RG writes: “At my (Roman Catholic) church today, some women in the narthex were promoting a “prayer shawl ministry” and handed me a brochure promoting this website: http://www.shawlministry.com/. Overall, it sounded like a good idea – providing comforting prayer shawls for the homebound and hospitalized. I thought it odd that there was a reference to “applied Feminist Spirituality.” So when I went home, I checked out the website. There are a few troubling non-Christian things discussed there such as where they talk about “chakras” under Symbolism –> Aroma therapy. They also talk about a
“mothering God” which sounds a bit New Age-like to me. By the way, they are willing to teach people how to knit and crochet, and I would like to learn (learned as child, but forgot). I just don’t want some New Age agenda pushed on me or to do anything contrary to my Christian faith. Would like your comments.”
RG, you are an astute Christian!
Yours is one of several complaints I’ve received from women who became involved in the Prayer Shawl Ministry – specifically, about New Age concepts found on the website of the Shawl Ministry, which appears to be the “mother” of all prayer shawl ministries.
First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with prayer shawl ministries in general. They are beautiful works of mercy that consist of someone praying for someone while knitting them a shawl or blanket. Many knitters pray over their yarn and needles before beginning, and pray throughout the project. When completed, the piece is often taken to church and blessed before being presented to the recipient.
The problem that seems to be arising concerns The Shawl Ministry. It was started by Vicki Gallo (a Catholic) and Janet Bristow after they attended classes at the Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford Theological Seminary where they delved into a study of the “divine feminine.” Their teacher was none other than the radical feminist theologian and Medical Mission Sister Miriam Therese Winter, who is associated with several organizations that openly dissent from Church teaching such as the pro-women’s ordination groups WomenChurch and FutureChurch, and with those who believe in Sophia goddess-worship. (See http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=849 for an article she wrote about WomenChurch).
This might explain where that New Agey-feel is coming from. Gallo and Bristow obviously wanted their ministry to be “inclusive” of women of all faiths, they include the recommendation that the shawls also be given during croning and/or leading rituals which are usually associated with Wiccan and other pagan groups, many of whom are involved in the occult. They also feature a page on their site devoted to aromatherapy where they reference “chakras” – an eastern belief in energy centers that supposedly exist in the body.
Also on the site is a link to a “Reflecting Pool” that includes a prayer to Kuan Yin (a Chinese Buddhist goddess), a poem about circles by their friend Sr. Miriam, and a link to a Labyrinth that can be walked online (See http://www.shawlministry.com/reflection.htm).
Groups meeting in churches may or may not be carrying these New Age influences into their ministries, but from what I could find, most do not and seem to be thoroughly Christian.
RG, it will probably be safe for you to learn how to knit at your local shawl ministry, but if you see any evidence of these New Age/pagan beliefs or materials being incorporated into the meetings, quit the group and consider starting your own.