Every Stitch a Prayer
I dreamt I saw a dark-haired woman clad in blue. She sat at a simple table in a light-filled room, working at a piece of tapestry. “This is how your life looks,” she told me. She gently dissuaded me when I tried to view the woven cloth: “That is not for you to know.”
I just glimpsed a sea of pinks, greens, and blues interspersed with bits of silver thread before she pulled away the cloth. She stitched according to a pattern that I could not discern, and as she worked she smiled at me. “Each silver stitch is a prayer you offered. Each gleam marks a time you called out to Jesus.”
I blushed when I saw whole rows of color bereft of silver. I thought of my own poor needlework at home, rough and unfinished. She smiled again when she saw my distress, and she pulled a new silver thread through the cloth. “Every stitch is a prayer,” she repeated. “Make your every stitch a prayer.”
How to survive Catholic Convert Culture Shock
I joined a parish needlework guild some months ago, relieved to have found a mode of service my Evangelical sensibilities could rest on in a sea of unfamiliar piety. As a new convert and a life-long Evangelical, I don’t yet “speak” Catholic. Every month brings something new to bemuse me.
I puzzled over the phrase “New Evangelization” until my husband translated the term: “Honey, it just means evangelism.” And I won’t soon forget the moment I learned that the incorrupt bodies of saints exist outside The Brothers Karamazov. A friend mentioned having seen St. Catherine’s head while on pilgrimage—she laughed at my horrified expression until her own face gleamed with mirth-filled tears.
A number of people told me, when I was discerning whether to join the Church, that I was on my way home. No one warned me about the culture shock I’d meet in this new home.
This is a rough, imperfect analogy, and no doubt there are important exceptions, but it seems to me that fellowship and community play a similar role in Evangelicalism to that of the sacraments in Catholicism. Hospitality tends to thrive in Evangelical churches in ways that aren’t as immediately obvious in many Catholic parishes. I wonder if this is because Evangelicals of a certain strain so deeply crave a practical, physical connection with Christ’s actual body—the community of believers with whom one worships—while Catholics sometimes take for granted that we can literally see Jesus Himself anytime we go to mass or adoration.
The best thing Evangelicals can do without the sacraments is to act as Jesus’ Body for each other. Spending time with fellow Christians after a church service, for example, is considered essential to the faith because it “furthers the body.” Endless congregational potlucks beg, “Come, sit with me and eat the same food as me and let us all be in unity together, even if it only lasts an afternoon.”
Thus, the Evangelical Christian who fulfills his Sunday morning duties wherever happens to be most convenient—as many Catholics delight in doing— is thought to be avoiding his proper place in the Body of Christ. Catholics don’t seem to see it that way, and I’m still trying to understand why that’s supposed to be good.
I like the way blogger K. Albert Little explains it:
The first Christians got together and shared things in common. Jesus sent out his first disciples in pairs, two by two.
The Church is, by its natural [sic] and theology, communal. That wasn’t an accident.
As an Evangelical convert, however, I’ve experienced a serious disconnect between the theology of our communal worship and what happens in practice.
Catholic churches can be cold.
But this is the heart of the New Evangelization—this is the key: to act like Christians to those we meet on the street, to our neighbours, and to those who come into the doors of our parishes.
What many Evangelical churches have that Catholic churches do not is a genuine, caring, community—and ways to connect together. These do not happen spontaneously.
What does one do when confronted with a new home that still feels foreign? Every good homemaker knows the answer: You make a casserole. You deliver a baby gift to your neighbor. You hang up curtains. You plump pillows and move furniture.
You join a needlework guild. And you pray.
How a Canvas Can Bear Both Word and Image
The parish guild I joined stitches carefully adorned kneelers to protect knees from cold stone floors, cushions to warm the benches in our newly built chancery, and chrismon ornaments to glitter Cathedral trees at Christmas.
I’m new here. My work is rough, and I can only work the simplest patterns. I’m grateful for patient teachers: No, not in that space; yes, that’s just right. Put your hands on mine and I will stitch with you. Take care not to pierce your finger.
I wish I could tell you that I make my every stitch a prayer, but I rarely remember the blue-clad woman from my dream. I forget to call on the Lord whose heraldry my needle writes. I worry over my work: what will we eat? What will we drink? With what will we be clothed?
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
It’s ordinary work for Ordinary time or Lent, best done at a simple table in a light-filled room. My small son likes to join me: No, not in that space; yes, that’s just right. Put your fingers on mine and I will stitch with you. Take care not to pierce your hand, sweet boy.
One threaded pixel at a time we call to remembrance an ancient story, a true myth told in shimmering symbols: this time a sharp and variegated crown of thorns, (it’s so hard to get the shading right) next time a glittering chi rho.
My little boy can’t possibly understand the patterns we consider together; he can’t yet see how each image proclaims again and again, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
The cross is a shape we can stitch, but it is also the hinge on which the universe turns. The winged lion that graces a kneeler at the altar rail tells its own tale of God’s glory, as do the angels wreathed by grapes and wheat sheaves. My little boy can’t comprehend the abundant associations each image implies, the wealth in which we revel as we bring each new picture to life on our canvas.
Neither can I.
The light dazzles my eyes, and I can’t see the whole pattern, the tapestry into which God is weaving my very sinews. That’s not for me to know—but perhaps, as I learn to pray over my simple stitches, I might begin to know needle and thread, warp and weft.
How To Win Friends and Influence People (With Apologies to Mr. Carnegie)
Needlework, it turns out, is a great way to meet people.
It’s easy to talk and to stitch at the same time. The work supplies the matter for those of us who dread the timid back and forth, the tense uncertainty, the initial meeting of immortal souls struggling to accustom themselves to one another.
Most people just call it small talk; perhaps you can see why it’s not my strongest skill—but it’s easy to answer questions about needlework.
From there, it’s easy to ask why the questioner is interested. Very often she will begin to tell stories about a mother, or a grandmother, and a lost heritage of exquisite artistry. “It’s not that difficult to do a little at a time,” I tell them. “Maybe we could have tea sometime and I could show you how?”
Even if the conversation doesn’t get that far it’s a relief to talk about something other than the weather, which is usually terrible in Houston anyway.
I try to take a small project of some sort with me wherever I go. I work on several at a time so that I can switch out purses according to the occasion. One bag, for example, holds an afghan—my first. That will be good at a book club meeting, where my friends will want to see my progress. The smaller bag in which I keep another bit of stitching is better for Sunday School, where a new friend might stop to ask what I’m making.
I’ve noticed that people especially love baby items. “Who is it for? When are they due? It’s so tiny!” When I was a child my mother used to knit stacks of baby sweaters in preparation for the next round of little ones to be born among her friends. When her stash grew larger than her storage space, she’d donate a box to a local pro-life group and tell me stories about a woman named Tabitha who showed her love for God by making garments for her friends. I like to think that St. Tabitha found delight in her good example; I know I have.
Tabitha was resurrected in Acts 9 when her friends’ grief demanded it. Perhaps she met those friends while she sat and stitched; perhaps she wasn’t very good at small talk. Perhaps, like me, she was trying to make herself comfortable in an unfamiliar new home. Perhaps no one had warned her about the culture shock that would accompany such a move.
Perhaps she made her every stitch a prayer.