Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fleur-de-Lys

As you know, I've had a bit of a humdrum Lent. Nothing majorly revelatory - small, quiet changes that might bring me closer to God if I let them. But I wasn't ready for Holy Week - short, reflective evening services that I could attend by myself and whose contemplations almost brought me to my knees. I certainly wasn't ready for Maundy (or Holy) Thursday - the Last Supper as Eucharist, foot washing, and a two hour vigil where those of us staying were 'abandoned' by the rest of the congregation as they quietly left. I was off someplace I can't describe. Even during the service my emotions took over and I couldn't sing for tears.

There have been moments in my faith journey where I have doubted, not that I believe, but that the things I experience, feel, hear and say aren't necessarily God driven, but merely products of an over-productive imagination. We all do this, right? We don't trust our senses - we rationally dismiss anything supranatural. Then there are moments when I have absolutely NO DOUBT what I am experiencing. I don't often speak about these - I feel they are private, and will make people think I'm a crazy person, even though sometimes I want to be shouting from the rooftops. But sometimes I need to make sense of these things, and write.

Our priest had meditatively taken us to the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday. I spent the next hour or so in perpetual prayer - something I rarely make the opportunity to do without distraction, so everything came out at once. As I sit here, I can't remember the themes that ran through my mind, even though they were important, crucial prayers. But I do remember one moment, where time just seemed to stop and into my head popped an image - the fleur de lys:

Until today, I only thought of the fleur de lys as something on a UK 2-pence piece. It's part of the Prince of Wales' emblem (and we did have the Royal Wedding, don't you know!). But it's not something that jumps into my head when I'm meditating on the death of Jesus.

Now, with its three petals this flower could be seen as representing the Holy Trinity. Others have seen it as such, and it would make 'sense' that I envisioned The Father, the Son and the Spirit on that night. 

But there is another symbolism of which I was seemingly unaware, which resonates more with my heart.

Although I joyously inhabit some of their online communities, I'm not an Catholic (although there are such things as Anglo-Catholics, I've discovered!) But I do venerate Mary, and we've been singing Bruckner's Ave Maria (basically Hail Mary in Latin set to the most beautiful music) with my vocal group. And perhaps my subconscious knows all about the signs and symbols and links them up - recognises them in a stained glass window and brings them into the forefront of my mind. I don't know. But today I was absolutely shocked, I have to say (after finally giving into the niggle and Googling!), that the Fleur de Lys is the Blessed Virgin herself. It has symbolised her and been connected to her for like, only thousands of years. As a bit of a history geek with an interest in artI  honestly don't know how I missed this! After the initial pictorial experience in my mind I was thinking I would one day come across a fleur-de-lys symbol (or architectual moulding, or something) and its meaning would click into place with me. But no, I truly think I may have glimpsed the presence, the love - and perhaps the suffering - of Mary.

It obviously makes complete sense that lilies themselves, symbolic of purity and virginity, are associated with Mother Mary. I did know, from the words of hymns, and stained glass windows in churches,  that she is perceived as Heaven's rose. But a fleur-de-lys? I had no idea.Wikipedia tells me that the flower has many associations - France, Italy, various European royalty, the Scouting Association, Wales. And that it is actually based on an iris flower, although lis means lily. Of course, there are many available interpretations. To some people, it might mean absolutely nothing that I could not dismiss this image from my mind when deep in prayer in Holy Week. Me - I just know. There IS no doubt. She was there. She understands suffering. She cares.

Since I began writing this post there have been various things unravelling around me - not in our immediate family, but further afield, with friends, cousins, and churchfolk. I've been knocked a little bit, and actually scared by the trials and tribulations of others. And since the enormity of my Holy Week experiences, the comparative lack of Alleluia in my Church life has confounded me. The closeness of God has eluded me. I haven't felt like writing, or talking about my feelings. But I thought I would finish and publish. And revisiting this image helps me remember that even in the darkness, we can remember our nearness to Jesus at other times. It reminds me there is Holy Mary and a vast array of saints and theologians that help take us to God; it's not up to us alone. God sends us things to draw us to Him, bring us near Him, and keep us with Him even when he feels far away. I'm so glad I saw that picture in my mind. May I remember it, always.

(The St Dominic window in St Anthony Catholic Church, Wichita, Kansas
Spot the fleur-de-lys at the top.)

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