A spotless Rose is blowing Sprung from a tender root, Of ancient seers’ foreshowing, Of Jesse promised fruit; Its fairest bud unfolds to light Amid the cold, cold winter And in the dark midnight.
The Rose which I am singing, Whereof Isaiah said, Is from its sweet root springing In Mary, purest Maid; For through our God’s great love and might The blessed babe she bare us In a cold, cold winter’s night.
Another Christmas poem, this time from Germany. The poem takes us back to King David’s father, Jesse, thirty-times great-grandfather to Jesus. The Jesse tree picks out some of the ancestors for art works in stained glass, sculpture or painting, including Ruth, the foreigner from Moab, who was to become the grandmother of Jesse (Matthew 1:5). So much for any idea of pure Israelite blood in David’s line! In fact, the book of Ruth celebrates this foreign woman’s loyalty and goodness down through the ages and generations.
Mary, even more so than Ruth, stands as a Good Woman. ‘Spotless Rose’, like many of the titles given to Mary, may not appeal to your imagination. This lovely Scottish rose, sprung in a canal-side hedge, did not set me thinking about Mary. But when I wanted a photograph for the Spotless Rose, I knew where to find it. And maybe the next time I look at rose, a bell might ring in my mind.
Traditional German carol, translated by Catherine Winkworth.
This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.
Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.
Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose:
Sheep from sheep Christ tells; Himself the Shepherd, no one else:
Star and star He names, Himself outblazing all their flames:
Dove by dove, He calls To set each on the golden walls:
Drop by drop, He counts The flood of ocean as it mounts:
Grain by grain, His hand Numbers the innumerable sand.
Lord, I lift to Thee In peace what is and what shall be:
Lord, in peace I trust To Thee all spirits and all dust.
Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.
The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’
Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’
The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.
There was rapture of spring in the morning
When we told our love in the wood,
For you were the spring in my heart, dear lad.
And I vowed that my life was good.
But there's winter of war in the evening,
And lowering clouds overhead,
There's wailing of wind in the chimney nook,
And I vow that my life lies dead.
For the sun may shine on the meadow lands
And the dog rose bloom in the lanes,
But I've only weeds in my garden, lad,
Wild weeds that are rank with the rains.
One solace there is for me, sweet but faint,
As it floats on the wind of the years,
A whisper that spring is the last true thing
And that triumph is born of tears.
It comes from a garden of other days,
And an echoing voice that cries,
Behold I am alive for evermore, And in Me shall the dead arise.
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy