When I was little, my favorite, most ingenious prank to pull was tying my little brother's shoe laces together as he innocently watched cartoons. As the TV held his complete attention I would tighten and twist and quadruple knot his laces into an unmanageable mess. It always ended up the same when the cartoon ended: my brother cried, I was sent to my room and my mother diligently untied every knot until my brother could again use his shoes for the designed purpose. Yes, I was a little devil child.
Since the Pope's visit a couple of weeks ago (I meant to get to this earlier, alas, grad school), I have been thinking about knots physically and metaphorically. In Philadelphia, a group of artists created a community based, interactive sculpture called Knots Grotto, designed and built by Meg Saligman, Dan Ostrov, and Stephanie Cole. It is a beautiful piece that invites visitors to write down their challenges, wishes, hopes, and prayers, then tie them onto the grotto, so adding a literal knot. The artists also collected knots by mail and at local pop-up events for months in advance, making for a wide encompassing project with many participators and a large impact. The work was inspired by one of Pope Francis favorite devotional paintings Mary Undoer of Knots by Johann Georg Schmidtner.
There are many examples of prayers said by Pope Francis to Mary, the untier of knots but this one is my favorite:
Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the day of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father’s will, and the devil was never capable of tying you up with his confusion.
Once with your Son you interceded for our difficulties, and full of kindness and patience, you gave us example of how to untie the knots in our life.
By remaining forever Our Mother, you put in order and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord.
Holy Mother, Mother of God and our Mother, to you who intie with a motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive in your hands (the name of the person), and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks.
Through your grace, your intercession and your example deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters.
Since, I am a protestant, I do not pray to Mary as intercessor but I still find comfort in the idea of our heavenly mother and father working to untie the many knots in each of our lives because Lord knows there are many. There are the knots, obstacles and daily happenings that keep us from really truly living to God's fullness such as maybe a tiring job or unhealthy relationship. There are the knots that keep us tied to something else, a distraction. But then there are also the positive knots that are our ties to the Lord, they show us a path and lead the way. I am reminded of a trail at camp called the Beaver Pond Trail that is marked by a rope full of knots that help visually impaired campers walk on the path. They feel the knots and know they are on a safe path and that soon they will reach a braille plaque with information just for them. These are positive and comforting knots.
I am reminded of knots as obstacles at camp as well. During staff training one summer, the Hope Females had to work as a team to go through a spiderweb made of knotted rope. It is complicated and we can only make it across if we work together as a team. After one day of knowing each other we had to be honest and physically close to work together which was at times very uncomfortable for those of us who have a large personal bubble. But we eventually made it and came out on the other side as a real team. Friends and family can act as undoer of knots as they carry, push and support you past life's obstacles.
The sculpture, Knot Grotto, asks each participant and viewer to think of the many obstacles and negative knots in their lives and release them. By tying them together into something beautiful the problems are given to the community for support, each member can work together to get the others past so in a way making a positive knot, a reassuring spot an the path. The prayer talks about Mary uniting knots which is a beautiful image, with her pristine fingers diligently untwisting our messes like my own mother did back in the day, but perhaps what is even more comforting and relevant is that God works through wondrous ways and he can use others to also untie the bad knots and point to the knots that eternally bind us to Him.