I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jenine Baines’ reflection, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace and Surprises and Smiles.”
When I was twelve, I wanted to be a movie star or a nun. And while, outwardly, I’ve become neither, I carry the spirit of both within me.
I believe with the fervor of a nun (or Monk in the World). Except when I don’t. When the doubts return and the ghost of the late renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens haunts me. Then I take a deep breath, recall how Hitchens’ favorite target, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, struggled with her own dark night, and draw on my inner actress. “I be what I wish to seem.” (Thank you, Socrates.)
Nevertheless, sometimes I just can’t find a way to inhabit the role. “Help!” I cry out to the Great Director. “What’s my character’s motivation? Guide me, please.”
Invariably, the following memory returns. Then I laugh, and get on with it…
I was walking, praying for guidance. My own mini Camino, despite the 1000-degree heat. A perfect metaphor since I was indeed in ‘hell’. Should I leave a marriage so toxic it was transforming me and my husband into grotesqueries, our most wretched, ugly false selves? Or should I honor our vows and, as my husband wished, “just live with it”?
“You’re a crappy wife,” a friend announced after Mass in the parking lot. “Leave! Free your husband to find happiness in a better match.”
Not long afterwards, the leader of a silent retreat read a poem by Rilke. It opened with the line “Want the change.”
These verses struck me as well:
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
dares you to become the wind.
I wanted change. Yet I didn’t dare take up Daphne’s challenge.
A street and a half into my walk, I spotted a black elastic hair tie – you know, the twisty gizmos for ponytails – on the sidewalk.
Hmmm, I’d worn my thick kinky hair loose and WAS regretting it. But the thing was probably infested with disgusting stuff. I bypassed the band.
A block further, I spied a second elastic. This time I scooped it up, sliding it over my wrist.
The next street over, I spied a third band.
Three bands in less than an hour? I’d gone years without seeing one.
Pythagoras called 3 “the first true number; Schoolhouse Rock, “a magic number.”
The most “magic” of 3s, for me, is a Christian doctrine codified in 325. Yet what on earth did The Trinity have to do with hair bands? What was I meant to see?
I stared at the two bands on my wrist, maneuvering my arm this way and that…
All I saw was a fashion no-no. Certainly no shadow-cast vision of Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Maybe it was heatstroke, my overheated imagination. The bands were there because someone had accidentally dropped them, game over.
And yet there was Synonym, Symbolism, a sensing, Rhythm here. What could these ties represent?
Something that frees us from the heavy weight of our hair by twisting into a knot. A KNOT! Wasn’t I praying a novena to Mary, the Undoer of KNOTS, for help untangling and relieving the heavy weight of our marriage?
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me. Are you saying the answer(s) to the twisted, hairy knots on my ‘walk’ will arrive?
I burst out laughing. The Virgin rains roses, not hair elastics.
I might well have abandoned the whole quest right then, except suddenly I was reliving the past weekend’s silent retreat. I walked down an office corridor, passing a door with Willis Wheatley’s ‘Laughing Jesus’ taped to it. Laughing Jesus, yes! What a refreshing break from the depictions of crucified, bleeding Jesus every other corner! I took a photo and framed it.
I’d already photographed the plaque above the door to my room. Most guest rooms were dedicated to donors; mine was dedicated to Jesus’s mum.
Now, this hot afternoon on Camino, it was all coalescing. Though what it was I wasn’t sure.
After Mass, I placed the elastic bands among the flowers at Mary’s altar. “Am I crazy to believe this?” I asked her. “Please send an answer I can’t disprove.”
Back at my car, I opened my purse, reached for my keys…And there, beside my car’s left front wheel, lay a fourth elastic hair band.
Except this one was BLUE. As blue as Mary’s robe.
Bands still rain. Usually after a disturbing loss, encounter, or epiphany. Sometimes just to say “hello.” Never when I request them.
Once, I shared my ‘hair elastic /Virgin’ story with two sweet but skeptical lunchmates. Afterwards a band crossed my path…Better yet, believe it or not, bands arrived for my two friends on their ways to their cars.
Ever since, when a tie appears, I look up at the heavens and send a thumbs up to Christopher Hitchens. He’s standing beside Mary, a bag of bands in hand.
They take turns dropping them.
Jenine Baines is a retired publicist for the musical arts who now writes essays and poetry for various publications. Often, her words are inspired by the beauty of God’s creation and the awe and revelations they bring. Her prayer is that her words cross the path of those ‘needing’ to read them, that they may be inspired in turn. That the ripple from the writing extends ever-outward and inward in God’s endless pool of love. Jenine is also the overjoyed grandmother of 9 month old Yves. Feel free to send her an email by clicking here >>
Thank you, Abbey of the Arts. Jenine the monk is dancing on her toes, pirouettes of delight, over being welcomed to the Abbey.