Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Lessons from the Unspellable Stole

In the last few days I’ve started a knitting pattern that I’ve wanted to make for a long time.  It’s called the Scheherazade Stole, and I think it’s beautiful.  I think the name is also beautiful, there’s wonderful music in “Scheherazade,” but I practically never spell it correctly on the first try.  There’s usually an H missing, or some vowels flipped.  I’ve nicknamed it the “Unspellable Stole.”

While working on the new stole (a stole is simply a type of shawl), I’ve been thinking about how this pattern is challenging for me in different ways than any knitting pattern I’ve tackled so far.  It’s a charted pattern, which is no problem (for the unfamiliar, this page has an example of a knitting chart — scroll down to the grid with symbols on it.  Learn to knit and read the chart, and you can make that scarf.)  The charts for Scheherazade aren’t complicated, but they are massive.  They go on for pages and pages, and include long stretches of stitches to count, which tends to make me cross-eyed and mistake-prone.  There are a few stitches I’m not familiar with.

I’ve been employing a lot of tricks to make the process easier, though, some of which are old and familiar and some of which I’ve made up to cope with this specific pattern.  I’ve got the charts printed out and taped together so I can see everything I need to at once.  I’m pre-counting long rows of stitches, which helps me make less mistakes when it comes to the actual knitting.  I’ve written all kinds of helpful notes across my charts to help me stay on track.  I scribble out rows after I knit them so I don’t get lost.  I’ve gone so far as to print a whole second set of charts, because this pattern is symmetrical from the center out — you start at the middle, knit to one end, then go back to the middle, use the same pattern and knit to the other end.  I’m scribbling up my first pattern too much to use it again, so I’ve got a second copy ready to go, and as I make useful notes on the first copy I transfer them immediately to the second, so I don’t have to duplicate any work later.  And so on.

In a knitting pattern, it comes totally naturally to me to make the process as easy as possible for myself, primarily by breaking down any complications into simpler steps, to make the actual knitting more enjoyable and make it less likely that I’ll mess up.  Right now I’m kind of boggled by realizing that this thing which happens automatically in one area totally escapes me in others, and especially in all the things that I’ve been wanting and trying to change, mostly without huge piles of success.  Cleaning up and decorating my house.  Shifting my eating habits to be a little healthier.  Developing my taiji skills.  Writing and posting consistently.  Finding paid writing jobs, or some other form of paid work while I keep working on writing (there’s the big one right now).

In all of these things, I’m realizing that my progress has been limited because they’re complex things that I try to deal with as complex things, without examining what’s really involved and disassembling them into component parts, breaking them into simpler pieces that I can actually do something about.  I don’t treat them like I treat a knitting pattern.  I treat them like big, hard things that I don’t know how to handle and get flustered by.  No wonder I’m not making progress.

I’ve been keeping this in mind, then, as I work on my Unspellable Stole, and as I make plans to pursue my next goals.  If I can turn my big, complicated intentions into bite-sized chunks, I’ll have a much better chance of accomplishing them.  If it doesn’t come as naturally for those things as it does in my knitting, I’ll have to make a deliberate point of it.  But the principle is there, and I know it works.  Time to put it to use.


What Wisdom Requires: Meditation on Proverbs 1 and 2

Yesterday morning the lead pastor of my church challenged us to read Proverbs over the next month, one chapter a day. We’re in the middle of a series about how to discover God’s will, and the key point from yesterday is to look for principles in the Bible, not just promises. (Audio from yesterday’s sermon is available here, for more context — great teaching in there.) Proverbs is a natural place to start, when looking for general principles in God’s word; it’s almost too easy, they’re everywhere. That’s what Proverbs is about — distilled wisdom for living well.

So I read Proverbs 1 last night, and Proverbs 2 this morning, and then Proverbs 1 again, because I’m compelled by the last section of chapter 1, verses 20-33. Wisdom is here personified as a woman, walking through the city and shouting out against people who have rejected her teaching. She is blunt; she is not kind. She tells the people who don’t care about her that they have made their own beds, and they will most assuredly lie in them, and then she will laugh at them — she will mock them in the midst of their disasters, because they didn’t ask her for help when they could have. On the contrary, they scorned her.

Yeowch. And yet, Wisdom is not laughing at people who have never heard of her. She isn’t withholding her knowledge from people and then kicking them when they’re down. Wisdom speaks in the open, she’s in the city streets where everyone can hear her. She tried to reach the foolish; she told them they were on a bad course, and they were the ones who didn’t listen.

Wisdom is shown as a stern teacher, but not an uncaring one. She has much to give, but she refuses to coddle. She is in no way co-dependent. She doesn’t chase people who are not paying attention to her. She will gladly teach you, but you have to want her teaching. You have to pay attention to her. You have to seek Wisdom, or she won’t seek you.

In short, Wisdom requires you to grow up. She makes you take responsibility for your own life. She will generously teach you everything she knows, if you want her and you seek her.

Proverbs 2 continues the same idea, this time in the guise of a father or teacher speaking to his son or student. Verses 2-4 instruct the son in how to gain wisdom — turn your ear to it and apply your heart, cry out for understanding, seek it with as much diligence and passion as though you were hunting for treasure. In other words, care about this deeply and seek it energetically. Understand that wisdom is greatly valuable, and treat it that way. The son is urged to care about wisdom and pursue it, and the rest of the chapter is about the great rewards and benefits of doing so.

The larger principle I see here is that whatever you want in life, you need to set your heart on gaining it, take responsibility for seeking it, point your own intentions and efforts toward it. God can help you gain any good thing, anything which helps you and brings honor to him, but you have to want it. You have to be intentional about it. Jesus said it like this: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9) You ask, you seek, you knock. Great things are promised, but we have to make the start. Seek God, set your heart on something good, and start pursuing it.