Patterns of the Spiritual Life

Knitting is a hobby of mine. I’m currently working on a shawl that is probably the most complicated thing I’ve made so far. It’s not terribly difficult, but it involves some stitches that were new to me. I’ve had to follow the pattern very carefully. Even with that, I wasn’t paying attention one day and knit half of a row backwards. It took me awhile to figure out where I went wrong. I ripped out three or four rows before I finally discovered where I had made my mistake, which was honestly due to lack of attention at the moment. Once I got back on track, I was careful to double-check my work at regular intervals.

Photo by Sarah Claeys on Unsplash

However, after some time of paying close attention to the pattern, the sequence of stitches began to become intuitively apparent to me. The complexity of the pattern started to make sense, and I found myself being able to guess what was coming next more quickly. I’m still checking the pattern carefully as I go along each row (as anyone who has made a mistake knitting or sewing knows how discouraging it is to rip out your work and start over). But the pattern’s intricate design is starting to become much more apparent and predictable to me as I see the stitches take shape together to make a beautiful whole.

As I was reflecting on all of this with knitting in hand this morning, I began to draw parallels within the spiritual life, specifically regarding the patterns of habits, behaviors, and spiritual disciplines.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting how my day is going to go with a lack of sleep. I also know just how I will end up feeling and the kind of thoughts I will find swirling in my head when I haven’t gotten up early enough to spend time with God in silent prayer and Scripture reading. When I miss my regular time for the rosary a few days in a row, I don’t get to Adoration one week, or I wait too late to examine my conscience at night and just can’t keep my eyes open, I can tell that my spiritual intuition and sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit is not in sync.

The truth is that healthy behaviors and a properly ordered rule of prayer and devotions operate similarly in my life to that knitting pattern. If I drop a stitch every once in a while, it won’t be as noticeable; and small mistakes are easier to correct if you catch them quickly. However, if your entire pattern gets off track, it doesn’t take long for the whole design of the creation to become blurry and lose its unique and intricate beauty. And then…it’s time to rip out stitches and start again.

By “rip out stitches” in the spiritual life I mean that bad habits and harmful impulses have to become unlearned, and the spiritual rule of life reinstated. When you knit, each row builds a foundation for the next. In fact, the design being creating in one row is dependent on whether you followed the pattern correctly in the previous row. And just so with the spiritual life. The spiritual tools and gifts we invest multiply and grow. If we leave off the spiritual rhythms of life, then over time the tapestry of our lives will take a very different shape; we may end up in a long time of spiritual repair to undo the damage that we did since going off track.

If we stop putting God first, it gets easier to put Him second. If we stop praying, we are less able to hear His voice. If we veer off the path of the contemplative life, engaged in regular wonder and love of God and His benevolence, then we become easily immersed in the surrounding culture of consumption and despair. Just as each stitch is the foundation for another, each spiritual act strengthens our will for the good, restores our mind in truth, and anchors our souls in the hope of God’s promises.

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey

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