The First Letter of John begins: 'We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life."
Astonishingly, the glory of Christ is something that we comprehend and share through our ordinary human senses of hearing, vision and touch. The incarnation says that the mystery of God comes to us intimately and tangibly. God is as real to us as the Bible we hold in our hands, the voice we hear when we answer the phone, the view from our kitchen window. God is not to be found outside human experience, but by deepening our ability to perceive God as we hone our capacity for attentiveness through prayer.
This is not a new idea. Having a tactile aid to prayer has been meaningful from Biblical times and the Jewish practice of praying with the knotted fringes of the prayer shawl, up to the still current practice of Roman Catholic believers who pray with rosary beads.
Many people find it calming and enjoyable to "work with their hands" in some way. For men, this often takes the form of woodworking or carpentry, and for women, the arts of needlecraft and sewing. I often have sensed a deep prayerfulness in those patiently working a piece of embroidery or knitting, a prayerfulness of which they might not have been conscious.
If you are someone who does handwork, consider how you can turn this pastime into a spiritual practice of "praying by hand." First, set aside time and space free from distractions, and offer the intention that this be a time of prayer. Allow your mind to become quiet as you do the handwork. Simply be present to the activity and seek to be open to the presence of God with you.
If you are sewing a gift for someone else, let each stitch be a nonverbal prayer of blessing for that person, so that the completed gift is not just a quilt or a sweater, but a tangible expression of your prayers for them. When you give them the gift, let them know that it was crafted with prayer as well as care. And that the making of it was a gift to you—the gift of being able to pray.
►Kris Haig is writer of the Spiritual Fitness column for Presbyterians Today. This is an edited article from the January/February 2004 edition. For the original article and others written by her go to the Spiritual Fitness column of Presbyterians Today.