Like many churches and other Christian organizations, Wartburg Seminary has a little prayer shawl ministry. People in our community knit or crochet beautiful, soft shawls that are then given to others who request them.
What is unique about them, of course, is revealed in the name. What differentiates a prayer shawl from any other wrap or shrug is that the handwork is accompanied by ‘soul-work’, if you will: as the knitter or crocheter is doing his or her work, they are also praying, infusing the soul with prayers of healing, support, strength, peace, and compassion.This means that when the shawl is received and put on, the wearer is quite literally draped in prayer. He or she is physically, tangibly, wrapped in the care and compassion of both a single individual and a larger community, and reminded in a vivid way that he or she is not alone.
For Christians—the religious communities with which I am most familiar—the prayer shawl is a way to make tangible God’s love and care for each and every unique individual in God’s vast family. It is an expression of love that can be felt, that drapes around the body like a warm, strong hug. In a prayer shawl, God’s love—and a community’s compassion—are not abstract or theoretical; they are up close and personal—real in a very physical way.
All that is what came to mind after reading the following prayer that came a week or so ago in my Moravian daily texts email:
Eternal God, we give you thanks that your never-ending love is woven into the fabric of creation. We cherish these sacred moments with texts, hymns, and prayers that remind us that you will always be with us. We pray this with thankful hearts. Amen.
After I prayed it I thought to myself, the world is like God’s prayer shawl. God has woven not only God’s love and care, but God’s very self into the fabric of creation, in which we are nestled and embraced. We are literally, physically surrounded by God’s love for us at every moment, at every turn—in the sun, the grass, the sky, and the trees.
Now, this is a beautiful image, and I love it, but I would be remiss if I did not contrast it with the damage humans are doing to God’s creation. Signs of climate change are all around us—record heat waves, fires, flooding—and they are increasing, and one wonders just how bad things will have to get before we will take more drastic action to reverse course.
But that is a different post.
I don’t want to end this particular post on such a grim and dire note, even though this reality, and this contrast between divine care and human neglect cannot go unnoticed. The devastation humans are causing to the planet is true, there’s no question about that, but, here, human action (and inaction) will not have the last word.
Instead, I want to champion God’s work—God’s persistence and God’s faithfulness, revealed to us even in places of desolation, even in the mist of climate disasters, even in the midst of human neglect and willful disregard. God does not give us on us, or the world.
Because at the same time that all of this is happening, at all times in fact, God is continually at work drawing us into a deeper love of creation, a deeper relationship with the world around us, and a more active engagement for the health and safety of the whole planet. Again and again, God chooses life and fosters life for us and for the entire world, against all odds.
The love of God that permeates the whole creation, wrapping us in God’s compassion and care, is relentless, and continually abides.