Written by: Paul Lickteig
I say a lot of Hail Mary’s. I am not sure what it is about the prayer. Maybe it is that I get to focus on the life of Mary, the peasant child, the young mother, the strong-willed socialite (more wine!), the prematurely-aged mourner, and the one who held all things in her heart. Maybe it is that I get to think of the theology: the Mother of Mercies, the greatest of all disciples, the Theotokos, the Holy Queen. Or maybe it is just that I firmly believe that there is something about this prayer that makes my world better. The thing is, over the course of my last fifteen years, I have developed a devotion to Mary.
A quick evolution of the way I say the Hail Mary:
I used to say the Rosary alone sometimes, but I would get bored. So, I would say it with other people, but I found myself waiting to say the words in synch with the people I was praying with (I did not want to be the bad pray-er, the one who rushes ahead). I eventually stopped saying the Rosary with others because I always found it next to impossible to think about the mysteries and say the prayer at the same time. So, I started praying the Rosary before I went to bed. I remembered hearing when I was younger that angels would finish the prayer for me if I fell asleep. Yes. I know. Still, that was a win! Then I started using the prayer to fall asleep (sort of a pious counting of sheep). That was not a win. I mean it worked for a while! I would get half a decade in and wake up the next morning with my rosary hanging off the bed, or crushed under a pillow, or maybe down by the floorboard. It just did not seem right. So, I stopped with the Rosary.
I soon found myself praying Hail Mary’s throughout my day. I used to repeat them as I was going about my business (actually, I still do). They provided a mantra of sorts. I found the Hail Mary to be kind of like the Jesus prayer, but it sort of rolled off of my tongue a little easier. When I was praying them silently, Hail Mary’s could flow into that mental space behind my eyes a little more smoothly than other prayers. I thought that they were consecrating my work, in a way. Then I realized that I could say the words without even thinking. This was fine, I suppose, but a little odd when I was, say, driving (I know – a pet example, but its so true). There were times that I would be saying Hail Marys, but then I would I would curse out the driver in front of me. Trying to bring myself back to the space of the prayer was somewhat difficult after that. It had become apparent that I was saying the words out of habit. So, again I stopped saying Hail Mary’s for a while.
Then the prayer returned. Maybe I should say that She returned. I began praying the Hail Mary when I was teaching in high school. I noticed that the prayer affected my relationships in subtle ways. I might pray for a particularly difficult person or situation, and that person or situation would somehow become not so difficult. Was it me? Was it the other person? I am not sure. It was just apparent that something was shifting in the dynamic. The problems that I kept in mind when I said the prayer were actually affected. What is amazing is that even after I recognized that things were happening in a particular situation, I continued to pray Hail Mary’s and things would continue to happen.
I try to avoid magical thinking. I try not to be too goofily spiritual. The thing is, I love this prayer. It makes me feel strange to say that. I mean, I do not want either to psychologize or spiritualize a situation. The modern man in me wants to take the phenomenological perspective and claim that I have said the prayer so many times, and filled that prayer with so much emotional and intellecutal juice, that my perspective shifts into a sort of habitual space of openness to peace. The religious man in me wants to say that I have finally come to a place where I can recognize that the blessed Mother (despite all of my failed attempts) actually does interceded for me in ways that I cannot fathom. Perhaps both are correct, in a way. It is hard to put my finger on what, precisely, happens when I say it. I just know that something moves when I ask Our Lady to be present.
What a quandary. I am sure that, upon reading this, that my religious friends would say “well, of course!” I am sure that my atheist friends would roll their eyes, but then say, “Only you, man…why do we let you get away with talking like this?” Well, I will tell you why. And I think that this is what Ignatius and countless others realized: there is a power in prayer that is completely unaccounted for. Things happen for those who pray in faith. The things we expect? Well, its not magic. Its not stories for children. It is real life. I have felt the power of prayer move me in ways that nothing else has. Regardless of what perspective I take, the data remains the same. When I pray the Hail Mary, things happen in my life that I have never consciously sought. The outcomes surprise me. Relationships become smoother, my perspective shifts to accommodate the cares and concerns of another, and I become more peaceful. It is true. I cannot explain it. I cannot quantify it. I can accept a psychological or spiritual answer. Still, the fact remains that my perspective on life is seriously altered by the use of this prayer. To that end, Mary remains a primary mediator for my relationship with the Divine Christ. I continue to believe that she interceded on my behalf. Who knew: the one who bore Jesus into the world has continued to bear him to me until this day.