Catherine Jackson: EarnestGirl Chronicles


Daily Grace

The Statue Of Mary Lingers In The Edges Of My Mind

"Love calls us to many altars in the course of our life..."

~ Stewart McLean at the Vinyl Cafe on Leonard Cohen's song Coming Back To You

 I sat in a small Gulf Island church on Easter weekend gazing into the wooden face of Mary. Presumably she was The Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, or as I was taught to call her in Catholic girls school, Mater Admirabilis – her eyes were cast heavenward, she wore long robes, looked patiently peaceful and she was hung with not one, but two rosaries, one colourful and one plain. She was unpainted, dark brown wood. The grain of the wood ran along her face and robes like rivulets of tears. She was both lovely and ordinary, simply carved and placed to greet people as they entered the church. 

The plain rosary was made of wood as well and it hung about her like a garland, a festive addition to the robes she wore. The rosary looked just like prayer beads in the Buddhist tradition: they were large, each bead resembling a puckered flower. The beads reminded me of my neglected yoga practice, of the gift of sitting in stillness. As I clasped my hands in my lap, I found myself wanting very much to reach for the rosary so I could roll the beads soothingly between my fingers as they were surely intended to have been rolled.

Sitting still in the church I let the familiar pattern of the words roll over me, words I knew by heart but have not ever taken truly to heart. I refused to be confirmed at my Catholic girls school, preferring instead to visit many churches: the one my best friend attended with tea and cookies served in the church basement by soft-looking ladies in patterned dresses after the service; the Seder and the Sabbath tables around which I have gathered with our dearest family friends, sing-songing along with the words I knew to say but did not truly understand; sitting in elders circles at the Native Center, listening to the telling of the old stories in languages I spoke and some I did not; singing in the glow of stained glass or twinkling tree lights to Christmas carols which inevitably stir me to tears I cannot fully explain.

Do we need to explain at all? Or is it enough to recognize, and teach all of our children to respect, an altar when we see one?

The statue of Mary has lingered at the edges of my mind because I believe she is the closest I come to church: simple, strung with many beads, offering small daily graces, be they a greeting, a meal shared, the act of bearing witness, the mindful summoning of patience or the many shapeless prayers for which I have no name but which are directed nevertheless toward the divine present in our ordinary everyday.