Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mary, Undoer of Knots, Pray for Me

 My dissertation "The Voice of Mary" examines medieval textual representations of the Virgin Mary speaking. For a woman who only spoke four times in the Bible (Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation, 1:46-56 Visitation, 2:41-52 Finding Jesus in the Temple, and John 2:1-11 Wedding at Cana), writers of many different genres: dramatic, contemplative, narrative, manipulated these 191 words and expanded them, assigning a stronger, more powerful voice for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's meant that for the last four years, I've been reading many stories about Mary - some famous, and some less familiar. 

Although the writing process is often tedious, I also have really enjoyed my topic. Mary is not a monolithic figure, and means different things to different people. This litany highlights just some of the many titles assigned to Mary, an aspect that I'm trying to investigate. How and why did different medieval authors construct various kinds of voices for Mary to appeal to different audiences and serve varying functions?

As I wrote in a previous post, I'm in the third lap of my dissertation, and in the early stages of drafting my last chapter. This chapter, which will examine Mary in Annunciation and Passion narratives, will actually appear as the first chapter of the dissertation, and will serve to highlight the contrasting dynamic of voices created for Mary. Although this is the first time I'm making a good effort on this chapter, I've had a Word document with some ideas for this chapter going for about a year. I have over 35 pages of material on it already. Which to some sounds like a lot, and it is close to chapter-length, but a lot of it is very messy. So, the past week or so, I've been sifting through it, cutting out the junk writing, organizing it, and trying to make it cleaner. I made a lot of progress this week, and some sections are starting to come together.

As my husband would come home at the end of the day, I would tell him how I untangled a bit more of the chapter, seeing some improvements along the way. Thursday night, it brought back a memory of one of the many titles of Mary - one that became popular centuries after the Middle Ages. This is a painting of "Mary, the undoer of knots," an early eighteenth-century German painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner. If you look closely, she's holding a rope with a series of knots, and she is untying each of them (a task many mothers are faced with!). The first chapel to be named "Mary, Untier of Knots," was built in Austria in 1989. Pope Francis really likes this imagery, noting that “All the knots of our heart, every knot of our conscience, can be undone.” As a Catholic, and as someone whose faith largely includes devotion to Mary, it would be nearly impossible to not think of Mary as a spiritual guide as I work on my dissertation. And as I run my third lap of my dissertation, trying to make it to the final lap and full draft, it is a comforting thought to pray to Mary to help untangle my mental knots. I'll close out with one of the prayers associated with Mary, Undoer of Knots.

Dearest Holy Mother, Most Holy Mary, You undo the knots that suffocate your children, extend Your merciful hands to me. I entrust to You today this knot and all the negative consequences that it provokes in my life. I give You this knot that torments me and makes me unhappy and so impedes me from uniting myself to You and Your Son Jesus, my Savior.
I run to You, Mary, Undoer of Knots because I trust You and I know that You never despise a sinning child who comes to ask you for help. I believe that You can undo this knot because Jesus grants You everything. I believe that You want to undo this knot because you are my Mother. I believe that You will do this because you love me with eternal love.
Thank you, Dear Mother.
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me. Amen.

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