• Cynthia McCarthy

Seeking God Through Ritual

I have a friend who has been a practicing Catholic for most of her life. These days, she regularly attends a Center for Spiritual Living new thought center, and in fact, that’s how we met. Recently, between the pandemic, the protests, the election, economic concerns, etc., she’s gone back to praying The Holy Rosary regularly and turning to various saints for comfort, guidance, and protection.

You would think new thought principles and Catholicism might not go together very well, but that’s not the case. Every new thought center that I’ve visited or studied in draws from the wisdom of many faith traditions, denominations, and religions. It’s a beautiful, respectful acknowledgement of all the various paths to a universal God. I’ve always felt that Center for Spiritual Living centers have an "interfaith vibe."

In a conversation the other day, my friend mentioned specifically about Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. She’s been praying to her for obstacles to be cleared, kinks to be released, and problems to be unraveled and resolved not only in her life, but in the whole world. I was so intrigued by this idea. Something about the visual of our problems existing only as knots to ultimately be undone really resonated with me.

Isn’t that what we do? We get ourselves tied up in knots, both real and imagined. We sometimes create our own obstacles, obstructions, kinks, and troubles. After reading more about Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, I learned that the devotion is directed to Mary, mother of Jesus, and the idea—the spiritual principle, really, is that Mary represents a loving mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child, any child.

Mary, Undoer of Knots Johann Georg Schmidtner
Mary, Undoer of Knots by Johann Georg Schmidtner

If you think back to your own childhood, imagine you were playing with a necklace chain, a rope, or string and found it stuck in knots. Try as you might, you couldn’t unravel it, but when you took it to your mother—she inevitably worked her magic.

Mothers are good at unraveling our knots, aren’t they? The famous Baroque painting by Johann Georg Schmidtner "Mary, Undoer of Knots" depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by angels, as she unties knots from a ribbon. Catholics pray to her, asking her to take their knots into her hands and undo them for the glory of God. The prayer concludes with a heartfelt request for guidance, protection, and refuge.

The concept reminded me a bit of the elephant-headed Hindu Deity Ganesha, also known as the Lord of Obstacles. He is popularly worshipped for his wisdom as a remover of obstacles, often before people start something new—to make their way straight and clear, free from troubles.

The Sanskrit mantra associated with him is Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, which translates to: “salutations to the remover of obstacles” or “I bow to you, Lord Ganesha.” Repeating this mantra over and over can be very grounding. It clears the mind, offering an opportunity to be present in the moment. To me, the ritual feels very similar to the Catholic devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Completely different faith traditions. Completely different spiritual practices.

It may seem like praying to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots or repeating a Hindu mantra to Ganesha would be like looking outside of ourselves for help—for the unraveling, the undoing, the healing. It might seem like these practices don’t jive with new thought principles, that they are like believing in duality and separation from the One, but I don’t see it that way. Believe it or not, in my world, both rituals feel very similar to doing a spiritual mind treatment. Praying an affirmative prayer (another name for a spiritual mind treatment) intends to shift our mind so we can manifest what we desire, recognizing the infinite Spirit of God and our unification with that very presence of God.

Ernest Holmes, founder of the Religious Science movement and what later became the Centers for Spiritual Living organization, clearly explains this unification in his What We Believe statement:

We believe in God, the living Spirit Almighty; one, indestructible, absolute, and self-existent Cause. This One manifests Itself in and through all creation, but is not absorbed by Its creation. The manifest universe is the body of God; it is the logical and necessary outcome of the infinite self-knowingness of God. We believe in the individualization of the Spirit in us, and that all people are individualizations of the One Spirit.

I interpret this to mean that the Blessed Virgin Mary is an expression of Spirit. The Hindu Deity Ganesha is an expression of Spirit. I am an expression of Spirit. You are an expression of Spirit. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, chanting a mantra to Ganesha, writing a spiritual mind treatment, exploring your own inner consciousness for help with your troubles and obstacles--all of these methods are like asking Spirit Itself for help. All of these spiritual practices are a pathway to the “heaven within” each of us. The rituals, from whatever spiritual path, are all part of the One Spirit.

As spiritual beings, we can logically and intellectually know that the power of God lies within us, yet simultaneously be exhausted by current events. We can trust in our unity with the One Spirit and at the same time have very human-like doubts about our ability to manage and persevere. This is a reminder to give yourself some grace. Seek the rituals that give you comfort, that bring you closer to God, whatever they are. Practice them and embrace them. We are never alone, for we are each individual expressions of the very God we seek.

May your knots be undone. May your obstacles be cleared, and may you know the truth of your unity with Spirit.

Rev Cynthia McCarthy

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