When I was in Junior High I taught myself to crochet. I would have asked someone to teach me but I had one problem—I was left-handed and everyone I knew who possessed a crochet hook was right-handed. So I taught myself. I learned to reverse the pictures on the page, and recognize the patterns reversed on my hook. There were a few things I struggled with—like getting the appropriate “gauge”—using the right hook with the right tension in order to cover the correct amount of space. I once made a sweater for my father that literally came down to his 6 foot 4 inch knees. I was away at camp at the time and kept telling him, “I think it’s getting a little long.” He encouraged me to press on, because he couldn’t imagine anything being too long. It was grotesquely uninhabitable. We still laugh about it.
But a moment came during High School when I had practiced a long time and decided to tackle a fisherman crocheted sweater—like the Irish knitted versions in cream colored wool with all different kinds of patterns woven throughout. Popcorn stitches, ribs and cables. It turned out pretty well—although no one told me that such sweaters were unbearably warm and could only be worn outside when the weather was at least 20 below zero. After thirty years it still looks new. I have not lived in such chilly climes for a long time.
I am presently teaching a class on prayer with a delightful group of seminary students We have explored the patterns of prayer: the Lord’s Pray, the Psalms, and experienced these fundamental forms of Christian prayer woven together into a liturgy that reminds me a little of the rigor (and permanence) of creating an Irish sweater. But when we came to liturgy I found the room split in subtle ways. Some of them naturally prayed “right-handed.” The liturgical pattern fit without any alterations. The hook fits well in their hands. The patterns needed no adaptation. But other students pray “left-handed.” They have absolutely no quarrel with the substantive content of Christian prayer, but they need permission to pick up a hook with the other hand, and study the pattern until they can translate it into a form that fits the way God created them. Right-handed liturgy is upside-down and backwards to them at first sight.
My “left-handed” students come to this class with a quiet quest that their “right-handed” companions lack. They have been exploring how prayer is supposed to work for them for a very long time. They may have made some theological mistakes in the trying, but their vitality is refreshing. My “right-handed” students have never had the impulse to change anything and are stretched as they are called to understand and bless their friends who are incapable of leaving well enough alone—not because they are stubborn but they cannot enter into prayer without some personalized adaptations.
There are so many examples of “left-handed” and “right-handed” people in the Scriptures and throughout church history. Meat eaters and non-meat eaters, baptism as gift of salvation or as testament to salvation, communion as body and blood of Jesus, or a remembrance of his work on the cross. And the list goes on, and splits into multiple highways and byways. And in the midst of all our spiritual diversity, I pray that this class on prayer will come to appreciate the strengths of each other as pray-ers and, hence, obtain a richer glimpse of the Kingdom of God.