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Monk in the World Guest Post: Julie Cicora

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Julie Cicora’s reflection on Contemplative Knitting Practice

After I was ordained to the priesthood, a good friend gave me the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. She knew I was relatively new to prayer and that I was struggling to maintain a regular prayer practice.  I was delighted to find a story in the book about a woman who complains to the author that she feels an absence in the silence every time she tries to pray.  The author invites her to knit before the face of God.  The woman takes up her knitting and soon she becomes aware of a presence in the silence. After I read this story, I wondered, “Could knitting be a way into a contemplative prayer practice? “

Knitting for me has always been about love and connection.  Every time I sit down with needles and yarn, I remember my grandmother.  I would snuggle up against her on the couch and she would put her hands over mine and show me how to knit each stitch.  Every time she picked up my dropped stitches, she would hand me back the needles and encourage me to keep at it.  “Results will come with time,” she said.  Of course, she was right, over time I learned how to knit, and the stitches collected on my needles.  At first, I knit for myself and then I began to knit for others.  I tried to put the love I felt from my grandmother into each hat, mittens, or scarf that I knit.  I thought about the women who had knit socks for their loved ones during the wars.  How they must have prayed for safety and comfort. Intentionally putting love into each stitch for the recipient is a prayer. 

The idea of knitting prayers into shawls started in the late nineties. Prayer shawls were a way to make intercessory prayers visible.  Sometimes I would knit a shawl for someone I knew who was suffering.  I would pray for healing for that person every time I knit a stitch.  Sometimes I would knit a shawl not knowing who would receive it and I prayed for healing for the stranger I hadn’t met.  These prayers made me long for a deeper relationship with God.  I realized after reading the story of the knitting woman in Anthony Bloom’s book that starting a contemplative knitting practice could be a way to spend time in the presence of God.  I decided I would sit and knit in silence.  I had tried to have a contemplative prayer practice in the past.  This time, I wanted to figure out how I could stick with it once my initial enthusiasm waned.  I decided I would be intentional about how to conduct this new spiritual discipline and I began to research both knitting and prayer.  I discovered knitting stories about love and connection.  I found advice on establishing and sustaining a habit.  I began a practice of contemplative knitting that has lasted for years.

Each day, I sit and knit in silence before the face of God.  The repetitive movement calms the thoughts that fly unbidden into my mind.  The rhythm helps me go deeper into that place where the head meets the heart.  My grandmother was right.  I began to see a change in myself.  The stitches and prayers accumulated and as the yarn was transformed into a garment, I was feeling a sense of healing and wholeness.  

Knitting has helped me sustain a daily prayer practice.  I knew from other areas of my life that practice is about repetition and consistency.  My piano teacher told me it was better if I practiced ten minutes a day instead of an hour once a week.  It’s the daily repetition that enables the fingers to memorize the movements. It is the daily repetition of contemplative prayer that works to enable me to be in the present moment. 

I am a work in progress.  Just like a knitting project, I sometimes throw my prayer life in a corner when it gets tough to keep the commitment to pray. I know that consistency is about the ability to restart.  It hasn’t been that difficult.  My passion for knitting keeps me coming back.  I make sure I have a sacred knitting project that I only knit during prayer time.  I pick luxury yarn and a pattern that I really want to make.  I knit in silence until my needles fall to my lap and I rest in the presence of God.

Julie Cicora is an avid knitter who believes in the power of prayer. She has written two books on prayer – All I Can do is Pray and Contemplative Knitting.  She is an Episcopal Priest who enjoys leading knitting retreats, teaching the art of contemplative knitting, and riding her motorcycle.

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2 Responses

  1. I have recently taken up knitting again making scarves for people in the Out of the Cold program, often homeless people. I am usually listening to a talk as I knit, trying to get 2 things done at the same time. I am going to find some lovely wool, not left over pieces to knit up a scarf, and make something for a baby set. And I love the image of knitting in the Sacred Presence. Thank you for your encouragement. Mary

  2. Every stitch a prayer. Contemplative stitching is a calming experience for me as well. Using needle & thread to create, I believe each stitch is a practice of the sacred.