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The Many Faces of Mary ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Next Saturday I am leading a retreat on three of Mary’s names or titles: Untier of Knots, Our Lady of Silence, and Madonna Protectress. When we explore the many ways Mary has been experienced, we open ourselves to those gifts within ourselves as well. Mary calls us to find the place within where we can loosen our constrictions, the sanctuary of the heart where we can rest in deep silence, and the courage to create strong boundaries and utter the sacred no to all that depletes us and takes out energy away from our sacred yes. 

This is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal

Untier of Knots: She Who Loosens Constriction

This particular title of Mary derives from an artwork painted around the year 1700 in Bavaria by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner. In the painting she stands on a crescent moon surrounded by angels, suspended between heaven and earth. The Holy Spirit is represented by a dove above her head, and a circle of twelve stars signifies her status as Queen. She is dressed in a crimson and blue cloak and holds in her hand a long white ribbon with a series of knots that she is patiently untying while also standing on a snake that is knotted. Two angels assist her in her task. One presents the knots of our lives to Mary, and the other presents us with the untied ribbon. 

The concept of Mary untying knots is initially derived from a work by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, where he presents a parallel between Eve and Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”

Meg Saligman became familiar with Mary, Untier of Knots when she was urged to create an artwork to honor this face of Mary, loved especially by Pope Francis. She created a large grotto on the grounds of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, PA. Its woven wooden slats create the walls from which hang white ribbons. Visitors can tie a ribbon to the grotto structure with the name of the knot needing to be untied written on it. Knots are also submitted online and volunteers write the knots on each ribbon to hang. Pilgrims are encouraged to read the prayer on another knot and make a commitment to pray for that intention when they leave. 

It is said that Mary unties the knot of sin. We tend to resist the language of sin in modern culture. Perhaps we might think of it as the places which bind us to unhealthy patterns, habits, and ways of being. These are some ways it can illuminate how we participate in its power. 

The knots which Mary can untie include any struggles or challenges in our lives for which we are at an impasse and have no solution. You know the frustration when you try to unknot a thread or a cord of some kind, and you only make it worse and tighten it. These might be relationship or work challenges, addiction issues, mental health challenges, anxiety over life and the state of the world, knots in our communication with loved ones, addiction, illness, fear over loss of security, and more. Anything which constricts us and our capacity for joyfulness. These might also be the places in our lives where we know we need to make a hard decision because we are deeply unhappy, but we can’t see the way out. 

The more we knot things, the harder they become to undo them. It is like when we tell a lie to cover something up, and then have to tell a whole series of lies to sustain the original one, it becomes harder and harder to return to the truth. We can ask for Mary’s support in undoing whatever issue in our lives has become intractable. Rather than tugging again and again at the knot of our lives, we are invited to soften our grip, to surrender our desires to overcome our tender places. 

This aspect of Mary reveals her as a healer who helps us to overcome inner divisions of body, mind, soul, heart, and spirit. Healing does not necessarily mean curing. We might have an illness which does not get better, but through our process of healing, we discover some wisdom and grace in the experience which allows us to have some peace and ease in the midst of unknowing and pain. Often it is through a mature acceptance of our wounds that we become healers of others ourselves. 

Mary as healer of these patterns which vex us does not invite “doing” on our part, so much as a commitment to a new way of “being.” We can release our effort at saving ourselves and yield to the sacred support offered to us. We do not have to perform to receive the grace of healing in our lives. We do have to surrender our concerns and open ourselves to all the places within us where we have created false divisions within us. Healing inspires a deeper alignment with our True Self and nature. 

The heart of healing work is transformation – transforming pain, wounds, self-imposed limitations, grief and loss, and discovering within them a gift or grace. The process of healing takes time, really a lifetime. Many of our “issues” will revisit us again and again. 

Consider joining me on Saturday to dive into Mary’s wisdom for us.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Image © Kreg Yingst

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