Shawls Encircle Owners in Prayer

Article excerpt

SHE WAS THREE months pregnant and in danger of losing her baby when Vicky Galo's mother asked her to wrap a shawl around her womb. When she did, she felt "an utter sense of peace and calm that everything would be okay." It was.

Years later, when she and Janet Bristow were wondering how to apply the program of feminist spirituality that they had taken at Hartford Seminary's Women's Leadership Institute in Connecticut, she looked back on that experience. It became clear to them that a shawl was "a perfect metaphor for our experience of a mothering God," said Ms. Bristow. "When you wear it, you are wrapped in God's love." She adds: "Shawls are also symbolic in many parts of the world. In some cultures babies are carried in shawls wrapped around their mother's body. Even Jesus wore a prayer shawl called a talit."

In 1997, the two friends gave birth to a ministry that would fuse knitting and prayer. Called the Prayer Shawl Ministry, it has spread worldwide, including Canada, and has attracted many faiths. "It's been called a comfort shawl, a healing shawl, a peace shawl; there's not one word," said Ms. Galo. "It's ecumenical; it speaks of many faiths and traditions."

Knitters are given instructions on what yarns, stitches, prayers and rituals to use when making a shawl on a Web site, www.shawlministry.com.

Ms. Bristow and Ms. Galo make shawls for battered women in a local shelter. Others knit for cancer patients in hospitals and for people facing tough times. "It's like a second wheel for them to turn around," said Ms. Galo. "I've heard stories of cancer recipients who feel they're not ready to die and they make it for others. …