Mary, Our Atmosphere

This week, with Mother’s Day just behind us and as the Church continues to celebrate Mary in a special way during May, Trish Diewald offers a suggestion to those who struggle to love Our Lady, as well as a reflection on Mary’s motherhood.


By: Trish Diewald, Staff Spotlight

In all honesty, I have never really felt close to Our Lady. Intellectually, I think she’s wonderful, and I do want and try to be close to her, but for various reasons, my heart just doesn’t feel what my head understands.

I know I’m not alone in this; many people would love to love Our Lady. We yearn for a deep relationship with her, but she feels like a lovely person we only hear about and never really meet.

If you’re in this boat, what is important is that we desire this relationship and start to work toward it. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and deep relationships aren’t created overnight. What I find helps me in working toward a better relationship with Our Lady, and maybe it will help you, is to find just one thing, maybe an image of Mary, a book or scripture passage about her, whatever it is, and keep returning to that one thing.

My one thing is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful poem “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe,” which I once stumbled upon in research for a term paper. Hopkins compares Our Lady to the air and atmosphere that surround us, and he says a lot in that poem that’s worth meditation. My thoughts today aren’t directly from Hopkins, but rather my own reflection that has resulted from one of many returns to this poem. The nifty thing about having one thing to keep returning to is that it can be merely the springboard for so many various meditations.

Hopkins wrote in the Victorian era, when we knew little about our planetary atmosphere and how it functions, so his use of “atmosphere” is more in the sense of our surroundings and environment. But my Star-Trek-loving self likes thinking about planets and space, so I’ll reflect for the moment on Mary as our atmosphere in the more scientific meaning of the word.

Consider the atmosphere surrounding the earth: What does it do? It makes earth a habitable home for us. It allows us to breathe. It surrounds the earth to protect us from all sorts of things that could harm us: gamma rays, ion storms, solar flares. The atmosphere also keeps our temperature from extremes and burns up innumerable meteorites and other particles from space before they can fall to earth and cause damage.

As our atmosphere, Mary wraps us in her motherly, compassionate love to protect us Ravensburger_Schutzmantelmadonnafrom everything that could harm us. If we rely on her assistance, she keeps us from growing tepid in our life with Christ, but also from becoming overzealous. She also fends off the meteorites of sin and evil. Of course, we will still have times when the evil deeds of others may hurt us or when we fall into sin, but allowing ourselves to be wrapped about by our Mother sure does make it easier to get through those times in one piece. And as the atmosphere filters the rays of the sun to just the right level for our needs, so does Mary bring to us the Lord’s graces to us exactly as we need them.

One of the most wonderful things about the atmosphere is that it does everything it does despite our inability to feel it. We never give much thought to that layer of gasses between the earth and space, and yet it’s always there. Mary is always there, always protecting us even if we can never feel her presence and affection for us.

Maybe you can’t feel Mary’s presence, but were she absent, you would probably notice it. Life would be much harsher, maybe a lot like Mercury, where the intensity of the heat of life would burn us up and the unbearable weight of suffering would crush us. Or it might be like toxically gaseous Jupiter, where we could not withstand the enormous accumulation of sin. Or perhaps like far-off Pluto, so far away from the Lord that the distance would make our hearts as cold as stone.

The junction of Mother’s Day with Mary’s month of May seems to me perfectly timed. It’s a wonderful reminder that Mary is there, mothering us, whether or not we feel her presence, and a reminder to turn to her and try to develop a relationship with her.

Consider making Hopkins’ words your prayer this month: “Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere; my happier world, wherein to wend and meet no sin; above me, round me lie fronting my froward eye with sweet and scarless sky; stir in my ears, speak there of God’s love, O live air, of patience, penance, prayer: World-mothering air, air wild, wound with thee, in thee isled, fold home, fast fold thy child.”

Yes, Our Atmosphere, your children need you! You do make this valley of tears a happier world and keep us from sin. Please seek for us the grace of trusting you, of feeling your care and affection for us, and of never taking you for granted.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mother Mary!

Trish Diewald serves as Administrative Assistant to the Bishop’s Delegate for Evangelization and Media.

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