That pink rose feeling
by Kate Toft Madsen
In the autumn of 2019, I was fortunate to be able to participate in St Beuno’s ten-week course in spiritual direction. While there, I took a picture of a beautiful pink rose in the garden. Towards the end of the course I experienced intense feelings of love, something I felt within my chest. After returning home I felt as if I saw a large pink rose falling gently down from the sky and filling my chest. What is this love and where does it come from?
I was recently asked to be part of the Danish coordinating committee for the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). It’s a prayer form that is quite a new part of my practice. In January I went to my first committee meeting, a full day’s program with approval of the annual accounts, three meditation sessions and a group exercise where we discussed a short text. It was a very prayerful, deep, and loving reflection.
It reminded me of the ten-week course at St Beuno’s where each day began with fifteen minutes of prayer together and very often a topic we reflected over, sharing our thoughts and feelings with each other in a loving space. The experience also reminded me of the course it in another way, i.e. in each instance I knew very little about the people I was with and yet the love for them was there.
When I arrived at the ten-week course I didn’t know the other participants. I wanted to ‘get to know them’ the way one usually gets to know new people: learning about the physical, social and economic circumstances of their lives, their political and religious views, trying to establish points in common. One of the other participants gently guided me away from these questions. I decided to let go of the desire to know these things because I realized that it was getting in the way of something good. But I remember wondering: what do I really know about the others, and what do they know about me? Even: Is it right to care so much for them without knowing these things?
Perhaps we - mea culpa, I - often use what we know about others to apportion our compassion, our love. Sadly, we believe our love ought to be conditional. Do we agree on Brexit? Do I like her taste in clothes? Do I disapprove of someone who complains about his parish priest, or has different views on suffering from those I hold? How does she treat her dog?
The image, and feeling, of that pink rose for me has come to symbolize unconditional love, and there was a lot of that on the ten-week course. I think our teachers modelled that for us. Spiritual direction is an exercise in that kind of love. You meet someone whom you know nothing about, put aside your desire to be liked by them, to share something of your life with them, you ask few questions, and listen unconditionally to help them come closer to God.
Those of us on the course didn’t know the usual things about each other, but we came to know each other at a deep level by praying together daily, through our shared reflections over texts, by listening to and giving three-day retreats to each other and by doing so lovingly. And like at the WCCM meeting we were conscious of being gathered together in God.
Now I am back in ‘the world’ again, a contemplative in a ‘monastery without walls’ in Denmark. Dinner is cooking, I have on-line banking to do, a book review to finish for the Danish Catholic monthly and perhaps a visit to my mother-in-law. Here it is not easy to disregard what I know about others and to love them unconditionally as God’s creatures, but I am working on it, and I think I have become better at it for having done the ten-week course and having experienced that pink rose feeling.