The story goes…a woman in Russia went to her priest and told him she felt spiritually out of kilter. He told her to sit in front of an icon for an hour each day and knit. The woman did that for a month, and by the end of that month, she felt spiritually healed.
When I first heard this story, intuitively, it made sense to me. In times of worry, anxiety, fear, or when I just feel spiritually out of whack, I sit quietly and knit. After a half hour or so, I feel much better.
How does this work? Working with handicrafts is much like using prayer beads. You have something to do with your hands to keep from getting antsy. You have something to take your mind off its preoccupations. You work on something that requires you to sit still for a good chunk of time. It’s a bit like meditation, in that you forget the rest of the world and quit thinking. It’s more like yoga or walking meditations, in that your body is actually doing something active, though simple.
The practice of working on simple handicrafts is not exactly new. In the early days of Christianity, the Desert Mothers and Fathers worked on basket weaving. It gave them a simple task to keep their minds at peace, and it likely gave them practical products to use or trade. The monks and nuns in the monasteries over the centuries likewise engaged in gardening, beer making, and other quiet work with their hands to both support their communities and for their spiritual well-being.
Handcrafting – whether it’s knitting, woodworking, painting, sewing, or any other crafting you might name – gives us all a space and time to put our worldly cares aside, quiet our minds and bodies, and perhaps open ourselves to listening or communing with God.
Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles: Stories of Unlikely Connections & Unexpected Gifts, a collection of inter-related short stories in which many people find spiritually healing through the prayer shawl ministry of an Episcopal parish in Tennessee.