I learned the Hail Mary sitting on a mattress on the floor, in the upstairs room of the last apartment I lived in before I got married. I was newly Catholic and I had a special intention. I was convinced the Blessed Mother would work a miracle if only I bugged her enough about it.
As I stumbled through the rosary that first time, without the benefit of the audio aids that would later help me to get the flow, rhythm, and words, I didn’t have a shock of understanding. The lights didn’t flicker. Nothing exploded in a shower of sparks.
But I kept plugging along, struggling and wrestling. The rosary became my companion on commutes, and I discovered a CD that helped me learn the words. I kept rosary in my purse and I learned how to tick off the prayers on my fingers when I didn’t have or couldn’t use a rosary.
Time passed and that intention was updated with something else. Then I put the rosary away for a while, only to pick it up again.
Now that I’ve had the rosary as my companion for years, I notice that when I’m troubled, when I can’t find the words, or when I’m afraid, I latch onto the Hail Mary. Does saying it just occupy the part of my mind that needs activity? Possibly. But I think there’s more to it.
A few years ago, I woke in the middle of the night. I was on a trip without my husband, and the baby and toddler were both snoring beauties. Nothing was amiss, except an urge—so strong it was almost someone TELLING me—to pray for my safety.
I don’t know how long I laid there, terrified. All I could pray was a litany of Hail Marys—it was the only thing that came out. I had never had an experience where a memorized prayer was a way of praying when fear completely clouds the mind…except in my dreams.
I don’t often have nightmares, but when I’m pregnant it’s no-holds-barred with nighttime adventures. During one of my pregnancies, I remember feeling petrified and waking myself up by praying Hail Marys.
You might say it’s become my blankie prayer.
Just as my children cling to their worn-soft faded blankies, so I cling to my Blessed Mother’s skirt through this prayer. When my heart aches, I cry out a Hail Mary. When I need held in my sorrow, it’s a Hail Mary that comes out. Worried or troubled, the words I can’t find on my own shape into the words of the Hail Mary.
I wrap my babies in soft blankets, bundling them against hurt, and God has wrapped me in the blankie prayer that I’ve become as comfortable with as the old quilt from my childhood, the one on my daughter’s bed. I hold my children after they fall and put bandages on their scrapes, just as God wraps his arms around me through the love of his mother, which I’m always reminded of when I say a Hail Mary.
The next time you pray the Hail Mary, think of Mary’s arms wrapped around you, holding you close. Picture Jesus beside you, smushed face-to-face with you. Snuggle in and pray all you can.
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