Recently Shannon asked me to teach her how to knit. So, last night, as we sat in Shannon’s living room, with its third floor view down Bush Street towards downtown San Francisco, as the evening light outside faded, the light within began to grow.

What made you decide you wanted to learn to knit? I asked because I’ve been pondering why so many people, young women, children, teenagers, men, are these days taking up this handcraft. I learned so I could carry on a family tradition of slipper-making. In the learning, I found a practice that gave me life and opportunities to grow in faith and relationships.

Shannon explained that as she is training to be a spiritual director in the Catholic Christian tradition, she’s being challenged to allow herself to be more vulnerable and present to others’ suffering and indeed to her own suffering. She began thinking she needed to develop a tool she could use to ground herself in her body: some physical activity that would also allow her to become quiet and open. Invited to my knitting retreats in the past, she had been unable to make any of them. So, she asked me how could she learn this craft? Rather than send her on her way to a local knitting store to pay 65 bucks an hour to learn, I said I’d be right over.

So, there she is, casting on 42 stitches – knitting her first row, and her second, third and fourth. She’s a natural. She’s focused on the learning, she’s paying attention. She’s not making any mistakes. Which is a problem.

We have only this hour and a half for the first lesson. Usually in that time, a new knitter makes a bucket full of mistakes. And the teacher can take the time to show them how to fix their mistakes. Here’s the crochet hook, I’ll say, this is your knitting salvation. Drop a stitch, pick it up with this.

But Shannon is knitting like she’s been doing it for months. Her rows are even and proportional – she’s not dropping any stitches, she’s not picking any up and her count comes up 42 after each row.

At some point I give the advice, “just pay attention and stay loose.” She nods and admits this is good advice – it’s just sometimes hard to decide which things to pay attention to.

As she’s knitting the first and second rows, I ask her how the spiritual direction program works. For the three-year commitment that is the program, her class meets once a month. The first year they learn the who, what, where, when, how, and why of spiritual direction. The second year they intern, actually practicing direction in class, and with volunteer directees” The third year? We didn’t get to that as she is in the second year and finding herself deeply transformed by the process. She’s learning how to listen, not only to the directees, but to God and God’s movement in the lives of those around her: a woman she sees at the bus stop, a family member with whom she’s previously had trouble interacting, herself as she’s discerning her vocation as a child of God.

It takes a long time to knit those first two rows, because sharing this part of her life is intense; and she pauses in the knit to formulate a thought. Then we begin talking about family and life and history, and the knitting continues more fluidly on her strong slender hands. She stops to watch me knit a row, then looks back at her own hands, shifting a bit to model a looser hold on the yarn.

Later, we have a treat, a cold popsicle with actual chunks of strawberry in it. Chad, her husband, has joined us and he comments it’s a mystery why the last bite always tastes the best. We don’t figure out the mystery though we try – the final bite is that much tastier because of all the ones that went before; it’s been melting just the right amount of time; the fear of the whole thing dropping on your white shirt is finally past…

Anyway, Shannon, by now, is looking at my knitting kit and asking what each type of needle is for (the hats, the socks, the big-ole-honking afghans.) She points to a pen and says, what do you do with the pen? Because I’ve just taken a drink of water, I can’t reply right away, and in the second that passes, we all realize how funny that question is. Chad and Shannon get a good laugh at my struggle not to blow the water out my nose. And then we say goodnight.

I believe biography … is inherently theological in the sense that it contains already – literally by virtue of the incarnation – the news of the gospel whether or not anyone discerns that. We are each one of us parables. So says William Stringfellow who’s the “saint of the day” in the text All Saints. Shannon, knitting and popsicles: the parable of friendship?

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