Saturday, May 26, 2012

Strands of Silent Psalmody

Before I left for retreat, The Reverend's Wife wondered what I would do when I wasn't praying. Read? Knit? Walk?

Read and walk for sure, but I told her I'd left my current knitting project behind because it would have taken up too much room. "But maybe on my way, I'll stop at the knitting store and just get something for a scarf..." "We have lots of wool in the barn, from your mom, and I know I saw knitting needles up there, too."

So the night before I left, The Rev's Wife and I tramped through the pitch-black orchard and up into the attic of the barn. The barn attic is crammed with 6 decades of memories. Here are bins with random photos — of me with waist-length hair in high school and as two year-old gathered into my grandmother's arms. There are the boxes with the decorations from the Halloween party the Reverend and Wife threw the year we were on sabbatical leave in California. (The one where I dressed as a quark, and dyed my hair temporarily purple and blue and orange with glitter. Only it turned out the orange wasn't so temporary and I had an orange streak for months.) The Rev's Wife reached into a box near the back and pulled out skeins of yarn, a cache from when we lived in a little town in Illinois, tiny chimes heralding an equally rich stash of vintage aluminum knitting needles.

I ended up with a skein of baby blue Sears 100% Italian mohair and deep blue aluminum needles, size 8, downloaded a pattern for a wispy scarf and tucked it all into my bag. The pattern is essentially an AB pattern worked over 6 rows and 9 rows. I improvised a stitch counter with 9 rocks from the walled garden in my hermitage.

As I knit I remembered my mother's hands on the needles and the shush-shush sound they made as they slid past each other, confidently placing the yarn into its place in the pattern, until it grew into a sweater for a new brother, a mysteriously joyful process. Now my hands move with the same quiet confidence, turning a few lines of text and a single strand of yarn into something warm and useful. A silent version of the Camaldolese psalmody, with its ABAC patterns knitting together text and a single strand of melody. The morning's Benedictus reimagined into something I could wrap around my neck.

Memories of my mother are knitting themselves into this scarf, her touch present to me in the wool and needles she once handled. The psalms come to life like this, too. God's touch on the words made present again as the text lifts off the page and is knit into a whole, sliding from one side of the monastic choir to the next, each row building on the next until we bind off in silence.


  1. A wonderful way to remember your mother.

  2. This is a lovely post. I find I can find some good prayer time during knitting.

  3. Julianne5:06 PM

    I, too, think this is a lovely post.

    It also made me think of my grandmother, who knitted. Also my mother didn't but who used to crochet, until she lost the ability as a result of her stroke.

    I think I might get out my needles again.

  4. Cathy, I definitely thought of you as I dug through all the double point needles for socks that my mom had. Thrown helter-skelter into a pile, I picked up her needle size gauge so I could sort them and give them out to her various knitting grandchildren.

    Julianne, enjoy the needles! I can't crochet, but my youngest son can - though my mom could do both...