By Joseph Stoltzfus
Busy hands worked late into the night, lifting and twisting and pulling colorful strands of yarn across the sprawling branches of the tree outside of Brown Chapel. Eight friends dangled from the branches as they reached and fastened crocheted rectangles of all different patterns and stitches firmly over the bark. At this point it was dark and, with their phones in hand, the friends, who were now beginning to feel tired, held their little lights up for one another, working diligently and as quickly as they could to complete their task. Eventually, five hours after they had begun their project, they took a step back and a couple good look at their collective creation before returning home for the night.
When the sun rose in the sky the next morning, the tree looked very different. The tree was illuminated and bedecked with vibrant hues of oranges, purples, greens, yellows, and blues. Seemingly appropriately, red flowers were beginning to bloom on the branches as the tree appeared to spring to new life.
For Delaney O’Keefe and her team of seven other crochet masters who had “yarn-bombed” the tree to mark the beginning of Point Loma Nazarene University’s week of Kaleo Chapels, it was a job well done.
“Everyone seems to love it and it fills my heart with joy,” she says.
The semesterly week of artist-led chapels is a time for students to break out their arts and crafts supplies, musical sheets and journals to find new ways to creatively express worship. Across three different chapel services held between Wednesday and Friday, students brought music, poetry, and various types of art to the stage and screens of Brown Chapel.
“Our hopes and dreams for Kaleo are to encourage and celebrate the variety of ways that creative arts can be means of expressing our faith,” says Dr. Mary Paul, vice president of Spiritual Development, in an email interview, “Kaleo also provides an opportunity for more students to provide leadership in worship through a variety of means.”
O’Keefe had begun thinking about yarn-bombing an iconic spot on campus long before she learned about the opportunity to do it for Kaleo.
“I’ve been crocheting since the summer before my eighth grade year,” she says, “I met a summer camp counselor who crocheted and so picked up the basic stitch from YouTube and the rest is history. Since I learned about it, I’ve always wanted to do a yarn-bomb and it is something that my friends and I had talked about for a while.”
Why do it?
For O’Keefe, the answer is as much sincere as it is comical.
“In times like now when our country is full of hate and discrimination and ugliness, an explosion of light-hearted color popping up in the middle of the night causes people to come together for just a moment in wonder and confusion,” she says, “It gives them an opportunity to laugh for a moment at the absurdity of a tree wearing a sweater.”
When O’Keefe travelled with M’Lynn Martin, the ASB Spiritual Life Director, to Iceland, she pitched the idea of yarn bombing to her and got the ball rolling with Charlie Lyons-Pardue, the Chapel Director and Creative Arts Coordinator who gave them the green light to get working on the project. But even once she was given permission, O’Keefe and her gang wanted to keep their project a secret, because, for them, part of the novelty of yarn-bombing is the excitement of doing something unexpected.
Lizzy Kim, a junior writing and fashion merchandising double major who participated in the yarn-bombing outside of Brown Chapel, said that crochet art is a way for her to surround herself with imagery that reminds her of God’s promises.
“It’s sometimes another form of prayer for me since sometimes I can better communicate in art what I’m not even feeling consciously yet,” she says, “For me, this piece is about finding beauty within the mundane.”
On his own journey of self-exploration, fellow participant in Kaleo Chapel week, Jack Gillette, sees another function for creative expression within worship. For him, he says that the art of songwriting helps him cope with moments of anxiety in his life. Gillette, a music composition major and worship intern at PLNU, says that the original song he wrote for Kaleo chapel, entitled “Rest”, was inspired by the words he believes he regularly hears from Jesus: “come and rest with me.”
“I love worshipping through my own songs because it gives me the freedom to speak my exact heart, to the T,” Gillette says, “Hopefully, my song communicates practically the breadth and reality of His real love for us and how His heart is to bless us and treasure us.”
It will be another semester before another Kaleo Chapel week rolls around again, but until then, Gillette, Kim, O’Keefe and other participants of the past Kaleo Chapel week, have expressed their hopes that people are inspired by their work to pursue their own creative interests.
“Actively acting on artistic inspiration is a healthy spiritual practice for everyone,” says Gillette. “It forces you really contemplate what you think, what you feel, and what you believe. Even more importantly, I think it opens up an avenue for the Holy Spirit to speak to us.”
As for O’Keefe and her friends, who are responding to questions now about future yarn-bombing, they remain characteristically tight-lipped. For the rest of us who are less adept with crochet hooks and unruly skeins of yarn, we will just have to wait and see when and where their colorful yarn-bombing explodes next.