi sideways thing. One of my friend's struggles is the question of (paraphrasing cautiously here) how human freedom and divine sovereignty intersect -- does God intervene in the details of our lives? I cannot address the theological fine points, but I am certain that there are many ways for a Christian woman to fashion something beautiful out of her days, or her yarn.

I was well into the toe decreases when I spotted a dropped stitch back up in the leg. I felt like an idiot. I thought, "I can't even post to Ravelry to ask how to fix it because they'll all know I'm an idiot. Plus they will look at my notebook and see my ugly sweater cast-ons." Then I got a grip, and realized that this would be Exhibit A in how not to live the Christian life. Mistakes happen. You fix them the best you can. Misplaced pride only keeps you from getting where you're going.

Non-knitters really don't get sock knitting. You're knitting a sock? When you could buy a sock at Target for approximately 35 cents? You're spending all that time on a sock that will go on someone's smelly foot and eventually get holes in it? As my husband said when I, full of pride, showed him my first finished adult sock, "Ah, yes, an excellent use of 20 hours of your life." I did not poke him with a dpn, though I thought about it, because sock knitting teaches a person patience (and the importance of not breaking dpns). Here, too, I think the parallel is clear: you can devote yourself to fashioning a chain of tidy stitches or a string of well-ordered days, but usually those efforts will be hidden. (There are occasional mothering moments that I might compare to being stuffed in a smelly shoe.) Always, in socks and life, the result is ephemeral. Make it beautiful anyway.

The last line of the instructions for these socks says, "Block well." Blocking, for any non-knitters with the patience to read this far (and that's a lot of patience! you should think about taking up sock knitting with all that patience!), means that I will swish the sock in water and press out the excess gently. I will pin it out, stretching it in all directions, and leave it to dry. This will open out the lace pattern and even out the stockinette stitch, so that it looks the way the designer meant it to look. While I am blocking I will pray for my stretched-thin friend again, for peace and trust amid the stretching. I believe that in the seasons when we feel like we've been stretched too far and hung out to dry, God can work in us, calling forth the women we were meant to be. I would appreciate it if you'd pray for her, too.

1 comment:

Thérèse said...

What a beautiful reflection! I can't help but be reminded of the weird New-Agey Prayer Shawl stuff* we were reading the other week. I couldn't quite figure out what it was trying (and failing) to do, but this exactly it!

Also, what a gorgeous sock pattern. I can't help but think how Delighted the College-Age Church Ladies would be/would have been to have such hosiery. Knee-high, of course.

*note to PS devotees: I'm sure there is some good stuff on Prayer Shawls out there. This wasn't it.