The Promise of Mary, Star of the Sea

Few things are as beautiful as two hands woven together.  There’s the feel of another’s fingers warming your own, and yet the contrast between their hand’s work and your own.

Your hands tell where you’ve been, the battles you’ve fought, the work you’ve done.  What kind of story do your hands tell?

I wonder what Mary’s hands looked like.  In all the representations I’ve seen, her hands are just a minor part, an appendage that’s necessary to make her complete but never the focus.  They are, without fail, perfect hands, but I’ve never seen an image of Mary that focuses on her hands.

These images we see, the different titles and apparitions, are supposed to inspire us, not drag us down, so sometimes I have to remind myself not to let it have the reverse effect.

How can I relate to her across the centuries, living as I do in such a different culture, with such a different understanding of the world?  How do I get past the flawless portraits of her, the idealized images, the pristine hands I see?

To identify with Mary, I need to get past the holy cards and statues around me, to the reality of her life.

Instead of seeing Mary’s hands, so smooth and soft, as intimidating, something I can never achieve, maybe I should focus on where those hands will take me, what those hands have experienced, how those hands have transformed.

Mary would have worked with her hands.  She didn’t have a washing machine, so those loads of laundry had to be scrubbed…by hand.  In fact, there was no running water in her house, so she had to make a trip to the river.

How did she do dishes?  How did she get drinking water?  How much hard labor did her hands see, in the chores of her everyday life?

Her hands wouldn’t have looked anything like mine.  I’m sure her nails weren’t long, though it wouldn’t have been because she was biting them, as I do, but because it wouldn’t have been practical for the work she had to do.

Would her knuckles have been swollen?  What kind of scars, scabs, wrinkles would her hands have shown me?  Her life would have been written on her hands, and that inspires me to embrace my vocations with my hands, to pray as my hands are immersed in the dishwater, to rejoice as I fold laundry, to listen for the whisper of God when I’m occupied with cleaning.

My hands spend a lot of time over a keyboard, and as they dance, I find myself looking down, thinking of Mary’s hands and how much stronger they would have had to be.  Her hands carried heavy buckets, lugged laundry to the river and back, cleaned the cuts and scrapes on Jesus’ knees.

Mary has been called “Star of the Sea” since St. Jerome in the fifth century, though there was likely a transcription problem:  St. Jerome called her “stilla maris,” drop of the sea, but the change of an “i” to an “e” turned it into “stella maris,” star of the sea.  As a star, Mary guides us just as the star led the magi to the Christ Child.

In her perfectly manicured hands, I can be inspired to reach for the Child she held.  Though there must have been calluses and scars, I see instead, in her hands, acceptance of God’s will and cooperation with God’s grace.

To the sailors in ages past the stars meant survival.  Without the stars, before GPS and our technology, they wouldn’t know where they were going.  The stars represented, in a way, their salvation.  The stars pointed the way to safety.  It only took a good storm to spell disaster, because their navigation system was gone.

Mary, as Star of the Sea, directs us to safety, to salvation, to life beyond just survival.  Her hands, with their scars and wrinkles, point to peace.  Her hands, with their memory of holding the Christ Child and then preparing for His burial, lead me home.  Her hands, like the stars for the sailors, guide me to the safe harbor of her Son.

Often, I gaze at the sky and admire the stars.  I wonder what it’s like out there, where those stars are.  And all too often, I’m like that with Mary:  I wonder and gaze, and then I go back inside to the bright distractions of busyness and activity.  I ignore the peace she promises, as Star of the Sea, when she points me to the silence and stillness.

Mary, Star of the Sea, is a promise that we’ll never be lost, that the storms of life will never spell disaster.  We can place ourselves in her hands — strong, worn, tender — and know that we are safe.

Sarah Reinhard

By

When Sarah Reinhard set off in her life as a grown-up, she had no idea it would involve horses, writing, and sparkly dress shoes. In her work as a Catholic wife, mom, writer, parish employee, and catechist, she’s learned a lot of lessons and had a lot of laughs. She’s online at snoringscholar.com and is the author of a number of books.

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  • Antonia

    Nice piece, Sarah. Lots to think about looking at my own old hands.

  • CDville

    It makes me think of the story of Mother’s Hands, from the old Protestant book of modern parables for children that came with the series of Bible stories. The child is horrified at Mother’s ugly hands until discovering that her hands were burned and scarred while rescuing her child. Thank you for this meditation.

  • Shelby

    This is utterly beautiful. I can’t draw stick people, but if I had been given the gift of an artist, I know I would want to draw hands. You are right– they say so much about our lives. And to think of Mary’s hands? Oh! How I love this! The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary just got enhanced by this essay! Thank you.

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Lovely, Sarah. My daughter Gwen’s middle name is Stellamaris after Our Lady, Star of the Sea.

  • catholicexchange

    I grew up hearing that story. Odd, but your comment brought back a ton of memories. Thanks!

    Michael

  • catholicexchange

    A wonderful name! Thanks for your comment!

    Michael

  • Mary C Donahue

    I am a NavyMom and I entrust to Our Lady,Star of the Sea, my sailor son and all those who sail the seas to ensure our safety. May She ensure the safety of their souls arriving safe in the Port of Heaven. Thanks for this article.

  • rosebud

    “No storm can shake my inmost calm, when to that “Rock” I’m clinging; That Love is Lord of Heaven & Earth – How can I keep from singing ? ” ( From favorite hymn; How Can I Keep From Singing ?” )

  • rosebud

    The reason this post about the sea reminded me of that hymn is because I have the verse as a caption on a framed poster of a light-house atop a giant rock.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    My brother’s in the Navy, Mary. What a beautiful practice!

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I love that reference to that hymn! :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Wow. That’s a pretty awesome name, Haley. :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    The Joyful Mysteries are my favorite, too. Or maybe the ones I pray most easily? I don’t know for sure…but yes, I agree with you! :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I never heard that story, CDville, but it brings a tear to my eye to think of it. When my first child was a baby, I remember taking tons of pictures of her hands grasping other hands, and then reflecting on the beauty of the “ugly” old hands, in their beauty, with her small, perfect hands.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Glad you enjoyed it, Antonia. :)

  • Chauffeur

    Thanks for the insightful article Sarah! I imagine you are right about Our Blessed Mother’s hands during her lifetime. Seems odd that the Immaculate Conception should have to suffer the same physical abuses as other women (and more). But as she was Assumed into heaven, body and soul, I imagine her hands are perfect now.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    But you know, another thought on that “perfect” thing: maybe OUR definition of perfect (as in, flawless, pristine) is not quite right. That’s a whole other reflection, I suppose, but it’s where your comment leads me…

    Thanks for your comment and have a blessed day! :)

  • Chauffeur

    Deep thoughts for sure Sarah. And I could follow an argument either way. But I am reminded that when the children of Medjugorje asked Mary why she was so beautiful, she said it was because she loved. Profound thought. Yet the earthly scars and sufferings of the saints should surely radiate in profound beauty in heaven too. Perhaps beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder but rather, perfection is an indisputable absolute in heaven. We’ll see!

  • John Smith

    Ave Maris Stella http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NOipola4doE

    These hands have most notably been the most clement, most merciful means of dispensing graces from God. I made the novena, the 9-day prayer to Mary, Untier of Knots. The knots in my life which Mary, Star of the Sea untied, were of unforgiveness, great anger at harm to done innocent little ones by adults in my life.

    (My grandchildren were exposed to marijuana in utero; they are now hyperactive. Please pray for them.)

    There was no provision for me to confess the sins of those with whom I was angry in the novena to Mary Untier of Knots, instead this most loving Mother gave me with her hands, the answer to the prayer for her Spouse the Holy Spirit to convict me of my own sins, conviction gently given through her hands in the most compassionate way, in the form easiest for me to understand and assimilate. The spiritual gifts which Mary, Star of the Sea gave to me through this novena are now a continuing miracle.

    Many years ago, as I lay in bed holding my wife, I was given a vision of Mary holding an amphora of honey with those hands, pouring it over our heads, perhaps a sign of graces she was giving to us through our matrimonial sacrament. The medal of the Immaculate Conception, given to St. Catherine Laboure, depicts Mary with rays coming down to us from those hands. These are from jewels, one on each finger. These rays are the graces she wants to give us. But some of the jewels have no rays of grace radiating down onto us. These are the graces she wants to give, but which we don’t ask her for. She cannot give them if we don’t ask. Our Blessed Lord Jesus told us the parable of the widow who beleaguers the unjust judge. But how Infinitely Just is this Judge (Psalm 51:4), the Son of Mary, Star of the Sea, Whose clemency He is overjoyed to give to us — If Only We Will Ask Her.

  • Joe

    Blessed Mother Mary please watch over us, protect us and keep us safe from any harm; through the grace and mercy of your loving Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.kathleenglavich.org Kathleen Glavich

    One of Mary’s newest titles is Star of Evangelization. Interestingly, I’ve written many books, but the most popular one is The Catholic Companion to Mary. It far outsells the one I wrote about her Son!

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I love that title, Kathleen. And I love that book of yours too (it’s on my Mary shelf).

  • http://www.kathleenglavich.org Kathleen Glavich

    Glad to hear that, Sarah! Do you know I have a blog at http://www.kathleenglavich.org?

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Well NOW I do! :)

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    I actually bought your book on Mary because I heard about it way back a long time ago on Catholic Vitamins… :)

  • http://www.kathleenglavich.org Kathleen Glavich

    Wow! What a coincidence. I’ll have to let Deacon Tom know.

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