September 28 marks the feast of Mary Undoer of Knots. The devotion is over 300 years old and is based on a Baroque painting by an unknown artist located in Germany.
The painting features angels feeding a knotted rope to Mary who unties the knots one by one. It was inspired by an ancient homily by St Irenaeous (d. 202) who made the comparison between Eve (who ‘by her disobedience tied the knot of disgrace’) and Mary (who ‘by her obedience undid it’).
But what are the knots? They represent the seemingly intractable problems in our life. Problems like family tensions and misunderstandings. Challenges like unemployment and sickness. Knots of despair, grief, addiction, and isolation – anything for which we suffer and feel unable to resolve.
Anything that oppresses our spirit and separates us from the peace and love of God. If we bring these problems to Mary in prayer, she patiently and steadily unties the knots so that grace can freely flow and joy be restored.
The first time we heard about this title of Mary was at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015. One of the local groups had constructed a temporary shrine outside the Cathedral and was inviting visitors to write their ‘knotty’ problems on ribbons and then tie them to the shrine.
By the time we got there, the shrine was aflutter with thousands of ribbons. Francine added her own knotty ribbon representing a wound from a family member that was 30 years old. This wound had chilled the relationship depriving it of warmth and joy.
We gave it no further thought until three months later when Francine noticed a shift: she no longer felt defensive towards this family member. Over the following weeks, she initiated reconciliation and transformed the relationship from guarded suspicion to open acceptance.
And it happened without melodramatic confrontation or desperate soul-searching. The release was stunning and illustrated how much wasted energy was going into maintaining the offense and sense of outrage.
Let go, let grace flow
When we have a problem, especially a complicated relationship problem, it’s as if each person is holding one end of a knotted rope. The harder we try to solve it ourselves, the harder we hold on to our ‘side of the story’, the harder it is to undo the knot. In fact, it’s impossible to undo a knot like this when neither party is willing to let go of their end of the rope.
When we appeal to Mary Undoer of Knots to help us, what we in effect do is place our end of the knot in her hands. We lay down our case and surrender our determination to solve it ourselves.
As Mary gets to work on our problem releasing the knot, grace begins to flow. The grace was always available to us, but our independence, pride and anger chokes its natural movement.
When grace flows, miracles happen. Relationships are restored, illness is eased, anxiety is dissipated and creative solutions manifest. God really does want to bless us, but we have to be like Mary, ready to let God be our driver.
We all have someone to forgive. If we are married, we almost certainly have some residue of hurt or disappointment from our spouse. Some of us have more than residue – even a whole garbage dump of pain and unresolved conflict.
If you are tired of trying to fix it alone, if you’ve tried and tried and nothing seems to work, maybe a new strategy is needed. Can we humbly suggest you give Mary Undoer of Knots a go?
Francine & Byron Pirola are the co-founders of SmartLoving. For more, visit www.smartloving.org