from the book "The Rose Immortal"
by A. Bothwell Gosse
"Without taking up the illusory
One cannot reach to the true;
Without enduring the torment of the thorn
One cannot gain the rose,"
"Oh heart! of separation complain not, for in the world Grief is and joy; the thorn and the rose; degradation and exaltation."
AMONG the roses of the world, red is par excellence the true colour, and in common parlance the red rose stands for love and pleasure, but as a sacred symbol the red rose typifies sorrow. This seems contradictory, but in essence it is reasonable, for one view expresses the opinion of the world, and the other the judgment of the spirit.
At first the novice grasps at illusory joy but later recognizes that true joy rests not in anything of earth; he has made the first step by discovering that "the rose is not without the thorn nor the honey without the poison." The illusory is at first taken for the real and ecstatically embraced but the hidden thorn soon becomes manifest, and what was held to be heaven is seen to be only a phantasm of the real, so gradually the red rose becomes the emblem of that stage, which has to be endured sooner or later by all who seek. In one of his poems George Herbert expresses the truth clearly:
"What is fairer than a rose?
What is Sweeter? Yet it purgeth.
So this flower doth judge and sentence
Worldly joys to be a scourge;
For they all produce repentance,
And repentance is a purge."
And repentance takes the neophyte into the wilderness! There he wanders in bitterness of heart for a longer or shorter time according to his temperament and his facility for profiting by experience, and when the lesson is learned "the wilderness and solitary places shall be glad for them; and the desert shall blossom as the rose."
But there are no resting-places on the Path, and the time of peace and joy will probably be brief for trials come thick and fast as progress is made, and the periods of temptation become longer and more severe as strength and earnestness of purpose are developed. Although the obstacles and difficulties seem to increase these are more than compensated for by the ever-growing consciousness of the Divine Presence. The hermits of old, and many of the greatest saints of the Middle Ages, deeming that life did not bring them sufficient opportunity, tortured their bodies and practised the severest austerities, to the end that they might live in the spirit only.
Even in these modern days, such is the ardent passion of some devout souls that they force the development of heavenly wisdom by similar artificial trials and self-inflicted penalties. In the East the dervishes follow the same method, and with a quaint humour they give the name of "Rose" to the instruments with which they torture themselves in their frenzy! To the early initiations, crowned with roses goes the candidate in joy, but these roses wither with the hot breath of the desert which has to be traversed before the goal is reached, and this land of utter loneliness is full of thorns.
On this mystic journey from initiation to initiation the pilgrim experiences three great periods of sojourn in the Wilderness.
The first piercing of the veil of illusion causes a shock long to be remembered; discouraged and completely disillusioned some go no further; not for forty years do these wander in the desert but for all their lives, and they never see the Promised Land! But to the brave unconquerable soul this is only a check and he again sets out on the quest. Indeed, courage is needed, for the Obscure Night of the human soul dawns once more, bringing with it much suffering. This second conflict is caused by the separated self. Happy indeed are those who at an early stage learned to sacrifice their own will! An old proverb says "there is no royal road to learning" but in this instance it is falsified, for the Royal Road is love! Self abnegation, entire obliteration of self, springs from love alone. At this stage of evolution many are but apprentices in this matter and a capacity for love is rarer than a talent for mathematics or any branch of knowledge, but skill in a hundred arts avails not, for "love is the only one which will free thee from thyself."
It is the imperfection and flaws caused by self-love that give rise to such poignant suffering when the life of renunciation is entered upon. It is at this point that the symbol of the Cross is joined to the Rose, the Rose of sacrifice stretched upon the Cross. In the Mysteries of the Rosary the devotee always begins by kissing the Cross and thus symbolically accepts the life of self sacrifice, and identifies himself by the kiss of union with the Eternal Rose. But the realization of this unity is still afar off, and much anguish of heart must be endured before the self is subdued. The lessons taught by suffering and grief unravel many knots and solve many enigmas in life; thus by degrees the red rose of sorrow begins to take on a new aspect as the uses of adversity and the value of pain are clearly understood. At the end it is seen that "the face of the red rose lights the darkness like a lamp" and so by its light the disciple passes through the portals to, the next stage.
Joyous in the thought that, he has now no will apart from the Divine, he rests awhile, in a great tranquillity of soul, and presently goes forward with a serene spirit, firm in the consciousness of the perpetual presence of the Master. But this, which has been the support, nay the very foundation of his inner life, is suddenly snatched away!
The Presence has sustained him through all difficulties and dangers, but the supreme affliction, now to be endured in this last exile in the desert is the withdrawal of the Light. 'I am alive but without life; yet deem it not strange, for who is there that would count the days of absence - life?' . But he must be stripped of all things; his possessions; his knowledge and his ignorance, his sins and his virtues, his weakness and his strength, himself:- and then it seems, even his Master deserts him!
Unparalleled indeed in devotion must the soul be, to fulfil this hardest of all commands "with love's pain be content and be silent" - giving all with unstinting loyalty, and receiving absolutely nothing, a degree to which very few can attain!
For the thorn of separation is impossible to bear; it is the thorn of the desert that of all others wounds the most deeply,-but these thorns rank far above all flowers; it is out of them a crown is woven, a crown which kings alone may wear-more glorious and more wonderful than any crown of roses!
"It was a thorn,
And it stood forlorn
In the burning sun-rise land.A blighted thorn,
And at eve and morn,
Thus it sighed to the desert sand.
By its beauty and power
With a crown of glory is crowned.
No crown have I,
For a crown I sigh,
For a crown I have not found.
A crown, a crown,
A crown of mine own,
To wind in a maiden's hair.
Sad thorn why grieve,
Thou a crown shall weave,
But not for a maiden to wear.
That crown shall shine
When all crowns save thine
With the glory they gave are gone.
For thorn, my thorn,
Thy crown shall be worn,
By the King of Sorrows alone." *
* "The Thorn's Lament," by Bulwer Lytton,
And so the disciple gets him to the weaving of his crown of thorns, for, he who would follow in the divine footsteps must taste of the degradation before he can participate in the exaltation.
Vanished is the security of nearness, and instead, is the fear of the impassable Void; and 'outer darkness' reigns in the place of inner Illumination. Outcast, abandoned by God and man, he wanders in the waste places of the soul, his heart ever wrung by the knowledge that not for him is the Beatific Vision, not for him the supernal joy of union with the Supreme.
It is the last illusion and the greatest of all, culminating in a profound desolation of spirit expressed for all time in the words of the Christ when He cried out" My God, my God, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?".