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Sarah Reinhard contemplates how God's presence is brought to her through Mary.

They swoop down, around, in and out. They seem to come from nowhere, though I know, rationally, that they live in our barn. They are, after all, barn swallows.

I have never grown tired of seeing swallows performing their acrobatics. I first saw them in my younger years, growing up at a Christian summer camp. I would mow for hours at the camp as part of my summer work, and at the right time of day, at the exact moment the heat seemed to let up ever-so-slightly and the evening seemed to start, the tree swallows would appear, plunging through the air in impossible dives, rushing and zooming to get the bugs that were disturbed by my mowing.

I’m not sure they noticed me, all those years ago, zipping from one end of the field to the other on a red Yazoo mower, brown from a summer in the sun. They noticed the bugs, though. And I noticed them.

The barn swallows appear at the same brink of evening, with the same flourish and pizzazz I noticed in their cousins. It’s as though they appear from thin air, though there are days that I remember this feeling and I look for them in the dark coolness of the barn or on the electrical wires stretching across our lawn from the barn. Sometimes I see them. Sometimes I don’t. I think they’re there either way.

It’s that way with much in my spiritual life too. Whether I feel God’s presence, He is always beside me. I’m often surprised, astonished, and perplexed to feel the touch of His hand in what I consider the most mundane details of my life. Why does He care whether I get my writing time or not? How, exactly, does my highly demanding child suddenly become self-entertaining, just when I need him to? Who do I think inspired that friend or family member to reach out to me just as I was about to lose the last shred of my sanity?

I feel God’s touch a lot through His mother, Mary. Though I roll my eyes at myself, it just seems like too many coincidences appearing at just the right moment, too many small things lining up to form a cohesive whole, too many details that just work out in ways that I couldn’t have planned if I had tried.

It’s a lot like how the barn swallows appear, suddenly and without any announcement. They chirp their way through the bugs in my lawn, especially when we’re mowing, but they don’t sound a trumpet to let us know they’re coming. They perform their breathtaking aerial stunts without pausing for admiration, continuing along to the neighboring fields. They finish their work through dusk and go back to where they were, presumably the barn.

Mary has a habit of doing that in her various appearances, too. Looking back, I’m sure people wonder to themselves if this or that had anything to do with Mary’s upcoming appearance. At the time, though, it probably just seemed like a detail that wasn’t such a big deal.

Though I am a woman of words, filling pages with thoughts and notes, processing the world around me through a keyboard, and communicating with language, I appreciate the silence I’ve discovered over the years in the early mornings and dusky evenings, when the birds and I are keeping company. In it, Mary reaches across the centuries to me, to the pain that’s been shoved off to the side, to the burden I carry inside.

In the silence, Mary does something as amazing as the barn swallows’ gymnastics: she guides me to my Father’s arms. I don’t need to hear about how great it will be once I’m there; I don’t need assurances that He will make everything better. I know He’ll take care of me, but I’m not always so great at believing it.

In the silence of Mary, I feel myself nudged, slightly and yet significantly, closer to where I’m supposed to be. It’s there, in her open arms, in the shadow of her Son on the altar, that I realize that I am capable of more, because of Him. It’s then, in the moment of her embrace, that I perceive that the more could include things I can’t fathom just yet.

Just like the swallows in my yard, Mary never fails to impress me with her abilities. She’s there, in company I can’t ever hope to equal, and yet she crouches down to be eye level with me, inviting me to join her. How can I say no?

In the silence of Mary, I feel myself nudged, slightly and yet significantly, closer to where I’m supposed to be. #catholicmom

Copyright 2020 Sarah Reinhard
Image: Philip Ackermann (2018), Pexels