One of the first to get a prayer shawl was my friend Hannah. Made in hand-dyed botany lace weight yarn, she received it with a sense of wonder. It went everywhere with her and marked a new freedom in her prayer life alongside a greater sense of worth. But after a few years I got a call asking, ‘Can you come’? Something was wrong but she wouldn’t say over the phone. I went. Her distress was palpable. ‘Please don’t be upset! You see, when I wrapped Sally in it to pray with her, I felt compelled to pass it on.’
Touched, challenged and aware of what a sacrifice this was, I thought of the luxury shawl I had knitted for myself. It was special …. worn and loved …… but like Hannah I knew what I had to do. Prayer shawls talk if you will listen……… Hannah was overwhelmed and loves wearing it in spite of its second hand status.
During the Covid lockdown I decided to make another for me. It would be darker, with maybe a flash of muted colour here and there. This is how the yarn appeared online; subtle with hints of jewel-like shades peeping through seductively – like dusty stained glass windows at twilight
But no, taking shape under busy fingers was a jazz festival in full glare of the midday sun! Subtle it was not. How could I get it so wrong?
‘That’s one to cheer you up’, commented my ‘crafty’ sister. Hmm ….. I wonder who needs their life brightening up that much? Need to start listening again ……
No use asking Benedict. He was above such frivolity – or was he?
According to Esther de Waal in her book, Seeking God – a pillar of the Benedictine Rule is Conservatio Morum. Difficult to translate now because of semantics and culture; it’s something like turning your face constantly to God, not knowing where it will lead, what you may be asked to do or what is likely to be the outcome. That is what Benedictine monks and nuns sign up to for life.
Esther de Waal says : ’It is a recognition of God’s unpredictability, which confronts our own love of cosiness or safety. It means that we have to live provisionally, ready to respond to the new, whenever and however that might appear. There is no security here, no clinging to past certainties. Rather we must expect to see our chosen idols successively broken. It means a constant letting go……..’
Wow! Not only does that speak to me about shawls and other personal stuff, it also has something to say about the state of the world post COVID. If only we were post COVID! It will be with us for some time, we are told, maybe forever. Scary. How much more social distancing can we take before the global economy collapses?
But if every creature on this planet adopted the principle of Conservatio Morum – there would be so much more reason to hope.