When I first converted, I was fascinated by the wide range of devotions practiced by the faithful. First Fridays, the rosary, enshrinement of the Sacred Heart, so many exotic and mysterious seeming ways to build my fledgling spiritual muscles.
One in particular stood out, though, and that was something billed as “the unfailable novena” said to Mary as the Undoer of Knots.
There was something so compelling about the novena’s claims that I couldn’t shake. There was a confidence in the power of the prayer that was wholly unlike the empty bravado I’d run across in other religious claims to sure success. This novena placed its confidence not in a set of magical words or superstitious actions, but rather in the prayers of Christ’s first disciple. This novena placed its confidence in the New Eve, who undid the knots of disobedience through her perfect, unwavering faith in God.
So every night for nine nights, I brought my petition to Our Lady. It was a doozy of a knot, a plea for healing so deeply painful that part of me doubted that even Mary’s prayers could help.
I like to mess around with embroidery. I’m not good, but I like doing it. It’s a pastime that you can easily pick up and put down– the sort of thing perfect for a mother with only snatches of free time. I used to keep my embroidery floss in a large ziplock bag, each skein meticulously wound around a clothespin, neat and tidy and organized.
Then one day, while ostensibly taking a nap, my two-year old got into the embroidery bag and, in the space of a happy, quiet, unobserved half hour, turned my order into a giant knot of Gordian proportions. For months afterwards I spent a portion of my evening untangling and re-winding embroidery floss—30 minutes of destruction, months of cleanup.
My mom and dad came to visit over the holidays, and as we sat at the table, playing cards, I brought out my bag of knotted floss, and worked on smoothing things out. There was one skein in particular that gave me trouble. No matter how I pulled or unwound, or teased, the floss remained stubbornly knotted and twisted. Looking across the table at me, my mom motioned for me to hand over the troublesome thing, and she started working on it.
There, in between hands of cards and grandchildren’s requests for attention and a dozen other demands, my mom worked her magic and turned that snarly mess into a single, smooth strand of embroidery floss. Somehow, while she looked to be busy with other things, the knots worked themselves out under her capable hands.
The thing that I begged Mary to unknot almost a decade ago hasn’t come to fruition yet. Sometimes I find myself tempted to repeat the novena, as if repeating the prayers will speed things up through the sheer force of my will. When that happens, I remember my bag of snarled floss, and how long it takes some knots to work out. I remember that sometimes there are some knots so wicked tangled that only our mother can tackle, and I have to trust that she’s working on them, even when it looks like she’s busy with a hundred other things.
Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.