A quote I saw recently, lovingly illustrated in multiple colors of dry erase, declared that “We can despair because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”* This put me to thinking.
I have sometimes heard it said by people of secular persuasions that the religious view of life, predicated upon some manner of “fall” (a near-universal idea, though different religions conceive it somewhat differently),** is a gloomy one, but I have never seen it so. It seems to me instead that it is the secular view—that all things have hauled themselves up from the muck—that inspires so much of the modern malaise. While some certainly see evolution as a means for fulfilling the Divine intent of Creation, more often this idea of the “bootstrapping” of life is used instead to explain how life can have arisen as an accident. The things about accidents, however, is that they are arbitrary. In an accidental cosmos, the composition of the soil could have taken ten thousand different forms, and any of the plants that sprang from it could accordingly have taken ten thousand different varieties. In such a world of infinite possibilities, it is quite a reasonable question to ask whether rose bushes must have thorns, and it is but a short step from asking the question to engineering an answer. For the one who believes that the world has arisen by chance, it is possible that it could have been otherwise and that it could be otherwise still if enough cleverness were brought to bear. As Sister Alethea said, such a maid comes to think that “all the unpleasant things in the world are ‘accidental’ and that if enough scientists and politicians could be got together to iron them out, everything would be alright.”***
So it is that we go about dreaming of a world where all things are pleasant and magnets have only one pole. Sai Jesus warned us that “The poor you shall have with you always,” (Matthew 26:11; John 12:8), but that did not stop the American president Lyndon Johnson from declaring a “War on Poverty” as though it were, like an opposing government, a thing that one might banish from the earth by a sufficient show of force. The secularist must live always haunted by the idea of a world of thornless roses. It is an idea that has sparked many wars.
As with most modern ideas, this one derives its strength from the fact that it is a perversion of the truth. It is not true, of course, that the soil is a clean bed of infinite possibility and that we may therefore expect it to yield roses without thorns. It is true, on the other hand, that the ultimate Reality of all things is God (1 Teachings 9), and that we therefore have every right to expect not just that there should be roses without thorns, but that all existence should be nothing other than the pure, thornless, flaming rose that is our Mother. The religious maid recognizes, however, that this expectation is reasonable and just only on a higher plane of existence than manifestation, and that it ceases to be reasonable or just when it is transposed here. The error of the secularist is simply that, in denying the existence of any higher plane, she has transferred her justified expectations of heaven onto earth, where they have no basis.
It is precisely in recognizing that there is a higher realm to which we belong and from which we have fallen—a realm in which our powerful inner belief in the idea of thornless roses is reality—that we become capable of accepting gracefully the fact that, on the level of manifestation, there can never be any such thing. Indeed, we might practically observe that all history does not record a thornless rose, but that roseless thorn bushes are quite common, and that if either side of the duality were capable of independent existence here, it would be that one.
It is the belief that we have begun in the mud and are ever climbing upwards that leads us to despair that rose bushes have thorns. It is the belief that we were born in heaven and have turned toward the mud that permits us to rejoice that, by the grace of God, the thorn bushes into which we have fallen have roses.
*This quote appears to circulate in a variety of forms, and attributed to a diversity of authors.
**Miriam Dalziel, “The Myth of the Twentieth Century,” The Coming Age 4 (1976): 10.
***Sister Alethea, “On Going All the Way,” The Coming Age 3 (1976): 17.