Psalm 139; Mark 6:53-56
"That's the thing about yarn," a knitter said to me Thursday night, after asking if she could touch the skein in my bag. "That's the thing about yarn," she said. "You have to touch it."
It's true, of course, as anyone who has ever walked into a yarn shop knows. You have to touch everything, even the yarns you don't intend to purchase in colors you'd never choose. Silk. Alpaca. Merino. Cashmere. Angora. Even the words are tactile. That's the thing about yarn.
When the yarn and fabric come home with us, we touch every single inch, every single yard, as it becomes something constructed of stitches and intention. The yarn slides through our fingers on its way to be knitted; the fabric slides under our hands on its way to becoming a quilt. And when we're finished, we'll wrap ourselves or someone else in what we have made.
All the rest of our senses - sight and sound and smell and taste - are limited to a very small area - eyes and ears and nose and mouth. But touch happens everywhere: head to toe, right to left, back to front. Touch is unavoidable, as observed by the children in the movie Despicable Me, who upon being told to not touch anything ask impetuously, "What about the ground? Can I touch the ground? What about the air? Can I touch the air?"
Our skin is our largest sensory organ, with countless receptors primed for texture, movement, temperature and pressure - the smoothness of fabric, the tickle of a loose thread, the warmth of a wool scarf, the weight of an old quilt. It is a remarkable and vital layer of who we are, the boundary between us and everything that is not us. At the same time, our skin is impermeable and porous, inviolable and immensely vulnerable, protective against and responsive to the touch of others, tough and so very fragile.
And the world outside of us is textured as we press against us, or as it presses against us. Sometimes life is smooth and even, sometimes soft and warm. Other times it can feel stiff and unyielding, coarse or scratchy, tangled and torn. Sometimes it has worn so thin we're hanging by a thread. I do not have to tell you that sadness and weariness are so real that we can sometimes literally feel them as physical sensations. There are somatosensory receptors not only in our skin but in our bones, our joints, our vital organs. We don't just hurt. We feel hurt. We aren't just sad. We feel sorrow. We don't just mourn. We feel grief.
So it was that the Word became flesh and lived among us, we read in the gospel of John. Like us, it was only a layer of skin in Jesus Christ that separated God from all that was not God, and what wondrous things happened when Jesus touched us. People were able by his touch to seat hear, to speak, to walk, to stand up straight, to be made whole, and lest we worry that our touch is not so powerful, I submit to you that what he really did by his touch, by his placing of his hands upon another person's skin, was heal their darkness, their isolation, their forced silence, their overburdened-ness, their fear. By his touch, Jesus reminded people they were loved and cherished and that their well-being mattered, and he restored them to community. We can do that with our touch, too.
We know how what we do with our hands - our knitting, our quilting, our stitching - how it heals us, calms us, renews us, binds us together. Anne Lamott says that in our times of darkness or despair, stitching is "the finger and heart version of putting one foot in front of the other." We also know how what we do with our hands heals others when we wrap them in our prayer, our thoughts, our love, our scarves, our quilts. How touching even the fringe of a garment can make one well in heart and spirit. Anne Lamott goes on to write, "The world is always going to be dangerous, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be any more meaning than helping one another stand up in a wind and stay warm?"
That's the thing about yarn. That's the thing about fabric. That's the thing about being knit together in love and prayer through Jesus Christ. What wonders there are to behold. Amen.