My youngest daughter is three. She is a clever thing. You know the game that kids play when they don't want to go to bed? "Mommy! I need a drink! Mommy! I forgot to brush my teeth! Mommy, can you tuck me in? Mommy! I am scared! Mommy..."
Of course you do. Everyone knows that game. My Becca is particularly good at the game. She usually wins. She climbs into my bed and looks into my eyes, with a three year old's piety and barely whispers, "Mommy, can we just say the rosary please?"
What can I say? I have mixed feeling because I do not love that she is clearly just using the rosary as a particularly effective excuse to stay up late. It that prayer? Can it be?
But I think of my heavenly mother. I think she would indulge the request joyfully, even in the knowledge of imperfect motives. Prayer does not have to be perfect. It rarely is. That is one of the things I love about the rosary. It helps my imperfect prayer life.
I didn't think I had any particular devotion to the rosary until about five years ago. Five years ago, my daughter was in the NICU. Because of her genetic condition, her fingers were fused together. The rosary was a detail of a very difficult time. We had an army of people praying for us and we truly felt God's presence. I cannot describe the calmness or the goodness that we knew, but it was nothing short of miraculous. God was with us in a powerful and peaceful way. People sent prayer cards and Mass cards and relics. We pinned the relics to her pillow. She was intubated, so she was sedated and not moving around a lot. We had those CDs you can find in the backs of Churches, theologians teaching on so many subjects. We used the Magnificat for daily meditation and prayer.
But the rosary was special. My mom gave me her mother's rosary while we were in the NICU. It had smooth beads and it was light. It felt easy in easy in my hands. The beads were small and oblong. The beads fit in Sarah's tiny rosebud hands.
Rosebud. That is the term the doctors used. If you put the tips of all your fingers together your hand forms the shape which can be imagined as a rosebud. That is how her fingers were fused.
I worried about her hands. Children learn by touch. One of the hardest things (there were many) during that time was well-intentioned people demanding that I think about her hands. I knew it was important. I didn't need extra layers of guilt. It plagued my mind even without their concerned advice. People want to help. I guess they thought that this important thing might fall through the cracks in the face of other major concerns. The doctors were concerned about her heart, her brain, her kidneys, her liver, and her lungs. I was worried about those things too, but I am her mom. I was worried about everything. I did not want her earliest sense memories to be sterile and cold. I played music. I sang. I learned infant massage. Touch matters. I fretted about her hands. Her touch. She needed sensory input which would normally just happen. I had to put things in her hands. Nothing fit. I had to be careful not to poke or pinch. Grandmom's rosary beads fit. It was almost a perfect fit, as though that rosary had been made for just that purpose. The small brown beads tucked easily into her hand and she could squeeze. She could feel.
I imagined that she was holding my grandmother's hand.
That rosary gave me comfort. Maybe I was using it as something of a talisman. I wondered, is that bad? I think my Mother in Heaven wouldn't think so. I think she dotes on us and loves us. I think that she was there loving me as I reached out to her imperfectly. Poorly, even. But she heard.
That experience made me feel a certain way toward the rosary as a devotion which I had not felt before. But it wasn't the first time the rosary affected me in a long acting way. When I was a teenager I wasn't sure what I believed. I challenged God and my parents and my educators to prove or at least carefully defend various truths. Mom handled my pushing with a gentle wisdom which she lived and showed by example. Dad handled my pushing with clear and articulate answers.
Cathy was my youth group leader. She handled my pushing entirely indirectly. Together we went to the abortion clinics every week and we prayed the rosary. I wasn't sure if I was Catholic, but the words weren't empty. They were a unified, meditative plea to God for help. I never questioned that he heard. I never questioned that he acted in ways I couldn't see. It wasn't that she avoided my questions, it was simply that the questions and answers were secondary and we both knew it. What we were doing mattered. I rattled off the words. Rote prayer. What about that? My prayer was a repetition of Catholic belief which I was not sure I held. Was that bad?
I don't think Mary thought so. I think she heard my argumentative teen concerns for what they were and stuck by me. I believe she prayed with us and cried with us. I think God heard my imperfect prayer.
I give Mary a lot of credit, I guess. Mary is a mom. She knows. She is listening. She gets it and she hears our pleas in the best possible way. When she prays with us and for us, part of the grace of the experience is that she closes a gap between our imperfect prayer and the deepest pulls of our heart. She brings us to her son, our Lord who perfects us.
The rosary is her gift. For rosebud fingers and challenging teenagers and impious children, the rosary is a lifeline. It is words, when you don't have words. It is meditative and emotional. Joyful and sorrowful, glorious and luminous. The rosary is a loving gift from a mother to her children who are imperfect people likely to mess up everything.