Let It Be

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My Mary Garden in April (still waiting for the lilies-of-the-valley to appear)

Like many Catholics, I love the Beatles song “Let It Be,” which was written by Paul McCartney in 1968.  This simple but powerful song reminds us that, when something is troubling us, we should let go of our anxiety and trust that we will receive the guidance we need:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

The references to “Mother Mary” have led many people to wonder if McCartney meant the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.  McCartney and his fellow Beatles were all raised Catholic in Liverpool, England, so they would have grown up with the assurance that they could turn to the Virgin Mary in their “hour of darkness,” and she would provide comfort.  McCartney may also have drawn from his subconscious the phrase “Let it be.”  In Luke’s gospel, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will conceive a son and name him Jesus, she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  Some translations render “May it be done to me” as “Let it be.”  Catholic imagery appears in other Beatles songs as well.

However, McCartney’s story of the song’s origin, which appears in the book The Right Words At The Right Time by Marlo Thomas and Friends, was that he wrote it during a time of personal turmoil, when the Beatles were having problems and on the verge of breaking up.  His own mother Mary, who had died when he was 14 years old, came to him in a dream, comforted him, and told him not to worry.  When he awoke, he wrote the song.

Despite this explanation, however, Catholics in particular continue to find his song especially moving and meaningful.  Some people say that they are overcome with tearful emotion when they hear the song.  Others experience the song as a hymn or a prayer.

McCartney himself said that his fans could interpret the song however they liked, and I’m glad he acknowledged that a work of art can become much more than its creator’s original intention.  According to Jeffrey Nealon and Susan Searls Giroux, authors can’t control the meanings of their texts because meanings aren’t found but produced by the readers of those texts.  I agree with Dr. Jeffrey McLeod that McCartney’s words communicate universal truth about “consolation, light, and solace”; for Catholics, therefore, that truth takes the form of “a faithful portrait of the mercy of our Blessed Mother.”

For me, “Let It Be” is indeed about the solace and intercession that Holy Mary, Mother of God provides.  I am certain that she intervened on my behalf during the darkest time of my life, and I continue to turn to her “when I find myself in times of trouble.”  I bought a small statue of Mary to honor her, and my husband planted a garden of bleeding hearts, lilies of the valley, ferns, and hostas to surround her.  This pretty little area reminds me to say at least one Hail Mary every time I pass by.  It’s also a peaceful place to pray when I’m seeking “words of wisdom.”

Christ’s Peace,

Ann Marie

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