“It is a truly helpless feeling when a loved one has a very serious diagnosis, knowing she will have to endure brutal treatment as a result. Creating the prayer shawl was therapeutic for me. Putting my energy into knitting it, and thinking of her, and praying for her while I knit it, helped me feel I was doing something to help.” – Lynda
Early on in my cancer diagnosis, as I was awaiting treatment, I received a beautiful hand-knit blue shawl from a dear friend, Lynda. She packaged it up in a beautiful aqua-coloured gift bag and presented it to me one evening at church after we had attended Novena (a Catholic Church mass).
As I open the gift, I am awestruck by the beauty of the colours and the softness of the yarn. The blues, aqua and white are so heavenly to me. Colours are chosen for a reason. Lynda explained that she hand-knit it for me. In the card she gave me, the colours are explained:
“In Prayer Shawl Ministry, the colour blue signifies healing and spiritually; aqua – courage; and white – peace. Think of it as a hug from me whenever it’s by you.” – Lynda
I used this shawl a lot at the beginning of my treatment and it comforted me. I felt the love and energy from Lynda, knowing she had put so much effort into it. The little beads at the ends were a pretty touch, too. Now, I keep it near me, and use it when I feel I need a little extra comfort or hug. I plan to use it when I attend church.
The information that came on the card from the parish reads:
“This shawl was made especially for you. It is a gift from the people of St. Paul’s. The crafter prayed for you while making it. When your shawl was completed, the members of the Prayer Shawl Ministry gathered in a circle and blessed it. May you find comfort and solace as you wear it. May it encircle you in God’s love and peace. Blessings” (The Parish Family of St. Paul’s, Fort Garry)
Lynda says that when she saw me “leaning into my faith” during a difficult time of tests, diagnosis, pain and treatment, she felt confident this gift would be well-received. She says not everyone turns to their faith when tragedy strikes. Some people get angry with God and turn away from their faith. That wasn’t the case for me.
Included in my gift was more info on the history and meaning of Prayer Shawls:
For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13
The word “shawl” first appears in the English language in 1662, and it is derived from the Persian word shal.
“Shawls have been made for centuries; they are universal and embracing; symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving God. They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to fly above their troubles.” – Janet Severi Bristow, 1998
In 1998, Janet Bristow and Vicky Galo started the Prayer Shawl Ministry in Hartford, Connecticut. In only 7 years, the ministry had grown to over 900 groups across Canada and the USA, with groups sprouting in Great Britain, Australia, Philippines, South America, Greece, New Zealand and South America,
These mantles are called Prayer Shawls, not because they are to be ceremonially worn during prayer — But because woven into the miles of yarn are prayers for friends and strangers. Blessings are knitted into every shawl through every stitch, as needleworkers invite God’s bountiful blessings for healing, hope, comfort, gentle caregivers and peace of mind for the shawl recipients. Like a calming mantra, they are made of a 3-seed stitch, reminding us of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Faith, Hope and Charity; past, present and future; birth, death and re-birth; mind, body and spirit and so on. For those who receive them, the shawls wrap them in the prayer and love that is so much a part of each shawl created.
Information adapted from The Parish Family of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Fort Garry, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
I would highly recommend a Prayer Shawl as a gift to someone who is going through a difficult time. It has meaning way beyond the physical. There are many books written on the subject and if you check the Prayer Shawl Ministry website mentioned above, you will find lots of helpful resources.
Peace, love and hugs,
Angela G. Gentile MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities, Aging Well for Women as well as God, Cancer and Me. For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com