By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min.
Recently I inherited a Crown of Thorns plant. The truth of the matter is no one wanted it. Out of partial neglect over recent years, it simply developed spidery wild projections of thorny branches with little to no signs of life. It only irritated your skin if you moved too near and touched it.
No family member wanted to discard the plant because it had been the favorite plant of their mother’s while she had been alive. Yet, no one took the time to care for it. It had become an annoyance because the plant was perceived as lacking beauty. It simply had become a lifeless plant. Each time I visited the family I commented on the care for the plant. I felt the plant simply entered a state of hibernation.
One day when I returned home from the University the Crown of Thorns plant was positioned at my front door. The family was moving. Because of my affirmation of the plant over the years, I inherited it. It remained at my front door for a few days. Did I really want to bring it into my apartment, care for it, continue to believe that life surged deep within it?
Yes. I took the time to study further how to care for my Crown of Thorns plant. I offered it the best light in my apartment by my study balcony window, proceeded to fertilizer, and water it according to the instructions, misting it occasionally; and, oh, yes, talking to it every day. In less than two weeks I observed the first showings of tiny green leaves emerge from the spidery branches. Within two months the plant radiated a headdress of bushy emerald leaves. Now I am waiting for its lush pink flowers to fill in the green headdress. Yes, life hibernated within it over the recent years. If you believe, you will see and discover the hidden beauty within and around you.
Frequently I find myself meditating on my plant during morning prayer as the morning sun streams through the window cuddling the plant. I imagine myself composing a parable centered on my Crown of Thorns experience. I discover parallels with spiritual life stories my University students share between classes, or while meeting them walking across campus. I patiently listen to their angst concerning the emptiness, dryness, fruitlessness they may be experiencing in their spiritual lives. “I am empty of any feelings toward God. Has God abandoned me?” “Where is God now in my life?” “Where can I experience God’s life igniting a fire within me?” “Why do some of my friends feel God’s closeness and love and I am so empty, lifeless?”
I found that sharing the encounter with my Crown of Thorns plant sparks a meaningful dialogue on nurturing our spiritual life. Just as a life force may have appeared to be depleted for a few years in my plant, with a little bit of care and attention the life force emerged with splendor. We may feel dryness, emptiness, a loss of life and meaning at certain moments in our lives. We are called to believe in the beauty and richness of a Divine Life Force/Energy (God) which may appear hidden but is present within us. God does not abandon us. We need only pay attention. God’s Divine Energy is constantly flowing within, through and around us. We need only be patient. We need to lean deeply into the Divine Life Force surging within us even in our bleakest hours. I encourage my students in such moments to pause and become mindful of God’s unconditional ceaseless love for them. Or, by contemplating or imagining the Divine Force surging within affirming, comforting and radiating God’s unconditional love flowing through every fiber of their being.
PS: Called “Euphorbia”, the Crown of Thorns is one of the few succulents with real leaves – thick, fleshy, and tear-shaped. The leaves appear on stems that are armed with sharp, inch-long spines. The plant gets its common name from the legend that the thorny crown worn by Jesus at his crucifixion was made from this plant.