By Sara McConnell, Theology Teacher

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I took a personal retreat at Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. The log cabins in the rustic woods, hiking through endless paths in the forest, meditating in front of sculptures of Jesus, praying with my rosary beads while snuggled under a blanket in a rocking chair, silence inviting me to Lectio Divina with Scripture, attending Mass in a small, intimate setting, and seeing at least ten deer all deepened my relationship with God, myself, and creation.

What affected me most, however, was a sculpture called Tender Mother. The sculpture was of Mary tenderly holding her baby Jesus. This was meaningful to me as some of my most precious moments as a mother come from tenderly holding my baby Maverick. This sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother also sparked my memory of another image of Mary from two years prior.

Two years ago, I went on retreat at Saint Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE. As I stood outside on a brisk, cool morning before the sun came up, I found myself next to a statue of Mary. “Fruit of new creation,” the text read. I longed to be fruitful; I so desperately wanted to have “new creation” growing inside of me. I yearned to carry a baby, just like Mary. And with that, I lit a votive candle, asking for Mary’s intercession, that I, like her, might someday “be with child.”

It was quite random that I asked for Mary’s intercession on that crisp, fall morning two years ago. I of course honored and respected Mary, but I never had a particular devotion to her. If anything, I often felt frustrated with the portrayals of her as passive, submissive, and quiet. But it was out of desperation, longing, and yearning to be a mother that I lit that candle and offered that prayer. Some would say it was chance, that I just happened to walk by that statue of Mary that morning. I believe, however, it was the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And some would say it was chance that, two years later, I looked at the sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother at Creighton University Retreat Center as well; the gift store was closed that weekend and I didn’t intend to buy anything. Or maybe it was boredom – the gift store was right next to the dining room, and maybe I was looking to fill those few moments of boredom before the meal was served. Perhaps it was chance, perhaps it was boredom, or maybe, once again, I was led to view that sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother by the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As I gazed at this sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother, so tenderly holding the baby Jesus, just as I tenderly hold my son Maverick, a sense of gratitude flooded my entire being. Gratitude for my son. Gratitude for the gift of motherhood. Gratitude for Mary.

Now, as I write this reflection, we are in the season of Advent, the season of hope and waiting, the season where images of pregnant Mary and images of Mary as Mother of baby Jesus abound. For many years, such images filled me with sadness and grief, as I hoped and waited to become a mother. Now, these same images continue to fill me with the same sense of gratitude I experienced while meditating on that sculpture of Mary as Tender Mother at Creighton University Retreat Center the weekend before Thanksgiving. And as we look ahead to Christmas, I remember that the gifts of Maverick and motherhood mean more than any present under the tree.

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