When I was small, I had a cross that hung on a very fine gold chain. The chain often managed to twist itself into a little knotted mess in my drawer which my mother or father had to undo painstakingly with a straight pen. My long hair also ended up in tangles, and I would yell when my mother tried to comb them out. Undoing knots is a chore with which most parents, I imagine, are familiar.
Now that I am an adult, it is more often my interior life that gets tied up in knots. So I was intrigued when I ran across a name for Mary the Mother of Jesus that I had never heard before: Mary Undoer of Knots, or Mary Untier of Knots.
According to Wikipedia:
The concept of Mary untying knots is derived from St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ book Adversus haereses (Against Heresies). In Book III, Chapter 22, he explains that “… the 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.”
Eve said no to God. Mary said yes.
The painting is by Johann George Melchior Schmidtner, from around 1700. It shows Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whose dove hovers above her, undoing knots — big ones and small ones — in a long cord, aided by angels who hold either end of the cord. Although the painting itself is not a masterpiece, the idea is appealing, especially because of all that is knotted or tangled in human life. This includes sin, of course, but is not limited to sin.
As I tell Sisters Annette and Elizabeth about the painting, Sister Elizabeth stops me. “If the angels are holding both ends of the cord, how does she untie the knots?”
“Good point,” I say.
My first thought is that the artist was not much acquainted with knots. But when I look more closely, I see that the angels are not holding tightly to the cord. I also realize that our human tangles sometimes do get mysteriously untied, even though we ourselves are, figuratively speaking, holding tightly to the ends. (Or perhaps God has gently pried them from our fists.)
So I pray:
O God, who inspired your servant Mary to say yes,
may my heart also be an unreserved yes
at every moment of every day.
May I not withhold from you
even the dark mazes of my mind
or the tangled complexities of my heart.
When I get lost in a web of fears,
pull me out again into the wide spaces of your peace.
Untie the knots and confusion that immobilize me
when I try to sort out the jumble of my motives,
instead of entrusting the unraveling to you.
Preserve me from snarled reasonings
that snag on wrongdoing,
that twist into a mode of violent righteousness,
that keep me from the simple truth of loving you
and my neighbor
and the stranger at my gate.
Mary, undoer of knots, pray for us.