Blessed Are Those That Mourn

The thing about saying to someone “I’ll pray for you,” is you’d better do it right away, lest you get busy and forget.  Also, when the tag line for the worship items you make is “Prayerfully Handwoven,”  you’d better do that too.

Before setting down to the loom this morning, I checked Facebook while drinking my coffee.  A friend was asking for good thoughts - tomorrow is the memorial service for her step-mother.  I said “I’ll pray for you and your family.”  

I am weaving a tallit - a prayer shawl.  My task this morning is to pull new warp threads through the heddles and attach them to the back beam.  Because I am using the same threading for this as for my last project, I have tied the new warp threads to the old.  I pray for my friend and her family as I carefully pull the threads through the heddles.  I pray for comfort and peace, and simply the strength to get through the day.  Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.  

I think of my friends whose father passed away a few weeks ago.  The memorial service is in a couple of weeks.  His passing was not unexpected, he lived a long and full life.  George was a good man, a Godly man.  May his memory be a blessing.  

I think of my niece Diane.  Yesterday we remembered her on the anniversary of her birth.  We remember her for the life she lead, for the lives she touched in special ways.  Her memory is always a blessing.  

I think of a friend, a fellow weaver, a co-worker of my husband.  Yesterday we learned that she is on hospice care, to pass from this life to the next at home.  I pray for her, her husband, and also her friend Debbie, who has been an absolute brick, in spite of her own grief.  Father, into your hands we commend her spirit.  

I think of my Pastor, who lost her uncle unexpectedly this week, and another member of my church family whose young adult daughter died suddenly a few weeks ago.  I think of the lives lost in the Bahamas, and of those who have lost everything except their lives.  Bless those that mourn, and comfort them.

I find the repetitive tasks of weaving lend themselves to prayer time.  There are 532 warp threads in this tallit, each one a prayer.  Each old thread connected to a new.  Like one of the fates, I snip the old thread away (I’m mixing religious metaphors here - better stop that).  The old threads will return to the earth.  In time their carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen may be taken up into another plant and be a living thing once again.  From dust they came, to dust they will return.  

Not all the prayers that go into this tallit will be prayers of mourning.  There will be prayers for healing - both for individuals and the world.  There will be prayers of gratitude and joy.  There will be prayers for - I don’t know yet.  But for today, my prayers are for those that mourn.  


On the Fringes

She had no business being there, and she knew it.  By law and custom, she should be at home.  Not just at home - alone.  As she had been for the last 12 years.

He was a famous rabbi.  So popular, large crowds followed him everywhere he went.  He was particularly well known for being a faith healer.  If I can just get near him, she thought…

The Greek New Testament was translated and interpreted by men - that much is obvious.  They argue about the exact nature of the woman’s condition.  One noted Biblical scholar that I recently read referred to it as “internal bleeding.”  Internal, my foot.  It’s not really hard to diagnose, even at a distance of 2,000 years.  Endometriosis, possibly, or uterine fibroids.  Difficult to treat today, except by surgical means.  Impossible then.  

And so she lived her life on the fringes, denied regular human contact, lest she spread her uncleanliness. 

There’s a word for what she did next - chutzpah.  Braving the crowds, pushing to get close to him, trying to touch - not him - but the hem of his garment, but not really the hem (that’s another poor translation), the fringe.  The tzitzit.

And she did.  And he felt it.  He turned around.  “Who touched me?” he demanded.  That was crazy talk!  The crowd was literally pressing in on him on all sides!  But she knew who he meant.  Because she had been healed, and she felt that.  

“Daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”  Not the tzitzit, not even him.  Her faith.  

Tzitzit are important.  They are a reminder of the Jewish law, and an outward sign of faith and faithfulness.  But they are not the same thing.  Not at all. 

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

One Foot in Front of the Other

So I’d just finished photographing the tallitot that I've been working on, when Bruce comes in with his iPad in hand to tell me that there's been a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  I am imagining my beautiful tallitot splattered with blood - an involuntary sacrifice.  As if we needed any more proof that thoughts and prayers don't stop bullets!  People are killed in their various houses of prayer all too often, all around the world.  

My thoughts turn, as they often do, to the words of the prophet Micah, when Jerusalem and Judea were facing certain destruction - I think it was at the hands of the Assyrians that time. 

The people wonder what they can do do avoid their violent fate.  These are the days of temple sacrifices.  They ask: 

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The prophet’s answer - the one I think about nearly every day:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This then is the answer - the eternal answer - no more bloodshed this time, more sacrifices are not required.  Just our lives, practicing justice, mercy and putting one foot in front of another.  

A Prayer for Weaving

I sat down to start weaving on the tallit the other night - finally!  What is the appropriate prayer, I wondered, for starting to weave?  Treadle, the shed raises, throw the shuttle in, catch it coming out the other side, close the shed, beat, all that again.  Weaving is this repetitive motion of up and down, in and out.  Coming and going.  

And there it was, my prayer for weaving.  “The Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in.” A prayer for me, for the wearer.  Also a prayer for perfect selvedges.  


This phrase is used several places in the Bible.  First in Deuteronomy, where the Lord promises to bless those who follow His commandments.  It’s also the close of Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

I’m thinking about this while I weave.  A favorite psalm.  A song based in this psalm was sung at my wedding - “A Simple Song” by Steven Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein.

Blessed is the man who loves the Lord,
Blessed is the man who praises Him.
Lauda, Lauda, Laude
And walks in His ways.
I will lift up my eyes
To the hills from whence comes my help.
I will lift up my voice to the Lord
Singing Lauda, Laude.

I sing as I weave (singing badly - it’s a difficult tune).  Bernstein was a brilliant composer.  Brilliant, but challenging.  I’m thinking about Bernstein and Schwartz as I weave.  Two Jewish men writing a musical about a Roman Catholic Mass.  Kind of like a Christian weaving a tallit for a Jewish friend.  

Also wondering about how “the moon shall not smite me by night.”  The sun, I get, but the moon, I don’t know.  I keep weaving.  


Rending of Garments

rend (verb): to tear (the hair or clothing) as a sign of anger, grief, or despair  - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

It was quite a week.  First a few, then a flood, on our social media feeds.  #metoo #WhyIdidntreport.  Each story unique, and also sickeningly familiar.  

I was a freshman in college.  I was fifteen. I was five. I was twelve the first time I was raped.

I was walking home from a party. He was my boyfriend. My uncle. The father of my friend.

I reported to the police, but they didn’t do anything. I thought it was my fault, My mother didn’t believe me.  I was ashamed - it was 50 years ago, this is the first time I’ve told anyone.

The anger has overcome the grief and despair.  Not seven sisters gathered to expose their hearts, but seventy times seven.

Don’t you dare disbelieve me.  Don’t you dare blame me.  Don’t you dare make excuses for him.  Don’t you dare think any less of me.  And don’t you dare treat me the way you’re treating her.

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I am preparing to weave a tallit for a friend who will be celebrating her b’nai mitzvah in November.  My usual practice would be to work in prayers of blessing and thanksgiving.  But my heart is heavy.  As I pick up each thread and pull it through the heddle, I think of the women - friends and strangers - whose stories I have read this week. I think of the familiar words of the psalmist: “He restores my soul.”  So many souls to be restored. I say a prayer for restoration, for peace, and - dare I ask it! - justice. 

Weaving is the opposite of rending.  It is making something new and whole from all of the threads that go into it.  And a prayer shawl isn’t made just for the joyful prayers, and the prayers of thanksgiving, but also for the prayers of anguish and “O Lord, from the depths of despair I cry for your help.”

It’s late, and tomorrow is another day.   The psalmist also says “joy comes in the morning.”  Lord, hear our prayer.