This summer was the hardest summer of my life. I won’t go into details, but I will say it involved a cancer diagnosis in my family, getting my PhD, and preparing for a move across the country. As these challenges began stacking up, I went through something quite common: I found I was having difficulty praying. Luckily this wasn’t my first time through prayer-paralysis and, like any good Catholic, I knew exactly where to turn: the rosary.
After years of relying on imaginative Ignatian prayer, a few months ago my mind became so cluttered I couldn’t even daydream. So I started to pray the rosary because, quite frankly, it was easier to recite the Our Father and Hail Mary than to do anything else. You can’t go wrong moving around and around the beads, and although some prayer times were more productive than others, I was inevitably left feeling more relaxed (or at least less overwhelmed) than when I went in.
As my days of dependency on the rosary turned into weeks and then months, I began to notice that the decades were a way to check in with my prayer life. As I meditated on each mystery, I was able to reflect on how I had changed since the last time I had thought about that particular moment in the life of Mary.
For example, when I first started praying the rosary daily, I felt a strong connection to the Wedding at Cana because it reminded me that Jesus will do anything his mother asks. Now that I have spent four months living at home again as an adult, my thoughts have evolved and I realize that Jesus just wanted Mary to get off his back. He’s an adult, and he doesn’t need anyone micromanaging him in the kitchen!
But I digress.
Looking back on the past four months, I notice that the biggest change in my reflections concerns the mysteries of the Ascension of Christ and the Assumption of Mary. In the past, I had always lumped these two mysteries together. Both of them concern a body and soul journey into heaven, and generally my meditation focused on what it would take to go on this journey. Several rosaries into the summer, I found myself focusing on the nuance between these two decades and settled on a thought: while Christ ascended into heaven of his own volition, Mary was assumed under a power other than her own.
Perhaps because my own life is in a period of transition, this thought stuck with me. Am I ascending, or am I being assumed? Looking back on other transitions in my life, I can think of plenty of moments when I thought I was in complete control of my fate, but now realize just how grace-driven these moments really were. Now I am facing a transition bigger than anything I have ever experienced, and I feel completely powerless. Or is it just that I am finally aware of how powerless I have been all along?
These are by no means unique musings. In fact, I think the theme of powerlessness is Christianity 101. However, as I have been meditating on the Assumption of Mary, it has put a new spin on things. Just think of Mary, sitting there, minding her own business, and then suddenly she’s floating up into the sky. What was she doing beforehand? Was she looking forward to an episode of Jeopardy? Did she panic when she started floating up? Or, at this stage in her life, did she have the grace to let go and just let it happen?
Throughout my life I have struggled with the image of Mary as someone who was so perfectly in tune with the Father’s will that she never doubted or worried about her future. The older I get, the more strongly I feel that Mary’s grace was not about being blind or unaware of the dangers she and her son faced. She must have experienced worries as she surely experienced great sorrows. However, she received the grace she needed to trust that she was being assumed to the place she needed to be.
As I continue to make my way around the rosary, I pray that I will be able to receive that same grace. Life seems to be one big opportunity to be moved into places we never could have imagined. We can go kicking and screaming, or we can let go and focus on new ways to foster life wherever we may be. That’s the only real choice we have been given.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She recently attained a PhD in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan.