Seven Days with Mary – Day 1: Mary’s Unfinished Story

To think of Mary’s story as unfinished gives me comfort. There are moments in my morning quiet time, the smoke of rose incense rising, where I pray to her and I find that sense of peace within.

It starts in my center, like a cloud clearing, and peacefulness radiates. Those moments, I fully trust that everything in my life is well, and I am filled with a light, airy sensation. It’s a welcome respite to receive her comfort, because I live so much of the time hounded by my worries of the future. Do I have enough money to support myself, what if my cancer comes back. When I can connect to her I even, most importantly, let go of my endless anxieties about my two adult children. I fill with gratitude that we are all still here, my children and I, and that we have everything we need, and it’s more than enough.

I’m painfully aware that those moments of pure trust often elude me, even though I keep Mary’s images near. On a chain around my neck, never taking it off, I wear a tiny Blessed Mother medallion (made for infants). She’s also on my skin 24/7 in a Renaissance image by Della Robbia. This “Bliss Madonna” tattoo was inked on my left arm during some of the darkest hours of my life. On my desk, I keep a zoomed-in photograph I took at the Duomo in Florence, Italy. As I write this, her eyes gaze from under her hefty marble crown, and her scepter tilts toward me. What I am admitting is that even in spite of my round-the-clock seeking, I often feel so far from the possibility of a mother’s love. I believe I am, however sad this might be, still struggling with feeling worthy. This unworthiness has hounded me since childhood, and it is only in my 50s that I have been making any significant headway in changing it.

Now, as I reflect, I see that the mornings and the autumns and the years have gone by, and in continuing to pray to her, I’ve been able to let her in more and more, and because of this, I am realizing my worth. I can say that I love myself now with a tenderness that I had not ever known—this is from her. I can say that I am more gentle with others now, the gentlest I have ever been. This is from her.

I want so much to keep deepening my ability to be gentle with myself, with others, with the world. So this, I think, is her unfinished story moving forward. The story of being able, each day like a new brushstroke, to feel more loved and more whole. With her perpetual blessing, I see how far I have come. I have such a long way to go.

Marian Prayer

Mary, I find comfort in your embrace. Enfold me in your mantle where I can find rest. Fill me with your gifts of grace, that I may persevere through all I have before me. With you, I find peace and joy.

Seven Days with Mary – Day 4: Mary’s Omnipresence

I must admit, Holly’s rendering of a cross-cultural Mary touches my heart. In it, I see the shy expression of hundreds of teen girls I’ve taught. The omnipresence of Mary’s love is essential because I can’t rely on yesterday’s beliefs. I need the renewal of her guidance near me everyday.

Like today. One of my students stands outside the classroom. I will call her Jasmine. She’s only fourteen, tells me her birthday is soon; in fact, it’s four months away. But she’s eager to turn fifteen, to shed her childhood as fast as she can. I know it’s actually years before she’ll be able to leave the tumult of the daily dysfunction she endures.

“It’s bad,” she whispers, her eyebrows raised.“I know, honey.” We face one another in the hallway, the classroom door slightly shut, the rest of the kids getting settled for my class. I often take this sort of private time with students. It’s not really private, and it’s not ever enough time. But I practice something my spiritual director taught me: I imagine a thread between my heart and Jasmine’s, connecting us, a bridge.I knew when Jasmine walked through my door in September that something wasn’t right—the bags under her espresso-brown eyes, the gaunt shadows in light brown cheekbones, the endless talk of being hungry, her head put down on the desk, the furtive movements of her eyes keeping secrets.

I knew when Jasmine walked through my door in September that something wasn’t right—the bags under her espresso-brown eyes, the gaunt shadows in light brown cheekbones, the endless talk of being hungry, her head put down on the desk, the furtive movements of her eyes keeping secrets.

Jasmine shakes her head. I can see the Mary in her. The holiness. I think, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” I don’t even have time to complete the whole prayer. What to say to this child? I notice she’s wrapped her hair exceptionally high today, pinned it into an enormous smooth nest standing tall.

I attempt to redirect her sorrow. “You’re like a queen with that bun.”

Her teeth are crooked and her lips are chapped but her smile is luminous. She admits, “I know. I am rockin’ this bun.”

Though Jasmine is barely five feet, I tease her, “You’re like, what, six feet tall with that thing?”

“Yes,” she agrees, pleased. I hold her gaze, her irises dancing with light. I reach toward the handle and pull it and we step through the door together. If I could have one wish, it would be to have all the girls of the world lift their eyes up with hope. All the girls. Each Lily. Each Rose. Each Violet.

Every Jasmine.

Marian Prayer

Mary, help me to take the time for others, not always rushing in and out, but fully experiencing moments that last and sharing memories.

Seven Days with Mary – Day 5: Mary As the New Eve

I’ve never understood Eve. Whenever I think of her apple, my mind is drawn to another woman with an “ordinary” object who led me to Mary. I am hesitating to tell this story because it’s precious to me. Four years ago, through a series of serendipitous events, I found myself spending the month of June at a writer’s retreat in the mountains of Assisi, Italy. On a blistering, hot afternoon, I descended the steps into the cool underground of the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.

I was unprepared for the intensity of the relics displayed. I became almost disoriented. Clare was lying there, quite tiny. When I turned, I bumped into what I thought was a lantern, but was in fact a glass cube filled with snippets of baby-fine, white curls. This pile of her hair shook me even more than her bones. Beyond that, I encountered Francis’ tunic, the primitive hide roughly stitched. Maternal tenderness ran through me at the sight of his course stocking. Blood crusted the arch—stains of the stigmata.

And that is when I saw Clare’s dress.

The dress was the shade of spring, when the tiniest of buds first appear in pale green mist. It floated high above all the other relics, as if airborne; so utterly, delightfully girly, I actually laughed out loud. I studied it for over an hour, because I didn’t want to break the rules and photograph this sacred object. I needed to make sure the details were captured in my mind forever: the goddess-drape of the long sleeves, the high medieval bodice, the soft cotton, nearly see-through.

The next day, at breakfast with the other artists and writers, one of the women commented that she did not believe that dress could really be Clare’s, especially after all of these centuries. She said that it had to be some sort of reproduction; and besides, a dress that enormous would never have fit those small bones. I was appalled and then saddened, though I did not argue with her. I spent that day in silence under a ripening fig tree, thinking. And I have thought about this quite a bit ever since.

What I learned then is that I am a woman who quietly believes. I don’t need to convince anyone of anything. I just need to keep walking my own path. And on this path, saints like Clare will keep leading me to the Great Mother. I believe that dress was Clare’s. I believe it was her feminine spirit that emanated from within. In the years since I stood before it, the dress has returned to me, lunar-moth like, floating in the dark and bringing coolness to the heat of my 3 a.m. insomnia. It reminds me to turn to Mary, to pray, to let go and let her magic fill the air like a lullaby—to let the Blessed Mother sing.

Marian Prayer

Mary, help me to be a good example to those in my life.

Help me to take the time for others, to be fully alive and present in the moment.

(Prayer from Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women)

Seven Days with Mary – Day 6: Mary’s Movement Toward Christ

I’ve mentioned my struggle feeling worthy of God’s love, even in spite of having an incredible life where I love so many, and am loved in return. Recently I had an experience with Mary that, as Holly says, pierced my heart in its beauty and simplicity, and led me right to Christ’s love.

A vital part of my spiritual life is a daily walk in the valley along a river where I observe the incessant shifting of New England seasons. Since I’m often overwhelmed by situations in my life, I find a great deal of solace in the truth of how the river changes. The Farmington River, about the width of a three-lane highway, rushed high that day, moving at a good pace after a weekend of heavy rain. I spotted a single male Mallard duck with a glistening emerald-green head. Usually the ducks are in a group of pairs along the shallow edges. He came around a tight bend, about eight feet from shore, where the current was the fastest, and the surface the glassiest.

He was just riding the river. I burst out laughing because he was such a tiny creature surrounded by all that water, all those trees and sky, and I could tell he felt really good. He had no intention of stopping or changing his mind. Clearly, it was just so fun. There was no need to turn around, or to fly away. He kept gliding along as if—well, as if he were part of the river. Which he was.

I kept watching him until he slid out of sight beyond the farthest turn. And this is what struck me: from the moment I spied that duck, I loved him. It made no sense. I stood on that riverbank, wondering if this is how Mary viewed me. Was I like that duck, just moving along, and she was near even if I didn’t know it? And how could I love a little duck that quickly?

It was then that lyrics returned to me. I had not thought of this song, in all honesty, in decades. We sang it at the 10:00 folk mass when I was child. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me. I would say that the duck qualifies as the “least of my brothers.” Standing all alone in the tranquility of the woods, my connection to nature turned into an understanding of how Mary loves me and, ultimately, how Christ works through us all.

The heart is the heart, joyous and free. It makes no sense that I loved that duck. Love just is. I’m dumbfounded by the mystery of it all. In thinking of his shiny green head now, I wonder if this is how Christ feels sometimes. That we are like the little ducks, riding the river, and we are loved. If only we knew.

Marian Prayer

Mary, you show me the importance of simplicity.

May I not be weighed down by the odds and ends of this world but stay simple and filled with love for all.