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How Knitting Can Inspire Prayer

Ways to move your hands in prayer


A pen-and-ink study by German painter Albrecht Dürer in 1508 has endured as a popular depiction of prayer. A study for a larger work of art, it depicts two aged hands, clasped. The home I grew up in had a painting of it on the wall and a small statue of it on a shelf. 

But there are other ways to pray with your hands. An episode of the popular BBC television show, Call the Midwife, portrayed one such practice.

In the final episode of the second season, nurse Chummy goes into labor herself, and soon is in such serious danger that she is taken to the hospital for surgery. The nurses and sisters of Nonnatus House sit together through a long and agonizing night, hoping and waiting. Conversation and prayer soon dwindle, but the women stay together, knitting small colorful blanket squares. The inexpressible meditations of their hearts and movements of their hands combine into a silent vigil, a concert of wordless prayer. 

It’s an affecting scene, showing that it’s possible—and sometimes preferable—to pray by actively using your hands. When words fail, when emotions overwhelm, the click of knitting needles can turn into as heartfelt a prayer as any psalm. 

Knitting, of course, isn’t the only way to pray with your hands. Many Christians through the ages and around the world have formed a prayer by tracing the sign of the cross with their fingers. A friend of mine occasionally expresses his needs with his hands in his wood shop, cutting and carving shapes that echo the cry of his heart. Some who are skilled in the use of sign language find deeper expressions of prayer in the use of their hands, whether or not they say a word. Others clap their hands in prayers of joy or lift their hands to the sky as if in so doing they can caress the face of God. 

When my first grandson was born prematurely and placed in a small hospital incubator, my wife and I joined his parents in reaching fingers into the small space to stroke his limbs and—often silently—pray for him to gain strength. Though wordless, those prayers may have been among the most heartfelt and effective we’ve ever prayed, as the boy is now nearly 13 and as healthy and happy as we barely dared to imagine those few days in the hospital. 

Do you pray with your hands? If so, how? If not, why not try it?


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