Thursday, August 30, 2007

Kissed by a Rose

Left: Holy card, St Rose of Lima

Rose was born Isabel Flores de Oliva, on April 20, 1586, in Lima, Peru. Her mother, Maria de Oliva, was of Inca descent, and her father Gaspar Flores, was said to be a Spanish soldier, although considering the political climate in South America at that time, it is doubtful canonization would have been granted to any saint who didn't claim this lineage.

Indeed, Rose was the first saint of the Americas.

She one of the extreme ones; the women who starved and punished themselves. The hagiography is haywire. One wonders what lessons we are to take from such deliberate martyrdom:

She began by fasting three times a week, adding secret severe penances, and when her vanity was assailed, cutting off her beautiful hair, wearing coarse clothing, and roughening her hands with toil. All this time she had to struggle against the objections of her friends, the ridicule of her family, and the censure of her parents. Many hours were spent before the Blessed Sacrament, which she received daily.
Like so many of the great women saints, Rose was harangued by her parents to marry, and she resolutely refused, taking a vow of virginity. At age 20, she takes the strict vows of a Dominican nun:
In her twentieth year she received the habit of St. Dominic. Thereafter she redoubled the severity and variety of her penances to a heroic degree, wearing constantly a metal spiked crown, concealed by roses, and an iron chain about her waist. Days passed without food, save a draught of gall mixed with bitter herbs. When she could no longer stand, she sought repose on a bed constructed by herself, of broken glass, stone, potsherds, and thorns. She admitted that the thought of lying down on it made her tremble with dread. Fourteen years this martyrdom of her body continued without relaxation, but not without consolation. Our Lord revealed Himself to her frequently, flooding her soul with such inexpressible peace and joy as to leave her in ecstasy for hours. At these times she offered to Him all her mortifications and penances in expiation for offences against His Divine Majesty, for the idolatry of her country, for the conversion of sinners, and for the souls in Purgatory.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia

I told you she was one of the extreme ones.

Do you suppose any of this really happened? If so, my heart bleeds for Rose. It is a fact that she was only 31 years old when she died. How could anyone have allowed her to do all that? Then again, there is no question from records that survive: this was her own choice, in the context of the pious times she lived in.

If Rose's suffering is a fable, what are they teaching us in this story? Is voluntary pain a vehicle to ecstasy and spiritual enlightenment?

Can we achieve religious or spiritual ecstasy without self-denial?

Miracles were reported after Rose's death (in 1617), by her intercession. She was canonized 1671 by Clement X. Her feast day is celebrated on August 30 in South America. Her iconography is represented by a crown of roses.

Note: This is the first in my series on women saints, whom I'll be writing about on subsequent Feast days. In so doing, I also ask for their intercession.

9 comments:

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Is voluntary pain a vehicle to ecstasy and spiritual enlightenment?

Tools of ecstasy that have been used in various cultures include, but are not limited to:

- pain
- dancing to exhaustion (I include Dervishes in this, though I don't know if they consider their spinning 'dance')
- fasting (and other forms of asceticism)
- sleep deprivation
- confrontation of cultural taboos
- sex
- drugs
- rock and roll

Er, ahem.

I tend to think that any strong sensation/emotion is a gateway in potentia to altered consciousness, and altered consciousness is a gateway to ecstasy. Which can be used to find God in any of Its forms, or find all kinds of other things.

(There's that old saying, that if you walk into the borderlands you come out dead, mad, or a poet. And 'madness' and 'poetry' aren't always well distinguished in theory or in practice; see also the Celtic practice of filidecht.)

I know that my history of self-injury is strongly rooted in a variant (some would say a perversion, but that's ... a hard thing to speak to briefly) of ecstatic practice -- seeking groundedness, seeking transcendence. (I will be writing more in the blog on this at some point, but not right now.)

I also know that I bought a flogger acquired to some moderately specific specifications at a BDSM market a few weeks ago, and offered it to the god Who made those specifications during the lunar eclipse. Specifically because I am apparently one who needs that tool availble to me for my work on the world.

Which some would call mad. I get anxious about that sometimes, the assumption of derangement; at the same time, I ... look into the black mirror, y'know? If embracing and accepting the parts of me that react this way is madness, then I am mad, and madness is beautiful.

Daisy said...

Which some would call mad. I get anxious about that sometimes, the assumption of derangement; at the same time, I ... look into the black mirror, y'know? If embracing and accepting the parts of me that react this way is madness, then I am mad, and madness is beautiful.

I really do think so many of the saints of antiquity sound like you do! I think the transcendence itself is what they were seeking, not punishment--but that is what was acceptable for women to say. Or perhaps that was the moral value assigned to women's actions, regardless of the actual motives.

Similarly, if you said, "I want punishment" or "I feel guilty"--it wouldn't be called "madness" at all, but understandable.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I don't really think it's better now, it's just ... different angle on things. The feelings I have about the modern world are full of What Is Rational, and Rational includes Avoid Pain and Don't Worry About Subjective Experiences and all this stuff, and ....

Mysticism has its own rationality, and that rationality sometimes demands walking through the fire, which is not logical. But seeing the face of God is not something we're 'supposed' to value, something to strive for -- it's not rational, it's not reasonable, and above all it's not universal.

(I have a lot of sympathy for the people who are terrified of secularism. I just don't share ... much of anything of their faith, which means they mistake me for a secularist.)

A friend of mine was recently, for complicated reasons, having to take 'parenting classes' and get signed off on them for government stuff, and the only ones she could get into were held in the basement of a church. Said friend is a religious witch who is one of those neurotically-scarred-by-Christianity sorts, and she spent the entire time in the classes feeling anxious and twitchy about where she was forced to be. And people didn't understand that her faith had genuine strictures and things she might be concerned about -- church is what you do on the weekends for socialising, right?

Nnh.

There are times I actually consider just not talking about the religious stuff as it ties into the dealing with some of this, because my experience that people will more readily accept 'Sadomasochism for sexual purposes' than they will 'mortification of the flesh', to steal a resonant phrase. I don't entirely understand why that is.

But at the same time, ... at the same time I am not willing to lie, either.

I get all tangled up.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Addendum from chatting with Little Light:

Mystics speak mystic. It's ... my experience of reading the stuff written by mystics, even ones of wildly different faiths, is that I understand very readily what they're pointing at. Getting it is easier if I know some of the framing symbology, the vessel that gets used to pour the experience into.

But it's the same *drink*, as far as I can tell.

Daisy said...

Mysticism has its own rationality, and that rationality sometimes demands walking through the fire, which is not logical. But seeing the face of God is not something we're 'supposed' to value, something to strive for -- it's not rational, it's not reasonable, and above all it's not universal.

Very true.

Check out the work of Anne Catherine Emmerich sometime. She is the mystic Mel Gibson plagiarized in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and I often wonder what she would have thought of his artistic cannibalization of her vision.

I personally believe telling the truth about ourselves is always best, but of course, as you know, it's been horrendously difficult for me too.

Daisy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daisy said...

What is Little Light's webpage? Yes, I knew it long ago, but have I seem to have forgotten her blog name!
*embarrassed*

I'd like to let her know I am over here talking about mystics, too! :)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

LL's blog is http://takingsteps.blogspot.com/ , though we were chatting elsewhere.

More interesting mystics to look at! (Most of my reading along those lines lately has been Sufis.)

alphabitch said...

I'm looking forward to more of these essays -- thank you, Daisy.