Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All the colours combined - by Helen Murray

A while ago I went 'prayer weaving'.

No, I hadn't heard of it before, either. There's a little loom which consists of a series of removable prongs in a wooden base (five, in our case - just weaving something small). You take a ball of wool, or strips of fabric, ribbons - whatever you can make into strands - and weave it in and out of the prongs across the loom and back again. Knot two pieces together to change wool or texture, and then when the loom becomes almost full, pull the prongs out, threading the attached piece of wool through your creation. You can do this several times in order to make a piece that's as long as you want.

By the end, my piece of woven fabric was about eight inches long and about four wide. After removing it from the loom for the last time, you cut the warp threads (the vertical ones) and tie them off, and there you have it.

It's supposed to be a prayer.

The idea is that you have a conversation with God as you weave. You choose your colours instinctively and without too much deliberation in order to allow God to speak to you in whatever way He sees fit; through colour, through texture, through metaphor, through ideas or thoughts or words in your head.

I went along to the session feeling quite down; a prevailing mood for a while now. If I hadn't committed myself to begin there I suspect I might not have gone at all, and to be honest, I wasn't particularly up for having a conversation with God. I wasn't in the mood for more pep talks about persevering, or about counting my blessings. I was making up the numbers and, if nothing else, I'd decided that an hour spent doing something crafty might be a bit of relaxation time, and since my creativity isn't doing so well at the moment, I'd give it a go.

God started work a little bit before I did. I was feeling a bit frazzled as I climbed into the car with twenty minutes left to do a half hour journey. For the first time in a few weeks I turned the music up as I drove off; it was a Phil Wickham track called 'Just Hold On'.

'There is a battle in the distance
I see it flashing in the sky
It's gonna be a long, long night
All that was holding you together
Is crumbling apart
And left you with an aching heart
Take my hand, here I am'

The first thing that came to mind was that it feels as if I've been in a battle. This year has started with so many things to cope with coming at me from every angle. Things that I thought I'd dealt with (and written triumphant blog posts about) years ago are back to hassle me, joining forces with new stuff in the form of bad news, overwhelming life stuff and health issues. And then there's that old chestnut that when I need God most, I have no energy or desire to find Him.

Yes, there's a battle. Always a battle, but I've been struggling in the middle of it.

'Take my hand, here I am...

Love is gonna make it right
Just hold on, just hold on
There's mercy in the morning light
When you're weak love is strong
Hold on'

I don't really know what happened as I listened to that song, but a little glimmer of something seemed to penetrate the darkness. A ray of morning light. A little glint of something shining in the black. I turned the music up loud, and made it there, almost on time.

So, prayer weaving.

Each seat had a loom set up and ready for a participant. The vertical threads were already attached to the loom, and my seat had black threads already on it. Good, I thought.

I knew what I was going to do. The room was set out with multiple baskets and tubs of different fabrics, wools, yarns and ribbons in every colour, pattern and texture that you can imagine. I chose the darkest colours I could find in shades of black and purple and began weaving. 

It was quite therapeutic, the in-out-in-out of the thread between the pegs, a rhythmic thing that I found wasn't conducive to thinking at all, really - more just switching off. My piece of work grew longer with each row of ins and outs and I changed material every few rows.

Fluffy black thread, chunky purple wool, tweedy fabric in dark colours, purple ribbon. I wanted there to be different textures, but little colour. Dark, drab, plain.

And then... a little glimmer of gold. A shaft of morning light in the gloom.

My mind was full of the symbolism of what I was doing. In-and-out, in-and-out. A rhythmic plodding on, sometimes fast and sometimes slow.

Sometimes tightly, weaving with tension, sometimes more relaxed, loosely.

Some threads were easier to use than others, some slipping through the fingers smoothly, and others lumpy and bumpy and hard to work with.

Some strands of fabric weren't really long enough - particularly the shreds of gold that I found; I wished there were more of those, but they were quickly woven in and then I was back to my dark threads.

Some of them rough to my fingers, some silky, some fluffy and soft, some thin and almost wiry.

In-and-out, in-and-out. Like days and weeks and months and years. Life (in my negative frame of mind) dull and monotonous. Too much dark and not enough light. Too dark to see what was ahead; not enough colour to inspire. And yet, bright threads woven through adding glimmers of beauty, changing the mood of the whole piece.

At the end when my piece of weaving was free from the loom, I found scraps of red and gold ribbon and tied off the ends - my little dark-night prayer gilded at the beginning and end with little pieces of sunrise.

'There's mercy in the morning light...'

I was quite surprised at my piece, when it was finished.

I was surprised at how dark it was, in comparison with other people's. Bright colours everywhere, yellows and greens and reds and oranges... and then mine, by far the most miserable looking piece of work in the room. Still, to me it spoke of hope, the assurance that there is gold to be found even in the darkest hours, that after night comes morning, with its rays of brilliance. That God is there in the blackness.

'Take My hand, here I am...'

Afterwards, I took my bit of weaving home with me and laid it on the arm of a chair in the sitting room. As I sat, I was smoothing it out, fingering the different textures and gently shaping it in my hands.

As I looked closely, I noticed something that I hadn't intended when I'd selected the component parts.  I'd been looking for the darkest, drabbest colours that I could find, and yet... here was a dark-looking rectangle of wool and fabric, but examined closely it was full of hidden colour and pattern.

Much more beautiful than I'd anticipated.

I took photographs and took the lens as close as I could to the weave and I found that the camera found a depth of colour in close up that wasn't immediately obvious unless you held the fabric up to the light and examined it in detail. Through the lens, it looked different.

A browny-purple wool turned out to be made up of a myriad of different colours ranging from grey to beige to blue and green. A black thread had specks of vivid blue, and a dull tweed hid strands of yellow and teal.

More than meets the eye.

So perhaps when life is at its drabbest, most monotonous, then its beauty can only be seen through a special lens. Maybe I need eyes to see, and ears to hear. Perhaps there are hidden treasures that can only be found in close up, with concentration; only when I am enabled to see. Maybe even the darkest fabrics are made of tinier threads that bring their own colour to contribute to the whole - but from a distance seem invisible.

So my woven prayer was more of an offering to the God of the morning light, who invites me to take His hand when I am stumbling in the darkness. When there's a battle and the night feels long, He whispers that He is there, and morning is coming. He took my grudging offering and gave me something in return. He showed me that even in the darkness there is beauty - that black is not a colour on its own but all the colours combined. Sometimes even if we can't see them, the colours are still there, undiminished.

Maybe God's got plans for that darkness. He is a God who wastes nothing, remember; all the scraps of fabric that I knotted together go to create something with depth and texture. A combination of odds and ends, of scraps and strands. If anyone can bring good things out of bad, He can. If anyone can find beauty where all seems ugly, He can.

Beauty in darkness.

Colour in the shadows.

'Love is gonna make it right.
Just hold on, just hold on'. 

Phil Wickham, 'Heaven and Earth' 2009 INO Records

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


  1. Lovely, Helen. Now you have a visual aid to pray with.
    I am colouring Images of Joy, even when Joy is the last thing on my mind. I choose the colours thoughtfully. Sometimes I have a plan, but muddle it up. Colour is very important to me. Sue

    1. It really focuses the mind, doesn't it? Thanks Sue. x

  2. Beautiful, Helen. I love how God is working all along, even though we may think he's nowhere to be found, and he loves to surprise us. I love those flecks of gold and all those 'hidden colours' or as Cyndi Lauper famously sang 'your true colours.' I really do hope you continue to see God's shafts of gorgeous warming light as you go through this challenging time. Blessings and can't wait to see you at Scargill :)

    1. Thank you, Martin! Really looking forward to Scargill. Not long now! :-)

  3. I've just re-found your blog - penetrating as ever!