I have grown in my appreciation of Mary over the years. Back in my Low(er) Church days, I was not quite sure what to make of Mary. I went to a Catholic high school and every class was usually started with either the Lord's Prayer, a Glory Be, or a Hail Mary. In all my years at the school, I would usually join in with the other two, but never actually said the Hail Mary.
Ironically, when I was searching around (yes, I church shopped) back in the days of college, I attended an RCIA class a couple of times. After the second class, the priest pulled me into his office. He wasn't being mean or anything. He just sensed I had questions, but from theological comments in class I had made, he felt that I would probably not be that happy in the Roman Catholic church.
As I understand it, the two doctrines that have been declared infallible by the pope, both having to do with Mary, I just could not go along with at that point in my life.
In some point either in college or before I started seminary, I ended up with a rosary. It was this green Irish one with plastic beads. I think somebody gave it to me, but I honestly don't remember from whence it came. I had it hanging up on a tack in my room for the longest. I then started using it as a devotion item. I still wasn't using it to say Hail Marys but using each bead as a prayer intention. I found it kept me on task when I was praying. I used that rosary as such for some years into seminary, where I suddenly began receiving them as gifts.
I was a seminarian visitor at an extremely Anglo Catholic parish, and I attribute my collection of rosaries to being at St Paul's by the Lake. Because my dorm room at seminary
looked like a looted building in Mogadishu had at least 30 nails in the walls, I would just hang these rosaries on the nails. By the end of seminary, I had quite a collection thanks to my trips throughout Europe where you could get rosaries at most of the Cathedrals and churches I visited.
It must have been at some point when I was going through my dreadful CPE experience that I actually started using the rosary in the traditional way. I remember being so tired after harrowing experiences in the E.R. that all I could do would be to sit in the chapel-like area of the hospital and say the rosary. I wouldn't quite call that experience a "religious experience" per se, but I did feel like I suddenly "got it."
My time in Europe really entrenched me in the beauty of the mysteries of the rosary. Being able to pray those prayers in places where monks and nuns prayed well over a millenium ago, I have come to believe much more fully in the Communion of Saints.
I have an icon of Mary in my office. My collection of rosaries are still on the walls. I am still not quite convinced about the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. As I climb ever closer into the arms of Augustine and his notions of original sin, etc., I have come to accept the more catholic teachings on Mary in my heart. My head is still getting there, but I find geat comfort in the idea that the theotokos is doing everything in her power to, at least in the Eastern Orthodox way of thinking, point me and all people to her Son and not to herself. That's a theology of Mary with which I can live.