Perfectly Imperfect, and Precisely Imprecise

There is a Persian proverb, “A Persian Rug is Perfectly Imperfect, and Precisely Imprecise”.  It’s said that weavers of Persian rugs create ‘mistakes’ or deliberate imperfections in their work, in recognition that the only source of perfect creation is God, the one perfect Creator.

You could read this as a naïve arrogance, I suppose, and find an underlying assumption that this human creation would be perfect if only there were not this single disruption to the fabric, but I experience it slightly differently. As someone who enjoys the creative process for its own sake and is also cursed with a perfectionism thatcan be cruelly pedantic, I find the idea that errors are necessary in any human endeavour to be a liberating one. After all, we create so much more than carpets.

In all of our work, we make mistakes. We make typos and calculation errors, we mis-step in our relationships and interactions, and we do it often. These are the mistakes woven through the fabric of our lives, and on the lives of others. What is created by us, and those around us, must fall short of the glory of God. We were created perfect, but cannot sustain the perfection of the Creator.

What is in our control is what we do with our mistakes. Do we try to rip back our lives to fix them so that we are never able to live what we were created to live, or do we look in faith to the forgiveness of others and the grace that is available in God, and take on our precise imperfections as markers of all we have been forgiven for? If we are to live life in its fullness, we must trust God and our community to love us regardless, our perfectly imperfect selves.

Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

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Knit one, Pray one

The story of a knit object doesn’t begin with the first stitch cast on. It’s hard to know where it does begin, in truth. With the idea of this project, or with the first stitch this knitter created? Or earlier, in the Middle East, when the first true knitted fabrics were created? What is the heritage of this glove, or that shawl?

In a sense, a knitter’s own history and all knitting heritage is contained in any object. Under the literal woven yarn of the garment, toy, or blanket is the figurative thread that ties together the stories of creator and recipient. When I was an archaeology student, that peculiar sense of holding global and individual history in a created object never ceased to be compelling.

I’m very aware of that as a knitter, too, and it is one of the reasons I find great joy in creating gifts for other people. The crafty Pay-It-Forward that does the rounds on Facebook every year (in which folk commit to make presents for the first five people who comment on the post) is so much of a feature of my calendar that my wife has been known to try and forbid it in an attempt to fend off the inevitable moments towards the end of the year when I’m freaking out about the hat for someone I’ve not seen for five years being too big / too small / too green. I know it will happen, but I’m drawn to the challenge of creating just the right gift for someone who is important to me but a bit distant. In the time you spend creating for someone, they’re not distant at all.

Sometimes I see a pattern I want to make and instantly know who would love it (my Ravelry faves are full of these), but many of those never come to fruition. I’m much more likely to follow through on the projects where I start with the idea that Lovely Person would like a scarf, and it should probably be made from a cabled fabric. That is followed by hours of total immersion in Ravelry seeking yarn and patterns and pestering the long-suffering Mrs. H. to help me make every decision along the way. I might sometimes consult with the prospective recipient, but I’m v fond of giving Surprise Knitted Objects, so I’ll often take a risk rather than give the game away.

Assuming I’m not paralysed with indecision, and I can find a yarn and pattern that are both perfect, then I can finally cast on, and get to one of my favourite things: watching a 3d object emerge from sticks and string.

The best thing about all of this for me is how calming the process can be. I find it pretty easy to be in the moment with my yarncraft, especially a more complex pattern, and I have this amazing time to rest with my prayers and cares for the recipient, and work them into the fabric. It’s also one of the few times I really find it easy to sit with God. I’m often on the bus (in fact, I’m writing this seven hours into an eight-hour coach journey with two works-in-progress in my bag), so it turns my dependence on public transport into a blessing in my day.

Every year, I resolve to make more things for myself. I even broke my ‘yarn fast’ to spend my birthday money on some amazing wool to make myself a skirt this year, but since then I have cast on two gifts that were not in the Plan because when it really comes to it, making gifts makes me happy, and keeps me grounded.

If you’re a yarncrafter and you’ve never taken a risk on making a surprise present for a friend you miss, or that person you don’t know well who seems to be having a really pants time right now, take a risk. Search a pattern and cast on a Surprise Knitted Object for them, and just enjoy spending time with them; I hope it will be a blessing.

Many of my favourite ever projects have been gifts, here’s a few I had amazing fun with (in no special order):

More Tea, Vicar? (This  is the original, but I have made several for clergy friends.)

Cthulhu cozy (This was a request – so much fun to work out how to do it.)

Professor Steg (Every baby needs a dinosaur.)

Fab & Beautiful hat (Inspired by a church logo, my first charted-from-scratch colourwork.)

Boob hat (Of course! Inspired by an image that went viral after a series of women being asked to cover up whilst feeding.)

Piano scarf (The genius of this pattern! So boring to make, but so worth it.)

Piano gloves (These were hard to give away, love them so much.)

I’m v excited about my works in progress, and my project queue, but you’ll have to wait and see those. Watch this space.

Church leaders: we need to talk #SHAD2016

If self-harm is part of your story, and reading about it is a trigger, please take care before reading the following. Take care of you.

Here is an uncomfortable truth for people in pastoral leadership: people in your church are affected by self-harm, they don’t know where to turn, and they need you.

In the UK, self-harm (intentionally hurting or injuring oneself) accounts for around 150,000 admissions to hospital each year. Young people (especially adolescents), people living in poverty, and LGBT+ people are at particularly high risk[1],[2]. Researchers and health professionals believe that self-harm is under-reported, because of the level of stigma and shame that people experience when they disclose self-harm to friends, family, and health professionals. So, let’s accept that there are people in your congregation who self-harm, or live with someone who self-harms, or have a child who self-harms, or experience the sorts of mental health problems that make them more likely than average to resort to self-harming behaviours. Have you ever thought about how you would support them, or empower others in the congregation to offer support?

I started self-harming in various ways when I was a young child. I didn’t know there was a name for it then, and it would be years before I really understood what was going on, or sought help. Like many people of faith, I was scared that what I was doing was wrong, or sinful, and that God could never love someone who hurt themselves.

When I first disclosed to a youth worker at church (with the help of a friend) that I was self-harming, I was scared. I was 16, I was just beginning to find a place for myself and my faith in a church that my friends attended, and I wanted to know how to feel better. Unfortunately, the church’s response was not a helpful one. I was led to believe that I was sinning every time I hurt myself, that I didn’t have enough trust in God, and that my best (or only) route to help was to seek out Christian counselling that would help me to deal with my ‘same-sex attraction’ and in the process I would be healed of all symptoms of mental ill-health. I internalised that for years; the guilt and shame were overwhelming.

It took nearly four years to disclose to anyone else in a position of church leadership, when I finally told the pastor of an MCC church I had started to attend as a student. His reaction was calmer, more measured, and emphasised the universal nature of my experiences. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with my response, he talked about how we could deal with the distress underlying it. It was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders – here was a church in which I could be whole. There were many differences between these two responses, but what my experience came down to was this: in one, I felt judged, in the second, I felt loved.

It is a scary thing, to encounter self-harm for the first time. I recently led a group of ministers in a discussion of pastoral responses to self-harm recently, and one described their initial reaction to seeing a self-inflicted wound as, ‘visceral repulsion’. There is something within the healthy self that is repelled by the idea of imposing bodily harm on oneself. It’s hard to grasp; it feels more abstract than an eating disorder, or an addiction, but it’s very real and has its origins in a similar state of mind – needing to do something to overcome or adjust the painful feelings. The apparent severity of what is done (be it wound, burn, or overdose) cannot be conflated with the severity of their emotional distress – the two are related but not immediately analogous.

Spiritually, someone who self-harms is engaged in a process of trying to make manifest soul-pain that they cannot process. They are reflecting their internal pain on their body to try to make sense of it, but in doing so they often feel a deep sense of shame. If the shame is left unchecked, it starts to magnify the other pain and self-loathing that is already present in the individual. As a pastoral carer, you may not be able to soothe the soul-wounds, but you can reassure a child of God that they are loved and cared for, and they do not need to feel shame simply for the way in which they seek to understand and express their pain. There are a number of ways we can do this in pastoral care. The most obvious is to be fully available for people who self-harm, on their own terms. It can be tempting to try and ‘fix’ the problem, but when people have found a way to cope often it is enough just to sit with them in their pain and be there for them in their coping. It may be wise to encourage someone to seek support from a doctor, but you do not need to fix them.

The other thing we can do as pastoral leaders is to take a stand from the front. Talk about mental health – good, bad, and everything in between – in sermons and seminars, and encourage your congregation to see mental health and physical health as aligned. Just as neither cancer nor diabetes are caused by a lack of faith, or spiritual possession, neither is a personality disorder, or severe depression. Preach bravely about the love of God for all who suffer, and dare to name the unnameable. There are people waiting to hear it. There are people who need that reassurance more than you can possibly know.

Today – 1st March – is Self-Harm Awareness Day. There are loads of good resources being shared today to help you to learn more. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Self-harm UK

Self-Harm Myths (TheSite.org)

Why we need to talk about self-harm (inourhands.com)

Self-harm (Christian Medical Fellowship)

 

[1] http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg16/evidence/cg16-selfharm-full-guideline-2

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scarred-soul/200911/the-relationship-between-self-injury-and-sexual-orientation