Mary, Untier of Knots is one of the more meaningful images of The Blessed Mother for me. It’s a painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner, probably painted around the turn of the 18th century for a Bavarian Church.
Mary is holding a rope, the right end a knotted mess, the left end untangled. And Mary herself is untangling the knots. I have several prayer cards with this image, and often, when someone comes to me struggling with the knots in their lives, I offer this image and this prayer: Help us untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, each other, and ourselves.
Some people find the image and prayer helpful; others don’t. Such is the world of pastoral care.
Over the years I’ve prayed this prayer for the knots in my own life - the people I struggle to forgive; when my own emotions of fear, anxiety, and crippling doubt knotted my self and soul; the times I’ve knotted myself to my own expectations or desires and refused to move with the Spirit.
Knots are part of our spiritual selves and souls. The knots of our anger, our fears, our own self-unawareness bind, tangle, twist, and snarl us. Knots create a rather uncomfortable soul and, if left to continue knotting, cut off vitality and life.
Untangling our knots is not for the faint of heart. My experience is many would rather live with their ever growing collection of knots, however uncomfortable and bruising they are. When we recognize the pain in our lives these knots of sin and brokenness cause, our initial response is often surprise.
“Well, how did these get here?” as if we ourselves have not been twisting and pulling at a situation, often complicating the knots. While there are certainly some life situations where the knots were dumped unceremoniously into our laps, most of us are sitting with knots we contributed to someway, somehow. We may not have initiated the knot tying, but we likely added more rope or more stress to the knot.
Many of us, in our deepest moments of self-examination, often stumble upon the realization that we’ve come to adore our knots, and not in the helpful, all of me is worthy of love way, but in the I would rather continue to embrace my anger than enter the journey of forgiveness, I would rather nurture my wound than offer it for healing, and I would rather be self-indulgent rather than heed God’s call to love ways.
In this place, we often have to ask ourselves what we are getting from holding on to our knots that come in the form of grudges, of denying forgiveness, of refusing to be restored into holy relationship, among a myriad of things that knot our selves and souls.
Knots prevent us from loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. Knots diminish us as we justify our hatred of others. We breathe less of the life of the Spirit when our souls are bound in knots.
And so I pray. I sit. I reflect and pray some more. Sometime the knots become untangled in a rather obvious and dramatic fashion. Most times, however, they slowly release and slip, often unnoticed until that moment when I am washed over by the holy awareness of reconciliation, when I see where I am now in light of where I had been, and where I have a new understanding (and often must release some old habits and ideas - in other words, I’ve changed).
During this season of Lent, what knots are bruising our souls? What relationships have become so tangled they are strangled of any love and life? How have knots prevented us not to love God with our whole heart and mind and strength? What knots are we embracing because we feel justified in our anger and in our refusal to forgive?
What knots may be ready to be offered to Mary and to God to be untied, so that we can be released to love more fully?
This Lent, may we pray, “Help us untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, each other, and ourselves.”