Undoing the Knots
The clip above (I apologize for the language) is from the movie City Slickers, a delightful movie released 25 years ago. Of all the scenes, funny and serious, this is my favorite. More than anything else, I have remembered the line from the old cowboy Curly:
You all come up here about the same age, with the same problems. You spend 50 weeks a year getting knots in your rope, and then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it.
The image is powerful because it's true. Imagine our life as a rope and life's anxieties as knots. We spend every day of our lives wrestling with those knots. Knots in our stomachs, knots in our throats, knots in our thinking, knots in our rope. The old cowboy is also right about how we deal with them. We spend all this time collecting them and knotting our rope and then think one weekend or one book or one miracle fad will untie all of them. And when they don't, the rope continues to kink with knots. We don't get it.
Last year I discovered a Marian devotion made popular by Pope Francis: Mary, Undoer of Knots. There is a helpful introduction here, with the following description of the painting that inaugurated the devotion:
The original Baroque painting of ‘Mary Untier of Knots’, by Johann George Melchior Schmidtner, dating from around 1700, is found in the church of St Peter am Perlach, in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany. It measures six feet in height and almost four feet in width. The painting depicts Mary suspended between heaven and earth, resplendent with light. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is above her head, reminding us that she became Mother of God and full of grace by virtue of the third person of the Trinity. She is dressed resplendently in crimson, and a deep blue mantle representing her glory as Queen of the Universe. A crown of twelve stars adorning her head signifies her Queenship of the Apostles. Her feet crush the head of the serpent indicating her part in the victory over Satan. She is surrounded by angels, signifying her position as Queen of the Angels and Queen of Heaven. In her hands is a knotted white ribbon, which she is serenely untying. Assisting her at the task are two angels: one presents the knots of our lives to her, while another angel presents the ribbon, freed from knots, to us.
How does the Mother of Our Lord undo our knots? The intercession of Mary to her Son is a great mystery, but one thing is clear. If we devotionally focus on Mary then we will, if the devotion is properly ordered, focus on Our Lord. If our hearts and minds are on Jesus, those anxieties will begin to unravel. We will begin to see our life, and life's challenges, from a different vantage point: the victorious throne of the Lord Jesus.
I am drawn to Mary, Undoer/Untier of Knots. I am very good at kinking up the rope of life. Worry is not a struggle for me. The other night during a public recitation of the Rosary, I was in the back leading the prayers and could not see the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. I placed the holy card of Mary, Undoer of Knots on my knee for a devotional focus. It occurred to me as I passed the beads of the rosary through my hands, I was mirroring the knots passing through the hands of Mary. The rosary, which focuses our prayers to Our Lord through His Mother, powerful loosens the tightness of those knots. Time after time, those knots loosen and straighten.