Friday, 13 February 2015

Just hold on

Last week I went prayer weaving.

No, I hadn't heard of it before, either. There's a little loom which consists of a series of removable prongs in a wooden base (five, in our case - just weaving something small). You take a ball of wool, or strips of fabric, ribbons - whatever you can make into strands - and weave it in and out of the prongs across the loom and back again. Knot two pieces together to change wool or texture, and then when the loom becomes almost full, pull the prongs out, threading the attached piece of wool through your creation. You can do this several times in order to make a piece that's as long as you want.

By the end, my piece of woven fabric was about eight inches long and about four wide. After removing it from the loom for the last time, you cut the warp threads (the vertical ones) and tie them off, and there you have it.

It's supposed to be a prayer.

The idea is that you have a conversation with God as you weave. You choose your colours instinctively and without too much deliberation in order to allow God to speak to you in whatever way He sees fit; through colour, through texture, through metaphor, through ideas or thoughts or words in your head.

I went along to the session feeling quite down; a prevailing mood for a while now. If I hadn't committed myself to begin there I suspect I might not have gone at all, and to be honest, I wasn't particularly up for having a conversation with God. I wasn't in the mood for more pep talks about persevering, or about counting my blessings. I was making up the numbers and, if nothing else, I'd decided that an hour spent doing something crafty might be a bit of relaxation time, and so I'd give it a go.

God started work a little bit before I did, that particular evening. I'd had to take my eldest daughter to swimming training at a pool some distance from church, and arranged for someone else to bring her home, so I was feeling a bit frazzled as I climbed into the car with twenty minutes left to do a half hour journey. For the first time in a few weeks I turned the music up as I drove off; I'm so rarely on my own in the car at the moment that I hadn't had the chance to listen to any music for ages. It was a Phil Wickham track called 'Just Hold On'.

'There is a battle in the distance
I see it flashing in the sky
It's gonna be a long, long night
All that was holding you together
Is crumbling apart
And left you with an aching heart
Take my hand, here I am'

The first thing that came to mind was that it feels as if I've been in a battle. This year has started with so many things to cope with coming at me from every angle. Things that I thought I'd dealt with (and written triumphant blog posts about) years ago are back to hassle me. Worrying about what people think, battling with indecision, pride, fear, tiredness and bad temper. Early mornings at the swimming club, self consciousness, feelings of inadequacy and anxiety about the future, and so on, and so on. And that old chestnut that when I need God most, I have no energy or desire to find Him.

Yes, there's a battle. Always a battle, but I've been struggling in the middle of it. It has felt like a long, long night, and I've been afraid that I'm coming apart, feeling downcast, miserable, apathetic, discouraged. Yes, that. What the man sang, that.

'Take my hand, here I am...

Love is gonna make it right
Just hold on, just hold on
There's mercy in the morning light
When you're weak love is strong
Hold on'

I don't really know what happened as I listened to that song, but a little glimmer of something seemed to penetrate the darkness. A ray of morning light, maybe. A little glint of something shining in the black. I turned the music  up loud. 

So, prayer weaving.

Each seat had a loom set up and ready for a participant. The vertical threads were already attached to the loom, and my seat had black threads already on it. Good, I thought.

I knew what I was going to do. The room was set out with multiple baskets and tubs of different fabrics, wools, yarns and ribbons in every colour, pattern and texture that you can imagine. While sipping my coffee before we began I decided where I was going to start. I chose the darkest colours I could find in shades of black and purple and began weaving. 

It was quite therapeutic, the in-out-in-out of the thread between the pegs, a rhythmic thing that I found wasn't conducive to thinking, really - more just switching off. My piece of work grew longer with each row of ins and outs and I changed material every few rows.

Fluffy black thread, chunky purple wool, tweedy fabric in dark colours, purple ribbon. I wanted there to be different textures, but little colour. Dark, drab, plain.

And then... a little glimmer of gold. A shaft of morning light in the gloom.

My mind was full of the symbolism of what I was doing. In-and-out, in-and-out. A rhythmic plodding on, sometimes fast and sometimes slow.

Sometimes tightly, weaving with tension, sometimes more relaxed, loosely.

Some threads were easier to use than others, some slipping through the fingers smoothly, and others lumpy and bumpy and hard to work with.

Some strands of fabric weren't really long enough - particularly the shreds of gold that I found; I wished there were more of those, but they were quickly woven in and then I was back to my dark threads.

Some of them rough to my fingers, some silky, some fluffy and soft, some thin and almost wiry.

In-and-out, in-and-out. Like days and weeks and months and years. Life (from where I was sitting, in that frame of mind) dull and monotonous. Too much dark and not enough light. Too dark to see what was ahead; not enough colour to inspire. And yet, bright threads woven through adding glimmers of beauty, changing the mood of the whole piece.

At the end when my piece of weaving was free from the loom, I found scraps of red and gold ribbon and tied off the ends - my little night-time prayer gilded at the beginning and end with little pieces of sunrise.

'There's mercy in the morning light...'

I was quite surprised at my piece, when it was finished.

I was surprised at how dark it was, in comparison with other people's. Bright colours everywhere, yellows and greens and reds and oranges... and then mine, by far the most miserable looking piece of work in the room. Still, to me it spoke of hope, the assurance that there is gold to be found even in the darkest hours, that after night comes morning, with it's rays of brilliance. That God is there in the blackness

'Take My hand, here I am...'

Afterwards, I took my bit of weaving home with me and laid it on the arm of a chair in the sitting room. As I sat, I was smoothing it out, fingering the different textures and gently shaping it in my hands.

As I looked closely, I noticed something; something that I hadn't intended when I'd selected the component parts.  I'd been looking for the darkest, drabbest colours that I could find, and yet... here was a dark-looking rectangle of wool and fabric, but examined closely it was full of hidden colour and pattern.

Much more beautiful than I'd anticipated.

I took photographs and took the lens as close as I could to the weave and I found that the camera found a depth of colour in close up that wasn't immediately obvious unless you held the fabric up to the light and examined it in detail. Through the lens, it looked different.

A browny-purple wool turned out to be made up of a myriad of different colours ranging from grey to beige to blue and green. A black thread had specks of vivid blue, and a dull tweed hid strands of yellow and teal.

More than meets the eye.

So perhaps when life is at its drabbest, most monotonous, then its beauty can only be seen through a special lens. Maybe I need eyes to see, and ears to hear. Perhaps there are hidden treasures that can only be found in close up, with concentration; only when I am enabled to see. Maybe even the darkest fabrics are made of tinier threads that bring their own colour to contribute to the whole - but from a distance seem invisible.

So my woven prayer was more of an offering to God: the God of the morning light, who invites me to take His hand when I am stumbling in the darkness. When there's a battle and the night feels long, He is there, and morning is coming. He took my offering and gave me something in return. He showed me that even in the darkness there is beauty - that black is not a colour on its own but all the colours combined. Sometimes even if we can't see them, the colours are still there, undiminished.

Maybe God's got plans for that darkness. He is a God who wastes nothing, remember; all the scraps of fabric that I knotted together go to create something with depth and texture. A combination of odds and ends, of lengths and strands. If anyone can bring good things out of bad, He can. If anyone can find beauty where all seems ugly, He can.

Beauty in darkness. Immense variation even in monotony.

Colour in the shadows.

'Love is gonna make it right.
Just hold on, just hold on'. 

Phil Wickham, 'Heaven and Earth' 2009 INO Records


  1. Thank I read this BEAUTIFUL post, God spoke to me through your words....deeply.....and I know I am going to try this in His perfect timing.
    Saving to read through slowly and savour.
    A rich message woven between thought provoking words.

    Mary, New Zealand

    1. I'm so glas that it spoke to you, Mary. Isn't that wonderful? Thanks for reading and leaving such a lovely message. Bless you.

  2. Hi Helen - I feel like screaming at this moment, because I just typed out a response to your blog and realised I wasn't signed in, so lost it all.
    So I will start again!
    I understand how you felt about the weaving and wanting to use dark colours to convey your mood and feelings - and I often want to scribble all over something when I feel "down" and when I do, I feel that God then says that He can work through what I have done to make something beautiful for Him - just as you have done!

    Often we try to hide from God how we are feeling, forgetting that He knows just how we feel anyway, and nothing we can do can hide our deep feelings, so I pray that through your prayer weaving, and as you look more closely at it, you will know a tremendous peace and feel God's love.

    I love the song and must go and have a look on Youtube.

    Have a great half term break with your girls and be blessed - and have another look at that weaving - it is certainly something beautiful for God - and for you!

    Kind regards,

    Maureen xx

    1. Agh! I hate it when the computer eats what you've written! Thank you for trying again, and for your lovely encouragement. It means a lot to me. Thank you, Maureen. x


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