At this time of the Midsummer, when we honor our Patron Saint – St. John the Baptist – we are looking at skies filled with light and heat. We bask in the warmth of the summer, and the radiating light that bathes us during all of our waking hours. While many of the aspects of the Feast of St. John are apparent to me, the rose is one which, to me, connects us to each other, to the art – it says through love we find the path and each other. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years the red rose has been the symbol of love. Does it represent such because of its blood red color, relating to the blood and heart? Does it relate to such because of the passion associated with love? I believe the relationship between the rose and Masonry goes as deep as love and deeper still, into a symbol of our selves.
For me, the rose represents the entirety of a human lifespan. In the winter, the rose bush has been pruned, cut back to the barest of shrubs. It is dry, cracked, and brown; its long sticks are seemingly dead. It may have hard thorns, rough with age, protruding from its base. The hand of its keeper has done this cutting, this pruning, until it is dormant, sleeping. It slumbers under layers of cold, frost, and snow, its metabolism slowed to keep rhythm with the world around it. It sleeps a sleep of waiting, of promise and planning for what it may be in the coming year.
After the last frost fades, and the warmer winds of spring arrive, the plant shoots forth new stems. They are a grayish red brown in color, full of a potential for life and beauty. They branch into leaves of the same color, long feathery leaves which begin to open and expand. They are most vulnerable at this point to the insects of the garden. They test the world, the light, the water, the sun – they find if they are resistant to these pests or if they will be damaged. The gardener will feed and water it, sometimes testing the resiliency of the plant him or herself. Near the end of spring, the leaves develop to their fullest size; the stems grow tough, sinewy, and long. Thorns have appeared, although softer, and rough spots may grace the leaves. Yet, at the top of the stem is a perfect bud – all of the energy of the plant has gone into that bud. It is unique in color, shape, and size. It is compact, waiting to burst forth to its full potential of magnificence.
In the height of summer, the rose opens, absorbing the radiant light and showing its truest colors. Several flowers bloom at once, each uniquely shaped and formed, presenting their faces to the different directions of the world. If they have been nurtured and cared for, their beauty is glorious. Yet, even those in the wild are equally exquisite and carry strong scent. The wild rose is known for growing in the Golden Sequence, or the Fibonacci Sequence – an aesthetic which is pleasing to the human eye and in which we find a divine proportion. Whether wild or domestic, the roses of summer are constantly changing, evolving, running their course. They open slowly. Some open wider than others – broadly reaching, huge blooms or small, perfect buds that open only slightly. Each moment their splendor, while peaking, is also fading.
Summer heat fades into cooler autumnal nights. The roses have given their all in the light and warmth of the longest days of the year. If they are particularly fragrant, they have been harvested for their scents, used to create perfumes and other costly objects of beauty. The gardeners now look to the calendars and time tables and figure out when the best time to trim and prune the plant would be. Has it given all that it can give? Has it provided an abundance of flowers and beauty? Is it sick and perhaps wasting – what care should it receive? I believe that many of us forget, quite often, that if left to its own devices, the rose produces a fruit. After the loveliness has faded, the rose produces a rose hip. It has absorbed as much of the sun as it could handle and it creates a beautiful small bud of seeds that continue to grow as the rest of the plant becomes hard and brittle. For the patient herbalist, this fruit can be harvested in the darkest of autumn nights, just before the change into winter. It is rich in Vitamin C, an essential component for our own health and well-being. It is only cold-weather fruit that has such a high component of Vitamin C. Rose hips are eaten by birds, which in turn carry the seeds to different places to begin the creation of new rose bushes. If the beauty of age is left to ripen and produce, the fruits of the rose’s labor will be scattered farther and magnificence will pass to more of the natural world.
Thus, the rose bush completes the cycle. The gardener once again has pulled all that he can from the plant, has nurtured and cultivated to get the best possible result, and finally trims back the empty stems. He or she has now taken care to preserve what beauty he as able to preserve, allowed it to go back into slumber when once again it can bring new life and new beauty into the world.
Here we now sit, in June at the middle of Summer (Midsummer’s eve) with the fullest blooming roses in our hands. These roses have been harvested at their peak scent, their greatest color, and most perfect form to remind us that now is the moment when we too are at our best form, our supreme beauty. We sit in the Light of Lodge, with the love of our brothers surrounding us, and we are ready to give. We are ageless, all held in that moment of perfection. We are unique in our gifts – some stronger, brighter and some are subtle, refined, and tender. We are all at different stages of our blossoms – some are wide open and others are tentatively finding their way to light. We should all remember that we are all roses, all striving for the fulfillment and the Light. Each of us has something to give, from the newest bud to the ripest fruit. Take this rose home, nurture it, and study what it has to offer. As it fades and begins to lose its luster, remember that it still has things to teach us. Beauty, grace, and dignity can all be found at the heart of your rose, in the heart of change. Celebrate and honor the path of change and the differences that it brings to yourself, to your Brothers, and to our Lodge.