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John Stokes and Mary's Gardens

Flower Mysticism

Flower Mysticism for Divine Union and God's Kingdom

– John S. Stokes Jr.

Conventional ascetic, mystical theology is based on an affective, purgative, illumined, unitive rising of the soul to God, following paths set forth by Ss. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, etc.

From the complexity of these paths, mystics have been regarded as special kinds of persons.

On the other hand, St. Louis de Montfort has observed,

"(Consecration to Jesus through Mary) is an easy, sure, perfect and secure way of attaining union with our Lord in which union the perfection of a Christian consists."

". . . It is true that we can attain divine union by other roads, but it is by many more crosses and strange deaths, and with many more difficulties, which we shall find it hard to overcome . . . But by the path of Mary, we pass more gently and more tranquilly."

– True Devotion Par. l52

From this viewpoint mystics are not seen as special kinds of persons; rather, each person is seen to be a special kind of mystic.

To establish, in grace, God's Peaceable Kingdom on earth, and, to enable this by uniting with Christ's sacrifice of reparation to remove the Kingdom-blocking temporal effects of sin in the world, requires, following the example of Pope John Paul II, a widespread personal mystical rising to heaven and unity with God, for filling and coming forth with the grace, light wisdom and power to accomplish this - with Mary, "who comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and terrible as an army set in battle array."

To this end, the challenge is to further general knowledge of world mystical need, and of the mystical potential of all, that all, and especially young people, will be motivated to seek mystical access and inspiration for action as more challenging and more fulfilling than promiscuous sex, alcohol, drugs, rock music, hip-hop, privilege, wealth accumulation, power struggles, elitism, etc.

What is in question is the mellowing and freeing of our souls from limiting and restraining interior body-mind attachments, through loving inspiration, self-examination and sacramental confession and penance, for rising to heavenly union with God through Mary - from which to come forth spiritually graced and strengthened for the building of God's earthly Kingdom, and to this end for reparational deliverance of earth from the effects of sin.

In classic mysticism this is accomplished through an extensive series of descents and soul risings of grace, wisdom, light and power. But, in my own experience, even with the guidance of a spiritual director - Professor of Ascetic and Mystical Theology at our archdiocesan seminary - this took three years and filled a spiritual journal of two hundred pages (single space).

However, after thus entering into a degree of union with God in this laborious way, it became clear to me that this same series of steps to union can be accomplished ever more simply and directly - as asserted by St. Louis de Montfort - through Our Lady; and specifically as we meditate on the sequence of Mysteries of the Rosary of Our Lady ascetically and mystically, "that by meditating on these mysteries...we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise" - mystically.

As a consequence of this realization, I set aside the draft of what I thought was going to be a book, as too tedious, and even boring for anyone else - recalling the words of the priest from whom years earlier I received catachetical instruction and baptism as a convert, "You'll probably want to write a book; most converts do, but born and raised Catholics rarely read them."

More generally, I realized that each person who climbs Mt. Carmel starts at a different place at the base of the mountain, and thus has an unique path to the top, which may not be of all that much interest to others. Further, I recalled the counsel of St. John of the Cross, who advised not dwelling even on one's own illuminations, lest this divert one's focus and discernment from further ascents.

The essential impetus for mystical rising is our soul's inherent desire for the uniting beatific vision of God. In the body our soul first envisages God as shown forth in the beauty, design and power of nature, which artists, musicians, poets and philosophers seek to discern and express seeing things in their essences, and then symbolically. Then, in the love of God, our soul quickens our active imaginations to move from individual essences and symbols to more general "archetypes" of things; and finally through a series of ever refined illuminations - quickened by even more generalized mandalas (such as single golden flower) and the operation of spiritual light - our soul successively sheds itself of these until we enter into the uniting beatific vision of God.

What is in question, then, is the awakening in all of a sense of our soul's inherent love of God; the introduction of the concept of moving through a series of freeing and illuminating steps from the perception of God's self revelation in nature to the very union with God of the beatific vision; and guiding them to a particular path to be followed to such union - of which it is proposed that self-purification while meditatively following the sequence of Rosary Mysteries is the simplest, clearest and most direct.

The key to praying the Rosary mystically is, through the purity and love of the Joyful Mysteries and flowering of the heart, perceiving and implementing - in meditative correlation with the Sorrowful Mysteries - the ascetic, penitential, mortificational freeing of our soul's attachments to the sensory, possessive and willful centers of our lower vital subtle bodily centers; and then the "staying up" of our souls with spiritual flowers of the heart center as they rise up, in correlation with the Glorious Mysteries, through the wisdom and illuminative center purifications of our upper subtle mental body - in preparation for heavenly rising from the crown center.

In essence it is the spiritual flowering generated through love of God in our hearts, which in seeking to lift our soul upwards towards union with God motivates and enables us to discern at each step the bodily attachments to be penitentially loosened and dissolved to make possible each next upwards step of the soul in grace, wisdom and illumination.

In this we have the Communion verse of the original liturgy for the feast of the Rosary in the Roman Rite:

"Send forth flowers as the Lily,
and yield a fragrance,
And bring forth leaves in grace,
and praise with canticles,
And bless the Lord in his works."

– Sirach 39:13-14 (Ecclesiasticus 39:18-19)

and St. Francis' affirmation that the burgeoning of the spiritual leaves, flowers and fruits of our interior rising of soul are inspired by our meditative perception of the leafing and flowering of nature. "Into love's furnace I am cast" "The tree of love its roots hath spread Deep in my heart, and rears its head; Rich are its fruits: they joy dispense; Transport the heart, and ravish sense. In love's sweet swoon to thee I cleave, Bless'd source of love . . . . "All creatures love aloud proclaim; Heav'ns, earth and sea increase my flame; What're I see, as mirror bright Reflects my lover to my sight; My heart all objects to him raise; Are steps to the Creator's praise . . . ."

In this we have further, the spiritual passages applied by the Church Fathers to the Blessed Virgin,

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples

– Canticles 2: 1,2,5

"I have struck root among the glorious people, . . .
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage,
Like a cedar on Lebanon . . . a cypress on Mount Hermon,
Like a palm tree in Engedi, like a rosebush in Jericho,
Like a fair olive tree in the field,
Like a plane tree growing beside the water . . .
I give forth perfume . . .
I spread my branches . . .
I bud forth delights like the vine,
My blossoms bear fruit fair and rich."

– (Sirach 24: 13-17)

St. Louis de Montfort says of the Blessed Virgin's mediation of our spiritual flowering:

"God the Holy Spirit wishes to fashion his chosen ones
in and through Mary. He tells her, "My well-beloved,
my spouse, let all your virtues take root in my chosen
ones that they may grow from strength to strength and
from grace to grace. When you were living on earth,
practicing the most sublime virtues, I was so pleased
with you that I still desire to find you on earth
without your ceasing to be in heaven. Reproduce
yourself then in my chosen ones, so that I may have
the joy of seeing in them the roots of your invincible
faith, profound humility, total mortification, sublime
prayer, ardent charity, your firm hope and all your
virtues. You are always my spouse, as faithful, pure,
and fruitful as ever. May your faith give me
believers; your purity, virgins; your fruitfulness,
elect and living temples."

– True Devotion 34

Then, there is the Gospel affirmation of our interior spiritual trees as perceived by the initial subtle spiritual vision of a blind man whose sight was restored by Jesus:

"And looking up, he said: I see men, as it were trees, walking"

– Mark 8: 24

Those with such spiritual vision also see - as represented in religious art - the auras of persons whose souls have been sanctified through union with God.

It is to be recalled that in Christian mystical tradition, interior subtle spiritual flowering is envisaged not only as taking place interiorly as we meditate and contemplate, but is seen by those with subtle spiritual vision as also producing flowers which rise heavenward transporting our prayers. Thus, the Catholic Encyclopedia states, that the name "Rosary", meaning a spiritual garland or bouquet of roses, was given to the Psalter of Our Lady as a consequence of "an early legend which. after traveling all over Europe, penetrating even to Abyssinia, connected this name with a story of Our Lady, who was seen taking rosebuds from the lips of a young monk when he was reciting Hail Marys and to weave them into a garland which she placed upon her head." Encyclopedia (1912) Vol 13, p.187).

In this we understand why we are taught always to move our lips when we pray - even in "silent" prayer. "Grace is poured abroad in your lips" (Psalm 44:3). The up-facing blooms of petunias, "Our Lady's praises", remind us of infloresced subtle pneums of our prayers issuing for rising to heaven as we pray. And the issuing and rising of these pneums may be supported musically - as with plain chant.

More fundamentally, the Church in the Litany of Loreto invokes Mary, the "Flower of flowers" (Chaucer) as the Mystical Rose and Queen of the Most Holy Rosary - exemplar of interior mystical flowering.

This quickening of our interior spiritual flowering has thus been a primary focus of the restoration of the Flowers of Our Lady and Mary Gardens to contemporary religious and gardening culture. In the inspirational leaflet of our Mary's Gardens 1951 introductory "Our Lady's Garden" seed kit, Edward A. G. McTague wrote:

The Mary Garden is an act of appeal to the
heart. May it be that as you envisage the Flowers of
Our Lady they bloom spiritually within your interior life.

Then, with your garden stewardship, foliage, buds and
blooms will come of God's creatures the seeds, in due
season and according to his established order - in
veneration of the Blessed Virgin, and quickening
recourse to her in meditation and prayer.

Today, Andrea Oliva Florendo, has counseled:

Meditating on a Flower

Look on the flower for a few seconds. Then,
close your eyes. Make your mind calm and quiet.
Imagine this flower in your heart. Imagine that petal
by petal the flower is blossoming. Feel that you are
the flower and that you are growing inside your heart.
Bloom! Bloom! Bloom!

And in her book, "The Liturgy of Flowers In A Mary Garden", she has written:

"Each of us is like a flower in a garden. We participate
in some way in the spirit of the Creator. Like the plant
of self in a bud, there is an identity in us that is
continually unfolding. I found mine (in seeds) in the
garden of my soul. One day blossoming; the next leaving,
but always unfolding its tender secrets. . .

"Tender shoots and buds bear silent witnesses to my
restoration. I can remember when I was young and
nature like people was alive. Fragrant thoughts lifted
from the heart of wind; language found it speakers in
trees and flowers...Always there is a language which
will draw us to the sacred in ourselves. Once we
recognize the voice, we began to unfold like plants
moving toward the light. For now we are invited to
follow a ray of light and step into a paradise garden,
the Mary Garden, and linger there. . . .

"As we resurrect our ties with the natural world, we
become more open to receive the Divine which is
constantly at work in the rhythm of nature and in us.
We will know when the connection comes to fruition.
We find the little green shoot of our beginning, we
operate in joy and like a flower, we unfold beautifully."

With such blossoming in our spiritual heart, we then, by spiritual examination and introspection discern each restraining soul attachment to sense gratification, mind and will of our subtle vital spiritual body; and, through the Sacrament of Confession, and its penance and absolution, and the accompanying practice of the "opposite virtue", we free our soul to be lifted up by the accompanying burgeoning of our further spiritual leaves and flowers for rising to our spiritual mind, where our soul is further to be freed by spiritual wisdom and illumination for its transporting to heaven.

As this takes place, as in praying the Rosary, we nurture the blooming of our spiritual heart through meditation on the Joyful Mysteries; the liberation of our soul from our vital body through the graces and wisdom of the Sorrowful Mysteries; and the purification of our soul itself through the illumination and drawing of the Glorious Mysteries. which then raise it to heaven - "and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Your Womb, Jesus."

Thus, the same Flowers of Our Lady which symbolically quicken our meditation on the Rosary Mysteries, and our penitential self-examination for spiritual imperfections and attachments to be eliminated ascetically for our soul rising to the next Mystery in the Rosary path to Heaven and Kingdom, also serve to instill the interior spiritual flowering which supports our soul on its journey up that path.

Then, our soul, filled with the Holy Spirit, descends back to our bodies, for our sacrificial dissolving reparation with Christ and Our Lady - "in the world but not of it" - of the temporal effects of sin; to make way for our guided and strengthened building of the Peaceable Kingdom, with the heavenly grace, light, wisdom and power of the Luminous Mysteries - especially, in conformity with the Second Great Commandment of love of neighbor, of reaching out in reconciliation, compromise and just cooperation across all barriers of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, class, gender, etc.

An important aspect after our entry into heavenly union with God is our gained understanding that:

1) God created the universe not just to show forth the divine goodness and action to us as dependents, but to share with us - and for us, created in the divine image and likeness, to share with him that goodness and action: each of us to our fullest potential, as adopted children of the Father, members of Christ ("I am the vine and you are the branches"), and temples of the Holy Spirit,

2) Through Mary's immaculate purity, utter humility and total assent and fidelity to God's word, God was enabled to bring her, in her created divine image and likeness, into the fullness of the divine union and sharing desired for Creation ("the Lord is with you") - of the Divine Maternity, and subsequently, of universal sharing with her divine Son as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate - which we are all participatinly to emulate and make recourse to in prayer, to the extent of our own purity, humility, and fidelity and assent to God's word.

3) The building and coming, as culmination of the Divine/human sharing, of God's Peaceable Kingdom - to be transfigured, at the End of Time, with the General Resurrection, into the eternal New Heaven and New Earth - is to be accomplished by us, with the sanctifying grace of the Father: through the inspiration and guidance of our actions by the actual graces of the Holy Spirit; but, equally, through our penitential, sacrificial offering for and with Christ, of all our adversities, sorrows and sufferings in dissolving reparation the kingdom-blocking temporal effects of sin in the fallen world.

The consequence of this is that as we look out on the world we see much dependent petitioning of God's mercy, protection and assistance through Mary; but at the same time a lack of turning to her advocacy and mediation for access to and bestowal of the grace, light, wisdom and power for guidance and strength for our shared building of the earthly Peaceable Kingdom, and for our sharing in Christ's reparation, through sacrificially taking up of all our adversities, sorrows and sufferings, big and little, for and with him, in emulation of her Co-Redemption - as beseeched by her and Fatima.

Pope John Paul's legacy to the world is his personal example of, and call of all - with his addition of the luminous mysteries to the Rosary - to mystical rising to the fullness of divine grace, light, wisdom and strength for the building of God's Kingdom - of which, through union with God, we attain the fourth luminous mystery vision as transfigured

A potential primary motivation to this is to make known, from experience, the potential, and therefore the call, of all to rising to mystical union with God's heavenly grace, light, wisdom and power through the nurturing of their potential soul freeing and upwards lifting interior spiritual flowering.

We are inclined in our era of literacy to think we have to receive mystical experiences and insights through meditation and contemplation based imaginatively on the writings of the saints; but we are to remember that for the first fifteen centuries of Christianity most of the faithful were illiterate, and ascended spiritually simply and directly through imagery, such as that of flowers: seen symbolically in nature, and then in cathedral ornamental articulation, and in religious art.

The simple, direct, clear symbols of the same flowers that were seen symbolically in the medieval period are still at hand today, and even more so through their mass growing and commercial distribution; but the broad cultural teaching and sustenance of their symbolism which was formerly provided by poets, players, minstrels, craftsmen, etc., is to be replaced and sustained today through:

(1) repeated public media presentations of flower symbolism and its researched place in history and religion - through articles, books, lectures, courses, displays, TV. websites, e-mail, etc.;

(2) home, church, school and college religious teaching of the simple efficacy of flower symbol meditation for illuminative enhancement of the catechism, sacraments and Rosary in personal religious formation and mystical fulfillment - free of the general secular deluge of present day printed and visual media;

(3) provision of simple, everyday, first-hand familiarity with and recourse to symbolical flowers through their cultivation in home parish and shrine Mary Gardens - with permanent (stone) markers supporting quickened perception of their symbolism;

(4) use of indoor flower bouquets and dish gardens, and of flower ornamented personal, home and public artifacts - such as holy cards, housewares, needlework, paintings, and commercial decorations - quickening flower reflection and meditation through the day, away from the garden.

(5) motivational demonstration to all the faithful, and especially to youth, of the indispensable need for personal meditative mystical access to the grace, light, wisdom and power supportive of the virtues, morality, ethics and sacrificial reparation required for the culminating building and coming of God's earthly Peaceable Kingdom, for which the world was created; and a pointing out of the supports for this provided by flowers so widely at hand.

For all thus attuned to flower symbolism, the floral bouquets all around us quicken frequent reflection through the day on our universal human interior spiritual burgeoning - both of the infused rooting of the virtues and fruits; and of the interior flowers sustaining our penitentially loosened souls as they rise within us in preparation for the heavenly ascent potentially available for all.

The John Stokes and Mary's Garden collection was transferred to the Marian Library in May 2013. In addition to his archives, manuscripts, artwork, and personal library, John S. Stokes also donated his extensive website. It was transferred to the Marian Library in early 2010. This particular entry is archived content original to Stokes' Mary's Gardens website. It is possible that some text, hyperlinks, etc. are outdated.


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