Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Advent Reflections: Undoer of Knots

Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner,
Mary, Untier of Knots
When my daughter and I visited a Catholic supply and gift shop today, I was reminded of just how much Marian iconography exists, and how beautiful some of it is.

On this visit, my daughter wanted to buy an adorable figurine depicting Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. I was happy to oblige, as that's one of my favorite Marian images as well. One angel hands the Virgin a knotted rope, suggesting a problem someone has brought to her. As she unravels the knot, with an expression that suggests great focus on the task at hand coupled with a graceful, unperturbed calmness, she hands the string to an angel on her opposite side, symbolizing a prayer answered and ready to be delivered.

Pope Francis has a special devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. This imagining of Mary dates all the way back to the second century, when Irenaeus wrote: "[T]he knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith."

Those words struck me today when my daughter wanted to wrap up the figurine and give it to her mama as an early Christmas gift. When my wife opened it, my daughter remarked, "It's you, Mom!" It's not that she thinks her earthly mom is Mary, but that she sees her mom as doing the same thing in her young life: My daughter takes her problems and concerns to my wife, and mama sorts them out, tirelessly, faithfully, because she loves our kiddo and wants her to be happy. 

And thus does a child's innocent remark reveal just why Mary has remained such a powerful icon for Catholics, the Orthodox, and other Christians throughout the ages. She is our tireless spiritual mother, always thinking of the needs of others, taking the problems we hand her with tenderness and care, and helping us to sort them out -- because she loves us, her children.

In this Advent season, we're reminded that Mary had her own knots to untie. 

How am I going to explain this pregnancy to Joseph? 

How is a pregnant woman supposed to make the long journey to Bethlehem? 

How am I supposed to give birth in a stinky stable full of animals? 

Why do they want to kill my son, and when can I take him home? 

Mary surely prayed about her many predicaments, but she was chosen for the job of bringing the Son of God into the world precisely because God knew she could handle it. She could unravel her own knots when she needed to. And so we should feel confident in going to her with our own concerns and dilemmas. For indeed, she continues to loosen all her children's knots today. 

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