Craft as a Spiritual Practice
by Susan Gordon Lydon
1997, Harper San Francisco
Reviewed by Amy Lenzo
perfect gem of a book allows us to accompany the author on a very
personal journeythrough the emotional pain of heartbreak and
the physical injury of a broken arminto wholeness and health
via, of all things, knitting. Using conscious application and dedicated
effort, and evoking the magic of creating things with ones
own hands, this amazing tale of one womans literal and psychic
travels manages to tell a universal story for us all.
starts with the recognition of knitting as an age-old textile art,
rooted in the natural world of sheep and wool and spinning and weaving;
"Handicrafts belong to an earlier world. The slower pace of
pre-industrial life where one had the leisure to sink deeply and
profoundly into the rhythms of nature within and without and to
feel a connection with the earth as a living spiritual entity."
Her understanding of the spiritual purpose offered by the practice
of her craft is also clear. "Handcrafts throughout history
have often been fashioned with the aid of prayer," she reminds
us, "one prayer for each bead or each stitch..."
is traditionally a womans art, and it is as a woman that the
author finds and applies the secrets of this ancient craft. Knitting
in the still moments of a menopause that has left her both fatigued
and insomniac, the repetitious meditative activity helped Lydon
"think about what I wanted from life, what qualities would
now become important to me and hopefully replace the ones I was
search for meaning and qualities of lasting valuealong with
the quest for a silver button to complete the set on a turquoise
chenille sweater she was knitting as therapy to help leal a broken
boneled Susan to a Navajo reservation in Arizona. There, she
was struck by what she saw as a dignified presence and
almost physical sense of stability and security in the women there.
She attributed this quality to the womens innate sense of
belonging in a specific geographical place: "It
was something that I wished I could learn from them and that I had
tried to cultivate in myself through the practice of crafts. I was
looking for a kind of rooted-ness, an interconnectedness with the
earth, a way of being at home."
and knitting among the Navajo women brought Lydon many revelations,
including recognition of the strength and breadth of her own cultural
inheritance. Guy Manybeads, a Navajo medicine man, had told Susan
that her broken arm indicated that she had "
of harmony with the natural world." By taking this time to
reconnect with her culture and historyas a Jew, as an individual
on the spirit-path, and as a knittershe began to reconnect
with her own health, and link to a sense of inner harmony and place
on the earth.
ongoing journey of internal and external discovery continued, to
the reclaiming of Lydons birthright as a woman and the inherent
female link to nature: "
somewhere inside myself I crave
more deeply a communion with nature, with palpable works that emanate
from the hands of God. I am a woman. Like old-time nuns embroidering
priests vestments in the convents of Belgium or Navajo women
weaving blankets in their hogans, I know how to pray with my hands,
and I need those prayers to connect me with the earth."
ongoing spiritual practice took her still deeper, to the Sufi tradition,
where through the devotional movements of zhikr, she understood
the pagan power of rhythm, and recognized it within the practice
of her handcraft. "Rhythm is paramount in producing the psychic
serenity that usually accompanies knitting, Just as a shaman will
ride a drumbeat out of his body and into the spirit world, a knitter
will trail the soothing rhythm of the clicking needles into the
quiet recesses of her mind."
the end of the book, the object of the authors hearts
desire becomes visible, and the wisdom she has harvested along her
journey apparent, as she contemplates the links of people, place
and circumstance that brought her to this place, the here and now.
And finally, our heroine enjoys the peace of having arrived at the
end of a long and fruitful journey, connected to the earth and the
beauty inside her, in the results of her labors and in the world
she contemplates around her;
grounds me in the realness of the physical world. The feel of
the yarn in my fingers, the steady growth of the fabric, the soothing
click of the needles, the attention required to stay on course
all help to hold me close to terra firms. Though mind and spirit
travel in the cosmos, beyond the moon and stars, my body stays
rooted in comfortable solidity. Ive come to appreciate solidity
in these last few years, to value strength, an unshakeable core.
days I luxuriate in solitude like a cat basking in the sun, Ive
fallen in love with the whole of creation, the redwood trees,
the fingers of fog, raptors tracing circles in the sky. Im
living a life that I always imagined but never knew how to find."
Lydon writes a weekly column for the Oakland Tribune, and teaches
knitting workshops at Esalen and other locations around the bay