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Mary’s finger

So, I found Mary’s finger. And not just any finger, her right index finger. That has to mean something. That has to mean more than just her pinkie finger, right?

I was on retreat at Mercy convent – a convent for retired nuns of the Sisters of Mercy. There is a statue of Mary in the back garden, made of marble. I went outside to draw it. I’m not much of an artist but I like to try. I’d just realized that drawing is easier if I use pencil and an eraser rather than a pen to make my first sketch. You can go as deep on that as you like.

This is the angle I was working with.


Part of drawing is noticing what is actually there. When we take pictures, we often work so quickly that we miss things. Or, well, at least I do. There are things that our brains fill in and we assume things are like we think they are. I’ve learned that when I take time to actually draw something I learn where those gaps are. I learn what reality is, versus what I think reality is. It is a very useful meditation.

While looking, I noticed that she is missing some fingers. She looks a little sad about this.


Here is her left hand. Some repairs have already been done.


Here’s her right hand. There is a lot more damage here.


There are six intact fingers, and only one thumb in total. There is a small chip marble rock garden at the base, so I thought that the rest of the fingers could be there. It was a long shot. Surely someone else has looked for it.

Here’s the rock garden. The plaque says “Our Lady’s Garden” In memory of Sister Mary Demetrius Coode, Fall 1993.


I started looking on the left-hand side. That is the side I was closest to. I looked around a bit, but not really very hard. I mean really – someone else has to have thought of this, right? White marble statue pieces fall into a small rock garden filled with white marble pieces. That is where you look.

But the people who live here are all old. They don’t have great eyesight. They aren’t quite fit enough to hunch over and study these pieces. Their knees and backs aren’t so great anymore. They’ve had a life of service and now they are resting.

I gave up looking on the left side and moved to the right. There was more to look for over there – bigger pieces. It should be easier.

After about a minute I found it.


An electric shock ran through me. It was like finding an Easter Egg, or a four leaf clover, or a diamond. I found it. Me. It was here.


I thought briefly that they had left it in there as a treat, as a special thing to be found. It was the fact that I found it that made it special. It wouldn’t have been the same if it had been intact, or if it had been sitting at the base.

There is something about seeking, and finding, that is special. There is something about putting forth the effort and having it rewarded.

I thought about keeping it. Then I thought about taking a piece of chip marble as a token instead. In fact, I thought about taking one anyway, even before I found the finger. I thought about taking a piece as a memento of the search. I was going to pretend that the chip was a piece of the finger. Kind of like a diamond in the rough. The pieces at the base and the statue were both marble. The only difference between the two is one had a lot more work and skill applied to it. But the material is the same.

How do things get value? Why is this piece of marble more valuable than that piece? How does this relate to ourselves and our lives? Deep down, we are all the same.

I didn’t take the finger. I put it on the base, easily visible. This was during the silent part of the retreat, so I knew I couldn’t explain it to the sister who is the caretaker of the place. I figured if I left it there it would make it easier to tell her later.


Then I thought that maybe it is safer in the rock garden. It can’t fall off the base and break into more pieces. It could shatter if it fell again. And I thought also, maybe I should leave the joy of finding it for someone else.

I didn’t find her right thumb, but then again I didn’t look too hard after finding that finger.

A whole finger! Of Mary!

She looks pretty happy that her finger has been found. This is around 11:30 a.m.


Later, at the end of the retreat when we can talk again and it is time to go home, I went to tell the Sister in charge. I thought she was going tell me that they left it there on purpose. No – she was delighted that it had been found. “Now I can write up a work order!” she said.

I was about to leave, but I followed her outside to make sure that she found it. Maybe it had fallen off. Maybe someone had moved it. I went to have some resolution. I went to help find it again if necessary. I went, in part, because I didn’t really want to leave.

She was beaming when she noticed it, and carried it carefully, like a baby bird, in her hands.

She told me that members of the church that sponsored the retreat came once and cleaned this statue. She was so happy about this kindness done to the Sisters.

She told me “We have to be the finger of Mary.”

Yes, and her thumb, and her big toe. And everything. We have to be Mary, willing to let God into the world. We have to let her take care of us, and we have to take care of her. It is reciprocal, this relationship. She isn’t God, but she is a face of God. She is mothering, kindness, compassion. She is a willingness to say “Yes, here I am” when God asks for a favor. She represents who we are when allow God to work through us.

And we also have to be marble, allowing ourselves to be shaped by a Master’s skill.

And we have to understand that we are valuable even as chips at the base of a statue.

Mary is beaming now. This is at 7, after I told the Sister about her finger.


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