Several years ago, my then spiritual director, Gwen, a Carmelite nun, was on the staff of one of the Catholic churches in Fishers. Each month we met in her office located in the church basement.
Parking in the front lot, I entered the narthex outside the sanctuary, and walked downstairs. Gwen listened to the cries of my heart and brought God's comforting and encouraging presence.
Many times after we finished, I paused in the sanctuary or looked at the art lining the walls. Just inside the front entrance, there was a wooden ledge that held finished prayer shawls. Every month I examined the stack, touched the yarn, admired the pattern knit or crochet knowing that I was holding someone's prayers.
I wondered with longing if the prayers of those who made these precious pieces would become absorbed in my body and bring complete healing that I desired. So I unfolded and refolded each one, making the stack straight and tall, coveting a different one each month.
One year for my September appointment the waters of the mental illnesses I faced seemed to keep my boots stuck in the mud for longer periods. When Gwen and I finished that day, I went right to the prayer shawls as if they were the holy clothes wrapped around Jesus in the tomb.
Examining each one, I found a shawl crochet with brown, green, orange and yellow yarn, reminding me of the trees that were already changing color. These fall colors grabbed my heart. Although I didn't fit into any category designated to receive a shawl - I wasn't physically sick; no one in my family had died; the babies in my home were all grown; I wasn't a member of the church; I had not lost my job - but I took one anyway. I needed something to hold that would offer God's presence in a tangible way. Interestingly, I didn't feel guilty about taking the shawl for each was made with love and prayer for someone hurting - and that was my qualification.
Every night since that day nearly five years ago, I curl the shawl close to my chest, insert my fingers through the open spaces in the crochet design, absorb the love and prayers that went into its creation and fall asleep. In the night if I awaken with fear or anxiety, I loop my fingers around the yarn and grasp the hope of God's presence.
A few years later I decided to send a small donation to the church for their prayer shawl ministry. I included the following note:
"Enclosed you will find a donation for your prayer shawl ministry. I took a prayer shawl and treasure the beautiful way it holds the prayers made by servant hands."
My prayer is that someday all persons who need a picture of God to clutch and cuddle can receive a shawl, not just the people whose needs are physical, more visible or involve grief.