There’s a Mary that’s gotten me through the recent hard times, having found myself so exhausted and desperate for the simplest of images, when prayer becomes too hard. Mary Untier of Knots is a painting from 1700 Germany by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner. Essentially, Pope Francis came across her in the 1980s and shared her, and she’s been embraced by Latin America ever since, now treasured worldwide. Surrounded by the childlike faces of angels, she stands calmly under the seeping yellow light from a dove, her head tilted to gaze down at a white ribbon she’s untangling. The knot she’s working on is free, opening wide, and vanishing; the ribbon is smooth once again. An angel on her left holds the end of it, stares out at the viewer, trusting this detangling with his whole heart. The expression on his face says: “She’s got this.” The angel on the right is holding the ribbon still weighed down by knots.
What are my problems, my heartaches? Each is a knot. The prayer to her is simple: I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. I keep this phrase on my to-do list on my phone, a permanent reminder of things I need to accomplish. And there is grace in the asking, not just the answering. I can’t do it alone. When I untangle things, I escalate with frustration, pulling the knot even tighter, becoming angrier. Mary doesn’t start pulling the knot with her teeth, like I do. Or poking at it with a needle. Or giving up. Still, letting go is hard. What of the situations that are bound so tightly I cannot see any movement? They just go on and on, and keep hurting. Is she working to untie them? Like a mom, does she lean down and say, “Here, honey, let me see. Let me try. Little bee, hand it over.”
—from the book Gather the Fragments: My Year of Finding God’s Love
by Maureen O’Brien