Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and this is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal (which will be published April 2022). It contains reflections on 31 names and titles of Mary including Mary as the Mystical Rose.
In December 1531 Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant, four times. She spoke to him in his native language and asked him to erect a church on that site in her honor. He went to speak to the Archbishop but was told to ask for a sign from her, but he is delayed because his uncle becomes ill. On his return, he encounters her again and she tells him “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” She also says his uncle is now healed and Diego should go to the summit of the hill which would normally be barren in December and gather flowers. There he found roses blooming.
Mary instructs Juan Diego to gather a large armful of roses to bring as a sign. He returns to the Archbishop with flowers gathered in his cloak. When he opens his mantle they fall to the floor and reveal an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the fabric. The shrine was built where Mary requested.
The rose is a symbol often connected to stories of Mary’s apparitions. Mary is often depicted surrounded by roses or bearing roses on her breast. In the earliest days of the Church, Christians regarded this flower as a metaphor of both martyrdom and paradise.
Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest and poet who later converted to Catholicism, once explained: “How did Mary become the Rosa Mystica, the choice, delicate, perfect flower of God’s spiritual creation? It was by being born, nurtured and sheltered in the mystical garden or Paradise of God.” I love this connection of the rose and Mary to that transcendent place we long for. In connecting to Mary as Mystical Rose, we are connecting ourselves to Paradise.
Newman goes on to write, “Mary is the most beautiful flower ever seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory; and Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore, is called the Rose, for the rose is called of all flowers the most beautiful. But, moreover, she is the Mystical or Hidden Rose, for mystical means hidden.” The rose evokes her quality of unfolding and slow revelation which connects us mystically to the divine. When we open up our inner mystical vision, we can see the sacred beneath the surfaces of things. The rose is an emblem of the natural world and its beauty.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century Cistercian monk in France wrote: “In Mary we see a rose, soothing everybody’s hurts, giving the destiny of salvation back to all.” Many of the Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries of Europe had a special devotion to Mary. There are many stories of monks wandering in the forest or wilderness and Mary appears to them right where they are to found a new community.
Mary points us to the archetypal rose we each have within us. The place of eternal blooming and unfolding, a source of perpetual delight. Our own mystical rose is the inner flower that holds the mysteries of our blossoming into the world.
Mary as Mystical Rose can be our companion in times when we want to hold fast to a linear path. She can remind us that the rose invites us to the spiral way. To gaze at the petals of a rose as they unfold is to draw us into the mysteries of blossoming and blooming which never move in a straight line. The rose also reminds us to let our journeys be organic, “no forcing or holding back” as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote. What would it mean to allow my path forward to emerge organically? To tend to what is ripening, rather than holding onto an artificial goal? We would never try to force open a rosebud to reveal the flower within before its time. It wouldn’t work and yet we often try to do the same to ourselves or to a project we might be working on. We want the answers, to know where things are heading.
Search for a version of the song “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (this link is to a version by Gesualdo Six which I love) online and play it through twice, listening with the ear of your heart. What are the longings kindled by this image? How does Mary as Mystical Rose meet your inner Rose? What is she calling forth? Music can be a way to dwell in the space of non-linear awareness and be held. After sitting with the song take five minutes to mindfully draw a circle in your journal and then draw any images that arise from the music within the mandala form or journal with words to express what you discovered.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image credit: © Kreg Yingst – Prints available at his Etsy shop