One of my ways of ministering is intercession. It started off with lists. Over the years I’ve tended to drop them, because whilst they mean I don’t forget anyone, they do tend to become a bit of a drone, without too much compassion behind the words. Instead I listen to what or who is on my heart and pray for one or two people at a time, though to be honest, the last few years have been so tough, there has probably been as much petition as interceding!
Crochet is a hobby of mine, when my arms are up to it, and when I discovered a book on making shawls for people whilst praying for them, it seemed like two of my favourite things had collided serendipitously. Prayer shawls seem to be more of a North American thing, but it would be lovely if they began to take off here in the UK too. There are various ways of going about it, and of course they can also be knitted (I’m far too uncoordinated to manage more than one hook).
Some people make shawls in a group, some alone. Some pray general prayers over their work and then ask God who it is going to, or wait for an opportunity to arise. They might hear of someone in need of comfort, someone grieving, or spending a lot of time in hospital, for example. For my own practice, I ask God beforehand who the shawl is for, he and I pick a colour together, and then a pattern, which often have symbolic meanings. I pray very specifically for that person and their loved ones as I work. Because this takes some concentration, it is rather slower than making a normal piece of work, and so I am only on my fifth in about 8 years!
What’s been really interesting is the depth of the prayers when you are working like this with one person’s life specifically on your heart, and also the fact that God chooses, in some cases, people I would not have done if left to my own devices. He knows better than we do exactly who needs our prayers, and so it is good to feel that he Holy Spirit is leading the choices and entering into what might otherwise just be a hobby.
The finished articles might be less accurate than my usual work, even though everything I make tends to have wobbly edges (counting isn’t my strong point), but the recipients are always astonished that someone would do something so time-consuming and thoughtful, especially for them, and that God might have them on his heart.
One friend was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after I had finished her shawl, but before I gave it to her. I know she has sat wrapped in it many times both at home and during treatment. My current project, which is turning into more of a blanket than a shawl (I really should have looked more closely at the pattern), is for myself. I was extremely surprised that God wanted me to make one just for me, but although it isn’t quite finished yet, I think all those prayers have definitely helped me through a very troubled time, which also seems not quite over. Maybe without that concentrated petition, it would have been even harder.
Text and photo (me with my first prayer shawl) ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt
If you live in the US or Canada, your church may already have a prayer shawl ministry. Otherwise, this seems a good website, and there are any number of books out there with prayers and patterns.