Roses for Your Troubles

I recently finished the audiobook version of The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary. There is only one other book as pivotal as this one in my life and that was Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. As a result of reading this book, I’ve started praying the rosary again, starting a 54-day rosary novena for a special intention.

For all my high-falutin talk about spirituality, I am very fretful. I have intense anxiety about the state of the world, just like a lot of people. I also, despite saying that Catholicism is a color in my palette, have deep roots in Catholicism whether I like it or not. The mothers of my grandmothers were both Catholic. Mamaw Lilah and her sister Ophelia prayed the rosary every night. Ophelia even had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who gave her a prayer to heal people with. She was something of a legend in her time. People came from all over for Ophelia to pray over them.

I married Catholic. My husband is very devout and was even formerly a novice at a monastery in Chicago. Our home is decked out in crucifixes, icons, candles, and religious art. I’m steeped in the Church, whether I want to be or not. And that’s just the trouble. My roots in the Church go all the way back to the colonization of the Philippines by the Spanish. It goes back to the destruction of the sacred groves in Ireland. It’s an ancestry full of heartbreak, and even the story of my conversion is both wormwood and nectar, full of conflict and beauty rolled into one complicated experience. The deep roots I have drink up the noxiousness of Church politics and culture, in spite of every effort I have made to distance myself from it. I hear news. I see posts. I’m not immune to the Church’s failings, both in the upper echelons and down on the ground. Such failings outrage me and fill me with anxiety.

And I fret about my marriage, our differences of opinion, seemingly irreconcilable. I fret about the bills that must be paid, despite being financially supported by my father until I’m stable enough to work. I fret about the health of loved ones, grandparents whose mortality looms on the horizon.

All these troubles. But surely these troubles are not different than those of my female ancestors. They dealt with wars, with poverty, with dying parents. They heard hellfire and brimstone sermons in their churches. They had difficult marriages, many of them, and crops that failed. For all these troubles, what did they do?

My ancestors prayed to Our Lady. They grabbed their beads tight and said one Ave Maria after another. In the back of church, as the priest muttered the Mass in esoteric Latin, the grandmothers of my family prayed the rosary. When there wasn’t enough money, they prayed the rosary. When someone was sick, they prayed the rosary. When their sons went to war, they prayed the rosary. Always, the Lady was there with her rose garden.

Roses are older than God. They go back to the time of the Goddess. From 12,000 BCE to 400 CE, people crowned statues of the Goddess with roses. Once the Church rose to power, they crowned the Virgin Mary with roses instead. And those rose garlands later became prayer beads. There is a legend of a young monk who, as a boy, made a crown of roses for the statue of the Virgin as a part of his devotion to Her. Upon entering the monastery, he was no longer allowed to engage in the practice. One night, he had a vision of the Lady, who taught him to pray the rosary. Some versions of the legend say that roses exuded from his mouth as he said the prayers, and some versions say that an angel took the prayers and turned them into roses. Either way, roses originate with the Lady. And the rosary was Her idea.

When I was deeply entrenched in religious OCD, I was terrified to pray the rosary. Every “bad” thought imaginable would blast through my mind as I tried with all my might to pray. I began to avoid the rosary altogether, until my therapist, well-versed in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, gave me a homework assignment: pray the rosary daily.

What a terrifying prospect! To think that I was blaspheming God every time I picked up the beads left me feeling so tortured that I had stopped. I thought surely if I died the next day I’d end up in hell. It was a big ask. But I felt a stirring in my heart. Maybe Our Lady will help me. And so, faithfully and fretfully, I picked up the beads. I cried through a lot of rosaries before, miraculously, the intrusive thoughts began to subside. And the more I prayed, the more they subsided until, in the month of May (which in the Church is the month of Mary), they had stopped altogether. And that May is when I met my husband.

In all my spiritual exploration and my dark nights of the soul, I had forgotten about the rosary. But I stumbled upon a blog post that mentioned The Way of the Rose and an interesting detail about the Miraculous Medal. Apparently, the M with the crossbar on the back of the medal? It’s the cuneiform symbol for Inanna, Queen of Heaven. This blew my mind. I had to read the book. And as I listened to Perdita Finn and Clark Strand telling story after story, recounting miracle after miracle, I decided I needed to take up the rosary again.

Lately, as I lay awake with a fretful mind, I grab my beads rather than staring at the ceiling teary-eyed and breathing ragged. My breath slows to a gentle rhythm as I whisper the prayers. My heart stops palpitating. My eyes close drowsily. Mother rocks me to sleep, just like my mother did when I was little. I remember my mom holding me in her lap, sitting in the rocking chair, and singing me the Jesus Loves Me lullaby. I hardly remember the words, but I remember her heartbeat and how she smelled, how her hair felt in my fingers and the mellow lilt of her voice. I was telling my husband yesterday that I think most people’s first image of God is really their mama, not their father.

I take each Ave Maria one at a time, and She teaches me how to take each moment, one at a time. I reflect on each mystery, mysteries of birth, death, and rebirth, and She tells me the history of the world. It’s Her world, Her body, Her story. And I whisper the deep desire of my heart, the diamond in the setting that is the rosary. She keeps it for me, so I need not worry that my desire will never come to fruit. The Mother works Her magic, and I just stay in Her arms.

And yet I know that this Great Mothering of the Cosmos is not just outside of me. She is in me. Her breath and my breath are one breath. Her heartbeat is my heartbeat. Her face is the face of my mother and my grandmothers… and also my face. When I hold the rosary, it’s a long line of women all holding hands, all lifting each other up. This is what Catholics call the communion of saints. And I know every one of my female ancestors, who in times of great catastrophe made beads and prayed on them, is with me when I pray the rose garland of the Mother.

I’m learning to pray rather than worry, to gather roses instead of troubles and give them to the Lady. Everything is in Her capable hands. We do not live in a Motherless universe. So rather than count troubles, maybe take up the prayer beads of the ancestors and give all those troubles to the very wise, very loving Lady. She does not disappoint.