Vol. 5, No. 16 / Dec. 16-Dec. 22, 2002
Nancy J. Ashmore

Knitting offers Oles and others relaxation,
means to hear ‘still, small voice of God’

“I knit to stay awake in class,” says Kira LaFortune, Wheat Ridge, Colo. “You can pay attention better when you’re doing something like this.”

Colin Colby, Deephaven, Minn., agrees. “If I’m doing something with my hands I listen better.” He continued humorously, but with affection, “Before knitting my life was empty, but now my life is full and complete. Knitting saves.”

Knitting has swept like a wild fire through Kildahl, the first-year residence hall where LaFortune and Colby live. It’s not uncommon, says another resident, to see residents there male and female knitting for enjoyment and relaxation.

Thirty-eight million Americans knit, USA Weekend reported in an article last April, and for nearly two-thirds of them it is a significant source of stress relief. “It’s the new yoga,” noted one commentator.

For Scott Nesbit, instructor in physical education and men’s and women’s tennis coach, knitting is that and much more.

“When I knit, I pray better,” Nesbit says simply. As he told USA Weekend, when his women players began knitting as they traveled to and from out-of-town meets, he was first impressed with how much fun they were having. Then his daughter offered to teach him how to knit. He took her up on the offer — and he was hooked.

“The clicking of the needles, the wrapping of the yarn and the pulling off of the stitches results in a rhythm that has a calming influence on me,” he says. That is not all knitting does for him: “In this restful, quiet state,” he says, “I can better hear the ‘still, small voice’ of God’s Holy Spirit.

“I have often struggled in my praying,” Nesbit says. “I get antsy about the things that I have to do. My mind wanders. When I combine knitting and prayer, I am more focused.”

Prayers you can feel
Nesbit also has a strong bent toward accomplishing things, he admits. It was a natural fit, then, when he connected with a group at Emmaus Baptist Church that was making “prayer shawls.” The knitters often keep a certain person in mind as they knit and purl, someone who is ill or going through a tough time. When the shawls are completed, they are presented to the person for whom the knitters have prayed.

“The shawls are a tangible reminder, to them and to me,” says Nesbit, “of the prayers that have been lifted up to God on their behalf. In a literal sense, they can feel and see my prayers as they wrap the shawl around them.”

This has been a source of healing in his own life, Nesbit notes. “God is using prayer to help me become more trusting, more likely to take risks, more other-centered.”

He has welcomed the opportunity to pass this gift along. When the USA Weekend story prompted inquiries from around the country about the pattern for the prayer shawls, he was happy to share the one the group at Emmaus was using.

He is also one of the resources on campus for the Student Congregation’s K.N.I.T. project (Keeping Needy Individuals Toasty), begun this fall. Women and men from across campus are knitting warm clothing for five children at the homeless shelter at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis. In addition to hats, mittens and scarves, the group is crafting afghans for the children’s families.

Inspiring other efforts
Janet Olson Hagberg ’68 called the college in November to report that such efforts have, in turn, inspired others off campus. Hagberg is the executive director and a co-founder of the Silent Witness National Initiative, which is dedicated to reducing domestic violence murders. She worked closely in that cause with Sheila Wellstone, a tireless crusader against domestic violence who was killed in a plane crash with her husband, Senator Paul Wellstone, in October.

As Hagberg was looking for a way to channel her sorrow into something productive, she recalled the article she had read about Nesbit in the Summer 2002 issue of St. Olaf Magazine. She created “Sheila Shawls,” an initiative that will honor her friend and produce healing shawls to be given to the mothers and sisters of women killed during domestic violence. The group has received commitments for 25 shawls thus far, as well as donations to defray the cost of materials used by others. Nesbit will be knitting one as soon as he finishes his current project, he says.

The group welcomes “hand-knit shawls, woven shawls or embroidered shawls, whatever your tradition suggests,” says Hagberg. “The idea is to send healing and goodwill into the cloth, yarn or threads so that the person feels it when she wears it.”

The process of creating the shawl often has the additional benefit of comforting the maker. “I have to channel my grief or it will debilitate me,” says Hagberg. “I cry, and then I knit!” She is grateful to St. Olaf for spreading the word about an undertaking with the potential to be applied to so many different purposes.

For information on prayer shawls, contact Nesbit at x3812 or send an e-mail to nesbit@stolaf.edu. For information on “Sheila Shawls” and the Silent Witness program, visit www.silentwitness.net/.

Contributors to this article included Jake Erickson ’06 and Valerie Veo ’05, student writers in the St. Olaf Office of Communications.