Thorns and Roses (Guest Post)
I have always found the spiritual life intimidating at best. How do I ascend to those vast heights of knowing God when I live, not exactly in the Valley of the Shadow, but at least on the Plain of the Ordinary? I am often rendered immobile in my spiritual walk by a haunting complex which does its best to convince me that holiness and knowing God are out of my reach because the road to such things is accessible only to saints and prophets who possess the spiritual stamina to transcend this little world and reside in a holier realm.
These are, of course, fabrications and false impressions of what it means to know and experience God in the day to day ordinariness of our lives, but so often I seem unable to be free of these impossible expectations. So it was quite a relief last month when I spent a few days of spiritual retreat at a Benedictine abbey and found that the monks there didn’t seem to be set apart by a special holiness gene that I had been born without. They were, in fact, reassuringly human: yawning during the liturgy, enjoying dessert after dinner, doing their own laundry (and all their guests’ laundry!), and joking that they would turn me into a Catholic before I left. When I asked myself what made them different from me, the answer, I realized, was that they made time in the day for the sacred. Space was carved out of each day’s edifice that they might stand in that stillness and recognize God in their midst.
And this is where I find myself: not planning to join a convent, but desiring to create space in my life–the life that I live as a wife, and a nanny, in which I commute for hours each week on L.A.’s labyrinthine freeways, and struggle to keep the house clean, and stay up too late and have to wake up so early, and can’t watch enough Modern Family–it is in the midst of this commonplace life that I want to fling open doors and push up windows to let in the sacred. I want to create space in which to pause and be aware of God’s presence.
One night I am working late. Vinny, one of the three children I take care of, has been at a friend’s house for dinner and arrives home eager to tell me about his visit. Amid the glowing description of steak and tater tots for dinner (why wasn’t I invited?) he mentions that while they ate, they played a game called Thorns and Roses. “How do you play that?” I ask, and he tells me, “It’s where each person says their best and worst moment of the whole day–your rose and your thorn.” I quickly realize that Vinny has just unknowingly participated in the Daily Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola–a spiritual exercise, usually done at day’s end, in which time is set aside to reflect on the moment that day for which one is most grateful and the moment for which one is least grateful and then give thanks to God for both. St. Ignatius believed that this discipline helped people to discern the will of God as well as become increasingly sensitive to God’s presence throughout the day.
I am struck by the way this spiritual discipline—this way of recognizing God’s constant presence—has been handed to me like a gift exactly when I need it, and I want to practice it immediately. So right there, sitting on the floor in the hallway with Vinny next to me and his sister, Giuliana, in my lap, we share our roses and our thorns, and as we talk about skinned knees and playdates and mean kids at the country club, the darkness that so often shrouds God’s presence recedes and the light of His love is with us. Everything has come to us from Him.
Starting that night, in the quietness before bed, my husband Sean and I light a candle, and sit watching the light dance across the walls of our home as we reflect on the day. It is so simple—the candle, the sharing, the words of thanks—and yet it reminds us that our days are awash in His gracious light – that tomorrow will be filled with His presence.
Carolyn Thomas graduated from Biola University with a B.A. degree in Sociology. She currently lives with her husband in Whittier, CA and works full-time as a nanny for three amazing kids. She spends all her spare time reading, and is a proud member of Dumbledore’s Army.