“Let her mother you” would be words addressed to me by my spiritual director, Sr. Joan Kellenberg, r.c. in August, 2006. I was at the Cenacle Retreat House in Ronkonkoma, New York and I was embarking on my first silent retreat. I made the plunge right into deep waters, signing up for five days and four nights. . . not thinking that maybe I should have registered just for the weekend! As much as I like to engage in lengthy conversations with friends and family, I also appreciate the silence of “being in the quiet,” so I felt that I had made the right decision for the time that I had committed to. By the time dinner rolled around and I was seated alone at a table in silence, eating slowly and concentrating on my green beans, I thought differently! I just arrived. . . no way could I explain why I had to be home before morning to Sr. Joan. She would not have bought that story in a New York minute! I had to be committed! I had to get through that first night!
One of my first directives from Sr. Joan for my retreat was to “pray with an image“ of the Blessed Mother. As I was pushing green beans from one side of the plate to the other, I looked up and there she was. I was gazing at a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother holding the Baby Jesus in her arms and I felt myself mesmerized once again by plaster and paint that seemed to portray the divine into my heart. She was high up on a ledge on the dining room wall and she just seemed to be calling to me. After everyone left the dining room I lingered with my camera to take a picture of her.
At that time, digital cameras really didn’t exist for me and I was still taking pictures with an Elph camera. I would take the film to the local camera shop and have double prints made. Can you imagine! But that is what I was using at the time and so I had the camera wherever I went, much like our cellphone cameras today. I pulled a chair over to the ledge, climbed up on it and snapped the picture. I shared my enthusiasm with Sr. Joan and she encouraged me to take the statue to any of the rooms surrounding the dining room, with her help of course!
My heart didn’t exactly jump for joy at that suggestion so I went back to Sr. Joan with another request. “Could I take the Blessed Mother statue up to my retreat room which was on the third floor?” Poor Sr. Joan! Her look was priceless but much to my surprise, she agreed with some stipulations. She would be the one to take the statue down off the ledge. She would carry her in the elevator and she would come back to get the Blessed Mother before breakfast the next morning. Joyfully, I said “yes“ to every one of the rules that I had to follow and then found the “four“ of us riding up in the elevator to my retreat room on the third floor.
Coincidentally, the room I was staying in was named after St. Joseph, so I was going to be lodging with the Holy Family for the night! My enthusiasm was matchless and poor Sr. Joan must have thought “did I make the right judgement call herein letting Anita take this statue to her room?”
When we entered my room, Sr. Joan set the statue safely down on the dresser. She then instructed me to picture myself in the arms of Our Lady (my mother died when I was but 10 years old as I have shared in prior postings). Her words to me were:
“Anita, let our Mother mother you tonight for the years you were emotionally deprived of a mother.
You be baby Anita in her arms tonight.”
After imparting these words to my heart, she told me she would be back the next morning before 8:00 am which would give us time to bring the statue back into the dining room before breakfast. She wanted the Blessed Mother to be back in her rightful place for the rest of the group attending the private silent retreat.
After the door closed behind Sr. Joan, I found myself alone in the room with the statue that I was so mesmerized by. She was beautiful and I sat down in a recliner chair in front of her praying and asking for what had been requested of me. I also took another picture of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus and then sat down to pray and ponder within, what this was all about. I was going to be “mothered“ tonight in a special way that I couldn’t possibly have dreamt up on my own. I went to sleep that night very peacefully and knew that this was going to be one powerful silent retreat of being held in the “arms of Mother Mary.” I understood, too, at that moment, my feelings of wanting to flee at dinner. They surely came from the “creep in the corner,” as he is so aptly named! My wanting to leave and give Sr. Joan an excuse certainly had the autograph of the evil one all over it!
The next morning, Sr. Joan arrived on time to take Our Lady down to the dining room. She instructed me to kiss “baby Anita,” baby Jesus and Our Lady good-bye. Then we all got into the elevator to arrive just minutes before breakfast was to begin. The Blessed Mother statue was safely placed back on the ledge of the dining room wall and not another soul knew that it had been missing for the night. The rest of my time spent on my retreat was filled with beautiful days of prayer and rest. Sr. Joan met with me every day and further instructed me along my path until it was time to return to the “world” and leave the silence behind. But something had happened that first night in St. Joseph’s retreat room but it would not be revealed to me until two months after my return home from the Cenacle.
Arriving home, I had the film developed and sent Sr. Joan copies of pictures that I thought she would appreciate. Then I slipped my own copies into a special album marked “My Silent Retreat at the Cenacle….2006.” A couple of months later, as I was praying to the Blessed Mother, I felt inspired to take the album out and look at my pictures. It was then that I noticed how the Blessed Mother looked so different in the dining room image versus the retreat room image.
I brought the pictures into the retreat house where I worked at the time and both myself and another co-worker scrutinized them. If not for the chipped finger of Our Lady, the statue did not look the same. In the dining room image she looked like a statue but she certainly looked like she became lifelike in my retreat room, and she looked so lovingly at the baby. I was struck with AWE!!! Truly she did “mother me“ in my room that night and helped me to heal some of my abandonment issues and left-behind thoughts, that flowed within me after the death of my mother when I was ten years old.
Wanting to share these images with others who might benefit from them, my husband took the pictures to Staples to have copies made. He shared with me that one of the employees there commented to him as he was making the copies, “This isn’t the same statue. . . is it?” My husband elaborated that they were one and the same and the employee asked if he could have copies for himself as “his own mother would love seeing this!” The fruit was already being born of this encounter with Mother Mary!
These pictures brought healing not only to myself but others that I have shared them with. I knew that Sr. Joan had asked me to follow a very simple and gentle invitation from the Blessed Mother:
“picture yourself as baby Anita in her arms and let her mother you.”
My featured images above show the dramatic change in the pictures taken in both the dining room (left side) and the retreat room (right side) that I occupied on the third floor of the Cenacle Retreat House. May these pictures bring joy and healing to your own hearts in knowing that we have a tender and loving mother, who constantly stands vigil at our sides and loves us unceasingly.
She continues to do so in the every day moments of our lives. . . if we are but open and aware!
The “miraculous” happens every single day. . . even through the lens of a camera’s eye.
Enough of me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet
like a child in its mother’s arms,
as content as a child that has been weaned.
In closing, I would also like to send out a special greeting to Sr. Joan Kellenberg, r.c. who has since gone to her heavenly home. It was Sr. Joan’s promptings by the Holy Spirit that made my retreat so healing and loving. I know she intercedes for me now in a stronger way than she did on earth when she directed my soul. No longer does she carry statues in elevators, for she now abides in the Presence of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Angels and Saints.
Images by Anita Guariglia
Scripture taken from the Jerusalem Bible