The Thorns in Our Gardens

If thoughts were flowers, then beautiful thoughts would produce a garden of flowers. This is a paraphrase of a sentiment commonly misattributed to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The idea is a lovely one though, in keeping with the admonition in Philippians 4:8 on how our thought lives ought to be.

If a well-kept garden is beautiful, that surely an unkempt garden will have its thorns. Jesus addresses this in the parable from Luke 8:4-15 (Amplified Version):

When a large crowd was gathering together, and people from city after city were coming to Him, He spoke [to them] using a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road and it was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the sky ate it up. And some seed fell on [shallow soil covering] the rocks, and as soon as it sprouted, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. And some fell into good soil, and grew up and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear and heed My words.”

Now His disciples began asking Him what this parable meant. 10 And He said, “To you [who have been chosen] it has been granted to know and recognize the a]”>[a]mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that though seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

11 “Now [the meaning of] the parable is this: The seed is the word of God [concerning eternal salvation]. 12 Those beside the road are the people who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the message [of God] away from their hearts, so that they will not believe [in Me as the Messiah] and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky soil are the people who, when they hear, receive and welcome the word with joy; but these have no firmly grounded root. They believe for a while, and in time of trial and temptation they fall away [from Me and abandon their faith]. 14 The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, but as they go on their way they are suffocated with the anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life, and they bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But as for that seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word with a good and noble heart, and hold on to it tightly, and bear fruit with patience.

sprouts.pngIt seems fitting that Jesus uses the parable of a garden when mankind’s earliest origins began in a garden.

One of my favorite stories is about the transformation of a little girl in the care and restoration of a forgotten garden. I think that our hearts and minds are a kind of garden, constantly changing in the seasons of life and the soil which the Word of God falls upon.

For the purposes of this post, thorns represent the cares, fears and anxieties of the heart that choke out the Word of God and prevent us all from maturing. It’s crucial, I think, to not only recognize that there are thorns in the gardens of our mind, but to give them a name.

So what are thorns that might be in your garden?

The lies we tell ourselves.

The lies others tell us about ourselves that we believe.

The hard truths about ourselves that we ignore.

Longstanding suffering from an illness

(To name only a few).

Give me time, and I’m sure that I could drum up a legion of lies in my own life to share, but, if you think about it, you could probably contribute a few from your own experience. Sometimes, as in the case of Paul, some thorns are allowed by God for the purposes of keeping us reliant on Him, and in those instances, that’s where serenity comes in, but for most, I think, it’s a matter of rooting out the weeds and thorny falsehoods from our minds and hearts and allowing room for God to plant something wonderful instead.

What are you planting in your garden?

Clean

This morning I had the opportunity to hear Natalie Grant’s “Clean” (Be One, 2015) for the first time and I was struck by how much the lyrics resonated with my own life and felt compelled to take a moment and share about this beautiful song in case I’m not the only one here who hadn’t heard it before today.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the song:

“I see shattered
You see whole
I see broken
But You see beautiful
And You’re helping me to believe
You’re restoring me piece by piece.”

You can hear the whole song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ol1V-sj1gc

The idea of being “washed in mercy” isn’t new, but listening to Grant singing, I immediately thought about the idea of shattered glass making its way into the oceans and being washed by the waves over time until it was transformed into sea glass, individual shards of frosted and glossy glass that are ‘piece by piece’ unique.

The parallel of God to an ocean is movingly represented in Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” (Zion, 2013).

Here are a few lyrics:

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

You can hear the whole song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBJJJkiRukY

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This idea of immersing oneself in Christ is irresistibly attractive; that God can purge all of the filth of our past mistakes and make us clean; or take our broken selves and smooth out the rough spots, turning us into something different. I’d like to think that as we step out of the proverbial boat and begin to walk by faith, we are immersed in the mystery that is God.

And if we are, surely that is the greatest adventure of all.

 

What I, a Non-Catholic, Discovered While Praying The #Rosary

Edited: A kind friend politely pointed out that I had some of the mysteries mixed up. This has been corrected. Apologies for any offense.

Ask yourself a question.

Q: What personal things do you keep around, not for their value or utility, but just because they bring you a measure of comfort?

Keep thinking about that, we’ll come back to it later.

 

An Open Invitation to Pray

During a recent crisis in the community, our local parish reached out to the neighborhood, inviting people to come to their outdoor garden area with a pretty statue of Mary (… shrine, I guess you’d call it) to pray the Rosary. I knew I’d see some people there I know, and it’d be nice to catch up too.

But there’s one thing that has always puzzled me about the Rosary and that is the difference of the mysteries and the process of prayer and meditation at the same time. I didn’t get that. Is it like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time? I mean, with a bit of effort, I can do that but it’s not exactly easy and it causes me anxiety to try. And there are so many prayers! How do you remember them all? Why do you pray so much?

I don’t get it.

With my work schedule, I knew that if I would be able to make the event, it’d be near its conclusion. But hey, I want to participate. I’m a person of faith.  I’ll just try doing it on my own, you know, on the public bus … at rush hour … when there’s a lot of people all around … who might criticize me or you know, look at me kind of funny (that’s the same thing, right?)

Oh no.  Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all…

I found myself making the sign of the Cross anyway.

Okay… here goes nothin’!

(45 minutes later. Yes, forty-five. Talk to me later.)

I got there right at the end. But I wasn’t the only one there with a smile on my face and I don’t think it was because we were happy to see each other. We shared a secret. Yes, we. I think on that bus trip I had discovered a secret to praying the Rosary. And yes, I’ll let you in on it too.

 

The Secret of the Rosary

Earlier, I asked you what personal thing you keep around because it brings you comfort. Have you thought about it?

Maybe it’s a book you’ve never read but on the inside cover there’s that personal inscription that a friend or family member wrote to you It could be your favorite stuffed animal that you packed in a storage box when you went to college, but didn’t have the heart to throw out. Maybe it’s a favorite piece of your grandmother’s jewelry — garish beyond belief, but she wore it every day and you keep it on your bureau and some days, when you miss her, you take it out and smile, and remember her.

For me, one of those things is my rosary.

I got my first rosary during a church event which I spent with my father and my paternal aunt. Although they’re both still around and present in my life, I treasure the memories I have of the time I spent, most especially with my father. In English, we have a term for what we commonly call these objects: mementos. Everybody has at least one. There’s nothing special or remarkable about that, is there?

Maybe there is!

Think about it. That memento of yours, where did you get it? Do you remember when? Who were you with at the time? What were you doing? I bet that whoever you were with and whenever it was, it was an emotional moment in your life. I bet if you’re completely honest, a small tingling of emotion still fills you when you hold/use/see that memento. It might even be something that you’d never share with someone else. It’d just be silly to them if you tried to explain. But for you, it’s more than that, isn’t it?

Image courtesy of m_bartosch, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of m_bartosch, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Putting it another way, if I’m right, then that object or memento, is a visual aid triggering a part of some secret knowledge, of your past, of something or someone that is important to you, and when you see/use/hold it, you remember. You think about that person, that time, that experience.

I’ve just explained the purpose of the Rosary. 🙂

 

The Rosary as a Visual Aid and Prayer Prompt

Earlier, I mentioned my struggle with trying to pray the Rosary. It’s just a series of repeating prayers. I didn’t get the idea of trying to meditate and pray and what it was for. Now I think I understand a little better.

When you pray the Rosary, you are connecting with Christ. You are using a visual aid (the Rosary) to inspire reflection on the life and nature of Christ.

  • On Mondays and Saturdays, Catholics reflect on the life of Mary, and the events leading up to Christ’s birth and His early childhood (the Joyful Mysteries).
  • On Thursdays, they remember some of his miracles in his early ministry, leading up to the Last Supper, (the Luminous Mysteries).
  • On Tuesdays and Fridays, it’s a reflection on the events of Good Friday, beginning with the Garden when Jesus is betrayed, leading up to His crucifixion (the Sorrowful Mysteries).
  • And finally, on Wednesdays and Sundays, it’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the events of the early Church, and a life of obedience to God, rewarded at the end of Mary’s life (the Glorious Mysteries).

But the Rosary acts like a visual aid in another way too.

It’s a prompt for our prayer lives. When I tried praying the Rosary, I found the Holy Spirit prompting my heart with words taken from the mysteries I was reflecting upon, and it gave me a direction to pray for specific things. What resulted was a far richer prayer experience than I usually have on my own. I think that the reason for this is that each of the mysteries stems from the Scriptures. When we base our prayer on the Word of God, amazing things can happen.

 

The Pleasing Aroma To God

“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15, NLT)

I also discovered that in the process of praying the Rosary, when I announce the “decade” (the mystery I’ll be reflecting on), it helped me to stop at that point and meditate on that mystery at that point, as I prayed the “Our Father”. Pausing for a moment of reflection (or meditation) before going on to pray caused sort of a dual layer of prayers going on, on the surface, the Hail Mary’s, and below that, another prayer prompted by the mystery I was reflecting on.

It’s a bit of an awkward way to describe it but I can only compare it to it being like two layers of prayer, on top of each other, like a melody and a harmony of a song, being played at once.

As I’m writing this, I am debating, and you may debate as well, which is which, but here goes. If praying the Rosary were a song, then there are two parts, the melody (the familiar tune we know) and the harmony (the chords played in the background that flesh out the song). From my current perspective, I would call the melody the prayers in the Rosary itself, because it is familiar, and our own secret prayers to God, the harmony of the prayer experience.

I can understand though that there may be some Catholics out there who will say I’ve got it backwards, and it’s the Rosary that is the harmony of the prayer, blending in with our own secret prayers, making it a richer experience.  Regardless of which is which, I think the end result is the same: our meditation and prayers become an offering, like a pleasing aroma, to Christ.  And that, my friend, is something to be cherished.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think about the Rosary, and about prayer in general.  Do you think that praying and using references to scripture helps you?