Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016.01.17 In Knots

I grew up in the pre-Velcro age. I wore tie shoes hightops for my first sturdy shoes. Then I graduated to Oxfords, laced shoes that I could shine at night, together with Daddy as he buffed his own. Mine were brown.
Shining was easy but tying my own laces proved to be a stressful task. I would do it over and over. My small fingers would get  looped around each other when it was the shoe laces that were supposed to do the looping, guided by my fingers and ending up in a neatly aligned—actually lopsided forever—bow. I would be in knots inside and out until I mastered this task, and when I did I got gifts: the sheer joy of accomplishment, getting the praise of adults, and not making everyone impatient at my insistence about conquering those laces without help. Of course I wouldn’t allow anyone, no matter how much they urged it, to take over and do it for me. Thus I asserted my independent style early and often—mostly for the satisfaction of learning to do something new.

I felt a small jolt of similar uplift when in Gloucester someone showed me the fisherman’s way of tying such a knot. It was the opposite of how I’d learned it: the front lace looped towards me rather than away from me, and Behold! there emerged a tight and perfect bowknot. I still tie my sneakers this way—and grin. As I get older I anticipate a time when Velcro will tie my sneakers, maybe with someone bending to help as they once did when I was a small child. But this time I will be grateful for the help.

Of course I could also always elicit the help of  Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Yes, it's true, in some Marian spiritual traditions there is such a Mary-Lady with images to match.

The central idea, as articulated by Saint Irenaeus, is that Eve of Eden by her disobedience tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it. This is, in my opinion, a highly questionable and simplistic interpretation. Still, we do all have emotional and spiritual knots: addiction, depression, rage, unemployment, fear, loneliness, disconnections, on and on—not to mention institutional knots!  They are much more complicated to untie, or even to tie, than shoes are, but it’s so wondrous when you do get free of knots. 

And how fun to know there is a Holy Lady with a knot specialty who listens to me and my knots. Prayer is not dependent on whether, or what, you exactly believe. Just let it rip. She listens. 

                                                       -Artist Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner, about 1700

This Lady wouldn’t help me with my shoe knots but she might help me undo my internal knots over getting older—crudely put, aging out. Some of my knots are physical, having to do with the rebelliousness of my body: the cough, the stiff neck, the post-nasal drip, drip, drip. I am very fortunate that Our Lady has helped the undoing of so many knots for me along the way, with help from good docs, medications, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoginis, spiritual directors, a sometimes patient husband, friends and family—and prayer. Against my impious Episcopal will, I once did pray before a statue of Mary Mother at a retreat center, detailing all my worries and fears about one of my adult children whose life was in knots. I got the message in no uncertain terms: Stop being a mother!  Well, there you have it. (But I bet she had a tough time with all of Jesus' knots!)

I now confess to my own dumb persistence at trying to untie God’s knots. Imagine!

Most religions have, over centuries, tied God up in knots, knots which tightly bind the nature of God into exclusively masculine language and imagery. I believe that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit transcend gendered categories, and that it is time to liberate divinity from such bondage. Since I now know about Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, I will ask for her help with this project.

I am daily grateful that I am not materially poor, yet, as a woman, I feel impoverished spiritually by gender inequality in the church and world. I believe that our theological language empowers and enables this ongoing inequality. So I write, and squawk, and preach, and never call God HE—or SHE. 

God, after all, is not a boy’s name.