Our Lady Untier of Knots

Mary, Untier of KnotsI’m sure you’ve both seen and experienced it: the tears and frustrations of a knot that simply refuses to budge.

Earlier this year, I encountered for the first time an image known as Our Lady Untier of Knots. It depicts Mary surrounded by angels and standing on a serpent’s head. She is holding a long rope full of small knots that she is patiently un-knotting while, above her head, a white dove rises. It’s a wonderful image: Mary, her face serene, patiently undoing each knot, one-by-one.

The original painting of Mary and her knots hangs in a church in Augsberg, Bavaria and dates from about 1700. It was commissioned after a husband and wife, on the verge of divorce, sought counsel from their parish priest who invoked the power of the marriage bond to untie and make smooth the knots between them. They subsequently reconciled. Pope Francis, who saw the image while in Germany, brought copies to Argentina where the popularity of Mary of the Knots has spread across much of Latin America.

The notion of the knot is an interesting one. The same rope, when lightly knotted, binds all kinds of things together; like sailors, we count on it. But knotted too tightly? It is all impediment and frustration. Our schools and our lives are filled with both kinds of knots: “the ties that bind” and make us feel whole and connected; and those things and situations that “tie us in knots. ”

January and February are times in the school year when we could all use a little help with any number of tough knots—in our school and in our own lives or those of our students and families. It’s a time of year when we must be patient with our knots, to perhaps turn them over to others to loosen for us and take extra care to notice who is wound particularly “tight.”

We all need a calm and patient Untier of Knots from time-to-time, and we can be one for others as well. Perhaps not as serenely as Mary—but we can always try.