When I’m on the back of a horse, the world changes for me. Not only do I realize, with a sort of dazed wonder, that I’m doing one of the things I used to love more than anything else, but I also see the world through different eyes. When I’m riding a horse, my body is different — for one thing, I’m not used to it anymore, and my legs scream in agony for at least three days after a ride. I have to pay attention to the world around me and I have to pay attention to the horse beneath me. The horses I ride are old hands at novice riders, and there’s nothing to fear. Yet even though I know that, I don’t ever forget that I’m on the back of a horse.
It makes me think of how I go through my life, so often. I cruise along, doing what I think is best, maybe asking for help here and there, thanking God every so often, involving Him when it suits me. Do I realize the immensity of what it means to be going through life as a Christian? Do I live my faith? Do I look down and see the Hands that are guiding me?
Reading about Saint Monica’s devotion for her wayward son, Augustine, reminds me of this need to pay attention. Monica was a devout Christian, but her son wasn’t. In fact, he was about as obstinate as it was possible to get. He didn’t want a thing to do with Christianity, and he could tell you why.
And yet Monica kept praying. Her prayer was so noteworthy that Mary appeared to her as Our Lady of Consolation. She was wearing mourning clothes with a belt around her waist, which she took off and gave to Monica, instructing her to wear it and spread this new devotional practice. Mary said she would protect anyone who wore the belt in her honor. Monica gave the belt, also called a cincture, to her son Augustine, and years later, he not only became Christian but became a renowned bishop, saint, and doctor.
When I hear Mary referred to as Our Lady of Consolation, I don’t immediately think of Monica’s tears and desperate pleas for help with her son’s salvation. Sometimes I think of the little pains and tribulations in my life, like not getting to the horse farm as much as I’d like.
There’s therapy in that time spent among the horses, in the open air, unplugged from the technology that tries to run my life. I notice how much joy my family takes in the peacocks and the swings, and I treasure how we laugh and photograph and dawdle. Time stops at the horse farm, even as it flies by all around us.
When I’ve communed with God among the horses, I often realize how much I need Mass, how much I need that time with God. Though I may be distracted or interrupted or preoccupied, with kids crawling on my lap and sifting through my purse, people behind me or in front of me catching my attention; though I may be imperfect as I kneel there, I can see myself at the hitching post, waiting as the horses do, for my Herdsman to lead me to the still waters. Mary is right beside Him, wearing cowboy boots and probably a cowboy hat. She has a black leather belt, and she winks at me when I notice it.
“You probably thought I only wore robes,” she whispers.
There’s a lot of surprise in my daily life. I never expected, for example, to enjoy my babies so much. I didn’t think I’d find solace in horses, having given up my equine dreams for more practical matters years ago, and I certainly didn’t think I’d find Mary in a cowboy hat!
Our Lady of Consolation reminds me that there’s comfort, even in the parts of life you don’t “win,” in the pain and suffering, in the knowledge of the prize I seek. As I share those moments with my family at the horse farm and rediscover that old horse-crazy part of myself, I find that there’s help for me in the midst of my life, right there in the manure and the grass-stained knees. From five feet in the air, framed by alert ears and a wisp of mane, I see how far I have to go…and how easily He can get me there.