Granny squares

As I read Dr. Mary Neal’s book, “To Heaven And Back,” my attention was drawn to her analogy of God as Master Weaver and each of us as a thread. Neal says, “Without our individual contribution, the tapestry would be incomplete or broken.” Weaving is outside my realm of personal experience so my mind substituted crocheting with yarn. I visualized a pattern I had seen where each granny square was a different color and/or different pattern of stitches. Yet, together these squares made a stunning afghan. 

The poem “The Master Weaver’s Plan” ( describes human life as a weaving between the Lord and me. Yet, it is the Lord filling the shuttle and doing the weaving. In this model, where is free will? Where is a person recognizing God’s gifts and choosing how to best use them? Only the Master Weaver gets to see the finished upper side of the cloth. I don’t know about you, but I always wish to understand connections and where we are going. 

In her book, “A History with God,” Dr. Mary McDonald presents a seemingly contrary image of God. McDonald describes the symbolism of a Crucifix with Jesus without arms. Each of us is to serve as Jesus’ arms for His work in this world. To do this, our actions have to be work-centered on God and focused upon what God wishes us to do. 

I tried in vain to synthesize the two images. I finally decided that Neal’s book was about her afterdeath experiences. As such, her model of a finished tapestry makes sense for analysis of a completed human life. However, as Soren Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Thus, McDonald’s idea seemed to fit better with my life experiences. 

I let the controversy slip from the forefront of my mind until quite by accident I found the connection that I needed to better appreciate the model of God as Master Weaver. I found an old student sketch modeling protein synthesis. I smiled as I stared down at grandma in her rocking chair making an afghan (new protein) from yarn and granny squares (amino acid building blocks). In the cell, grandma (protein synthesis) works with the materials and directions at hand. Yet, there is an underlying purpose, direction and guidance to that process. 

That sketch reminded me of a Lenten project where students were invited to join a group to prepare afghans for charity. I had thought to have them each do some granny squares. Then one of us would bind those into an afghan. This way one afghan would symbolically be a team effort. However, each student insisted on doing her own baby blanket. Since I had already made a number of squares, I finished that project. 

A friend wished a baby blanket for her Costa Rican friend who was expecting a little girl. I offered her the choice of my completed afghans. The moment she saw the blanket with the granny squares she fell in love with it. I tried to explain that its design was simple compared to the others. She would not hear of sending any other blanket. 

The short story “The Baby Blanket” by Winoma Smith presents a similar tale, but one whose focus is on the recipient. Sometime after Smith had sent the afghan to her church, a former neighbor returned to visit. The neighbor shared the tale of someone unknown, yet so special in her daughter and granddaughter’s lives.

Smith’s gift had left the state and ended up in the hands of an unwed teen-ager. This girl doubted her ability to be a mother. However, seeing her newborn daughter wrapped in the blanket gave that young girl the courage to accept the responsibility of motherhood. Yes, the neighbor’s daughter was that unwed mother. 

With our gifts and resources, Smith and I had each worked on a small project. I had thought of myself in control and as serving as God’s hands to complete the venture. However, in looking at the whole picture, God had something else in mind for each of our humble undertakings. 

With this, I finally had my synthesis of the images of God. I understood what it meant to be a weaver under the Master Weaver. In addition, I learned that in stillness, contemplation and mystery of coincidences one can catch a glimpse of God’s right side up of the tapestry. 

The poem “God’s Quilt” (found at presents an interesting view of the tapestry of our lives come Judgment Day. In the poem, the person watches as an angel sews together the squares made from her life. As the finished quilt is raised, she fears the threadbare spots in the squares. However, the light shining through provides an image of the Face of Christ. For each of us, may the Face of God, the Master Weaver, always shine through the granny squares we are weaving with our talents and choices in serving the Christ without arms. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer born and raised in Fall River. She is a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish and received her Ph.D. in neurochemistry from Boston College and teaches in the Chemistry Department at Rhode Island College. She can be reached at

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts