“Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it” St Irenaeus
The above quote by St. Irenaeus inspired Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner to paint the beautiful image of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots which, since 1700, has been venerated in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Germany. As we approach yet another Mother’s Day, in which we honor our earthy mothers, it is proper that we realize that motherhood is ultimately about undoing knots.
Knots that need to be undone all have something in common; they were all done at one time or another. Good knots are done to hold something in place, to keep something organized, safe, and fulfilling its purpose. The knots on shoes keep the shoes on, just as the knots on clothing keep the clothing on right. We tie knots to keep things together, so that nothing will fall out of place. While good knots fulfill a good purpose, at some point they must be undone. This occurs when it is time to rest, to change, to unpack the things of our lives so as to use them. One cannot reasonably hope to read books, for example, that are held tightly with a knotted rope, without undoing the knot first. That knot was originally made to hold the books together but, at some point, those books cannot fulfill their purpose if they are not released from the knot and opened. We, likewise, are bound to our birth homes, families, and mothers but, at some point, our mothers must undo these bonds to allow us to fulfill our purpose and mission as intended by God.
Not all knots are good, of course, and there are many knots in our lives which are done by confusion, frustration, depression, misfortune, violence, addiction, envy, bitterness, hatred and, of course, sin. These knots serve the opposite purpose of good knots. They do not keep things in place, organized, together, or safe. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Bad knots keep things displaced, disorganized, divided, chaotic, and unsafe.
Herein we find a key difference between doing and undoing knots. While we seek to tie only good knots in our lives and do everything we can to avoid making bad knots, it is a fact of life that all knots, good or bad, need to be untied at some point. Good ones, as we said above, so that change and rest can occur. Bad ones, as well, but so change, rest, growth, and healing can occur. We cannot grow or heal unless the knots in our lives, good or bad, are loosened.
Certainly Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother, as illustrated in this great devotion, can help us undo the knots in our lives, and we are right in asking this of Them within God’s Will. However, as we approach Mother’s Day, let us not forget that God has given us earthly mothers to undo our knots when we are children, as well as teach us how to undo our knots as we grow into adulthood. Yesterday, it was our shoes and sneakers, today it is releasing the knots which prevent us from going out into the world, tomorrow it could be providing guidance or a model of how to handle dilemmas and conflicts with our own children.
Ultimately, then, motherhood is about protecting, holding in place, storing, and releasing, which are all accomplished first, by firmly tying knots and, then, perhaps painfully or nostalgically, by undoing the knots of the heart enough to release their children out into the world. Only mothers can understand the heights and valleys of this mission, the tears of joy and sorrow, and the deep bonds which are created and then reluctantly loosened, all out of love.
Such is the ironically difficult mission of a mother. She must experience and tighten profound knots holding her children to her while they mature and develop. She then must undergo and loosen those very same knots so as to allow her children to spread their wings and fly.
What good is a good teacher, if her students do not go out and apply what she has taught them? What is gained by the sweat of a mover, if the items he ties together to transport safely are never released from their ties and used? Such is the case of a mother’s beautiful and yet difficult task.
One final mission of the parents is not only to tie and loosen bonds as needed but, just as importantly, to teach their children which knots should be loosened and which are best left as firmly tied as possible. Sin is all about binding good and releasing bad, and we must all learn to distinguish between what should be released in our lives and what should be kept bottled up. I venture to say that our mothers have, to a greater or lesser degree, been our first teachers in this important life task. Thus, growing and healing toward God is not just about doing and undoing knots, but also about knowing when those knots should be touched at all.
Beyond the literal definition of a knot, however, I invite the reader to consider a profound homonym for “knot”, which is “not”. We must consider that many of the “knots” in our lives are actually composed of “nots” in our lives. Sin tells us that we do “not” deserve God, that we “cannot” find mercy, that we will “not” find a way to our eternal destiny with God. One can argue that finding Our Lord through Our Blessed Mother is a wonderful way to overcome the “nots” that keep us from God’s waiting embrace.
Bad “nots” are built from not wanting to be told what to do, not being allowed to do as one wishes, not getting what one wants, and so forth. They may also come from not having faith in God, in ourselves, and in our ability to get up from our falls. Sin is about dwelling in “nots” and, therefore, God is about dwelling in “why nots”, as in why not trust God, why not let God in, and why not forgive and love.
I once saw a handmade rosary which was composed of a rope with knots, with each knot representing a bead. One might do well to see a rosary as a process of undoing knots and “nots”, on our way to Our Lady and Our Lord, as we pass each bead. Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, should remind us that sometimes, we cannot simply undo some of the knots in our lives, because it is God’s Will that we have them. In such cases, Our Lady is there to remind us that, through prayer and trust in God, we can leap over those life knots we cannot undo, as well as endure those God wants us to bear.
So, on this Mother’s Day, let us honor our earthly mothers and, of course, most importantly, Our Heavenly Mother, who do and undo the knots in our lives as needed and possible according to the Will of God. Let us never stop striving to undo the knots of sin in our lives, as well as helping others do the same. The African-American poet and novelist Jean Toomer is quoted as saying that “ we learn the rope of life by untying its knots”. It is safe to say that our first teacher in the art of untying knots may well have been our mother.
May God Bless Our Mothers, both those still with us and those who have passed, and may we leave the knots, and the “nots” in our lives to the Hands of Mary, and Our Lord, Who will “not” abandon us !
2016 Gabriel Garnica