I met Mother Mary again on Facebook. My last encounter was in Catholic grade school where my classmates and I squirmed in drafty pews reciting the rosary. While my friends may have been praying for a passed math test, my prayer was already answered. Sister Theresa had seated me next to my boy crush, Tim. Life was divine.
Fast forward to 41 years later:
A week after my diagnosis, my stepmother texted me that she felt led to share a Facebook group called Way of the Rose. This surprised me. Marla was a follower of Eastern religions. When I read part of the Facebook page description, I understood why. The founders were not affiliated with the Catholic Church or any other religious organization. In fact, one had been a Buddhist monk:
“We are an open-hearted, inclusive community of people dedicated to the forgotten wisdom of the rosary….and to the Lady, by any name you like to call her.”
As I scrolled through the postings, I felt something inside me: a connection to something miraculous and beautiful.
But it didn’t stop there.
At this point, very few people outside of my immediate family knew about my cancer. I was grappling with this surreal reality and it felt too raw and painful to share. But I did feel guided to tell a former Montessori teaching colleague who later became a friend. Julie. We had always talked about the power of God’s will and direction in our lives.
A few days after the text from my stepmother, Julie sent me photographs from a Catechist retreat she just finished that weekend, Contemplating the Beauty of Faith. Part of the retreat took place at the Cleveland Museum of Art, studying the sacred art. Julie shared that the idea behind studying and meditating on sacred art was to learn about our faith. Before people were literate, art was used to teach. If you studied these pictures, they connected you with God, and hopefully answered your prayers.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The photographs Julie sent were all Mother Mary. And I had never told her.
Now it was my turn.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, Bill and I entered the cool solitude of the Cleveland Museum of Art. As he sat quietly nearby scrolling through his phone (I’m sure Mary understood and gave him points for coming), I lingered in front of many of the same paintings depicting Mary and Jesus. They felt powerful and peaceful, and I knew I was meant to be there. I was burdened on so many levels, even before the cancer. I prayed for healing of both my mind and body. I quieted my mind and felt guidance:
I was to be of service to the world. My eventual healing would be used to help others.
This was the first of many similar messages I received over the next months. My cancer would be used for a Divine purpose. This journey was not for me alone.
Shortly after that experience, my mother gave me a small icon of Mother Mary and Jesus called Madonna del perpetuo soccorso (The Lady of Perpetual Help). The painting has been in Rome since 1499 and has a reputation for being miraculous. It is customary in many churches to pray novenas in Her honor. Some history here.
I kept the beautiful icon on small altar (that I had recently made) and even carried it to my first cancer treatment. I was frightened that day and felt peace and comfort knowing She was with me.
A few months later, I "discovered" a set of beautiful Mother Mary cards and guidebook by Alana Fairchild and illustrated by Shiloh Sophia McCloud. These beautiful cards still bring me comfort. Whenever I need guidance or assurance, I pray, randomly chose a card or two, and always find answers. During those months, it became all too familiar to find that I had picked the "Rest" card again. I was someone who continually pressured herself to do more. I rarely listened to my body. I hated resting. I resisted relaxing. Sometimes I had to juggle too much for financial reasons. Other times, it was a habitual choice to keep eternally busy.
While I believe my immune system had succumbed to cancer for many reasons, living in this stressful, unbalanced way was a definite contributor.
Now my body had given me no choice. I had extreme fatigue and all my busyness was taken away. My body demanded rest to heal. And thus, I was left with no distractions. Just me. It was time to heal on much deeper levels than the physical. I knew I wasn't alone. Mother Mary's presence and grace was there.
It seemed like the more I opened up to Mary, the more she "appeared" in my life. For the first time since childhood, I prayed the rosary in the same, simple way. I had much bigger needs this time, and I prayed for others too. And it's true, there is something very mystical and powerful about that practice. It was changing me from within. I felt Mother Mary and the presence of Jesus in many of my Reiki sessions, as well as with other healers. I even found Her in the department store, Marshalls. I had never seen a religious painting there before.
I knew it was waiting for me.