Lives Made by Hand

Still
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For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

—Psalm 139:13

It’s one of the most outrageous things I believe: God is a knitter. With fingers busy winding wool around needles, the stitches lining up in rows, row stacking quietly on top of row: God creates small things by hand.

I have a much easier time imagining God as the artist of large-scale earthworks carved effortlessly with blinding power. A single breath upturns centuries of rock, while God sits back watching with satisfaction. That’s work fit for a god.

It’s no wonder that at a time when human creations seem more and more the domain of godlike experts and machines, ordinary people are reviving the art of making things by hand. A survey of my friends who knit reveals that we each have our reasons for spending time on this inefficient, addictive craft. A good many of those reasons have something to do with love.

It may be the love of fibers: the way color, texture, and scent are wound into endless varieties of yarn. Then there’s the love of coaxing a form out of the formless, which can seem as unlikely as coaxing flowers from soil. There’s the love of sharing handmade gifts (not to mention the love of receiving them), and, of course, love for the people for whom the gifts are made.

I think we each sense that there’s an intimacy—a closeness—to a thing made by hand. Somehow we see a hand-knit sweater in a way we don’t see a sweater purchased from a store. It is unique and not disposable. It represents not just a consumer choice but the labor of hands—and the heart behind them. Handmade things remind me that it’s not shiny perfection I love in others or that others love in me; it’s our unique textures, colors, patterns. It’s the sometimes glorious—but more often awkward—ways we express love.

In her book The Knitting Sutra, author Susan Gordon Lydon notes that “crafts are passed not in an oral but in a tactile tradition,” and the same is often true of love. Love may appear at the door feeling like a lavishly cabled blanket, tasting like vegetable stew, smelling like sweat. And as we touch and taste and smell, we learn how to love.

To me it is essential that the God who embodies love must also be the God who makes small things by hand and continues to tend to them. A god who is not love could set creation in motion then step back as far as the moon to be satisfied with its beauty. The God who is love has attentive, aching hands. God bears with us, and that costs something. I sometimes find this difficult to believe in the face of painful evidence to the contrary. Yet that’s what this mighty Love promises. I struggle to live with the mystery.

Perhaps we are at our most godlike when we set our hands to the seemingly small work of shaping gifts of love. When we bear with a sister through the unglamorous task of drawing raveled stitches back together. When we encourage a friend to believe the outrageous: God knit you together, cell linking to cell, deliberate and complete. And God’s hands come alongside our own, shaping each of our lives, mending them whole.

About the Author

Gwen Penning Genzink and her husband, Ryan, welcomed son Ruben Christopher into the world Sept. 28. Gwen works part-time for Friendship Ministries and belongs to Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.
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