Lady in Blue, Lady in Gold
By Anne Wilson - La Mesa, California, USA - 27 August 2015
Often, an incident in a person’s life may seem like just an incident, but over a period of time, one can see connections not initially visible. The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, “Stop weaving, and see how the pattern emerges.” I believe that prayerful observation and awareness often reveals patterns in our lives. "To pay attention is our most important work,” as Mary Oliver put it. Time's disclosure to us of deeper meanings of events can be a surprising cause for gratitude and wonder!
When I was two or three years old, a relative took me one Sunday evening to the church of Mary Magdalene in Albany, California, on the edges of Berkeley. It was the city where my family lived, and I had been baptized in that church -- and yet, my family did not really practice any faith then. From time to time, my father went there although later he seemed to want nothing to do with religion of any kind. But this moment at St. Mary Magdalene’s was long before my father’s disavowal of religion in general.
I remember being captivated by a statue that represented the Madonna, mother of Jesus, although I didn’t know then who she was. At the time, I had no knowledge of Mary and her place in the Catholic tradition, but somehow, with a vivid toddler’s imagination, I felt that this “Lady in Blue” would always be my protector.
I had embraced the Catholic faith by the seventh grade thanks to a neighbor who took my sister and me to catechism classes, and a few years later our mother decided to be Catholic, too. It wasn’t until many years later, after having lost the chance to enter a Carmelite monastery where I had been accepted, and for which I had trained long-distance as a postulant-outside-the-walls, that I had another such encounter. By then, decades later in the 1980s, I had become a lay, Third Order Carmelite, and my husband and I lived in Ohio during the last term of his military service. Both of us were active members of St. Helen’s Church in Dayton and were especially involved in the Charismatic Movement of that era.
It was there while we were in Dayton that often, just before I fell asleep, I would have a momentary glimpse of a radiant and loving luminous Lady in Gold. Dark haired, olive-skinned, with amber eyes of diamond clarity, her look of pure love and graciousness engulfed me as she seemed to stand momentarily just beyond the foot of my bed in those semi-dream moments just as one slips into sleep. The last time that I had this experience, I dreamed she held out a simple golden rose. I felt that whatever the Lady in Blue of my childhood had represented, this Lady in Gold was simply another aspect of the same angelic being, perhaps even an image of our Blessed Mother. I couldn’t say with any certainty who or what she was, and I knew better than to place much stock in such dreams. And yet, their impact on me was lasting.
For years, I puzzled over this odd experience until one week when my now-psychologist husband and I attended one of his professional workshops in La Crosse, Wisconsin. (Interesting name, we thought. We even joked about insights gleaned at the foot of La Crosse!) While waiting for him, I browsed around in a local Newman Center library and opened, at random, a Catholic encyclopedia. My eyes fastened on a paragraph entry that was entitled “The Golden Rose.” So there was a precedent? Such a symbol actually existed in our Catholic lore? I was stunned!
Apparently, during the Middle Ages in Europe, popes presented this symbol to Christians for their “fidelity to the cross.” Later, I discovered more meanings. For example, the Alchemy Guild states that the golden rose stands for the invocation of cosmic energy, for the invocation of past spiritual masters. The rose garden in alchemical drawings is a symbol of sacred space and of “the mystical marriage of opposites.” In Assisi, Italy, home of our family’s patron saint after our mother had become Catholic, there is also the mystical “rose garden” at Santa Maria degli’ Angeli that I had visited during my teen years, and again much later in my life.
Although puzzled at the time that I made this discovery in Ohio, I recalled it vividly a few months later when my world was turned completely upside down by a tragedy. In response to it, my husband and I decided that I would go to New Mexico -- as we were planning -- without him, and that, God-willing, he would join me there the following year or year after, as soon as he could. Desolate and with few funds, I started out. Just before I left, a close friend of mine from St. Helen’s Church, Alice Griffin in Dayton, pressed a slim volume into my hands. “Read it when you get a chance,” she said. “It will bring you comfort.”
On the week-long drive westward, that book stayed beside me. It stayed beside me when I got lost and wound up reading my road map in the driveway of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, which I’d stumbled upon somewhere on a back-road highway. It stayed with me when I contracted food poisoning and wound up in a tiny clinic outside Joplin, Missouri, where a kindly Quaker woman sat at my bedside while we waited for a doctor. This book turned out to be the life and writings of St. Peter Julian Eymard, a saint I‘d never even heard of, who founded in France the religious order of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. I was inspired by this man’s beautiful faith, although I wondered what this could possibly mean for my life. When I reached Albuquerque, I had no idea where I was going. Finally, from the freeway, I saw a church spire and decided to find out what it was. I exited the freeway and pulled over in front of this massive Catholic church and decided to step inside to pray. As I was about to leave, an elderly man approached me and asked me if he could be of help. I showed him the book I was reading and I explained it was about a saint who had founded a religious order called Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. He smiled warmly. “Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he said. “This church, St. Charles Borromeo, is staffed by priests of that very order, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament.”
In amazement, I told him that perhaps I had been guided there, and I intended to stay in Albuquerque and wait for my husband to join me, but I needed to find work rather quickly, and I told him that I was a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
The stranger jotted a name on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Go down to Loma Street and make a left,” he said. “There’s a small convalescent hospital down there. You could ask if they have anything available.”
I thanked him and turned to leave. By the door was a small niche with a statue of the Madonna dressed in gold!
When I went to the hospital, St. Francis Gardens, and asked to see the director of nurses, a nun in a white habit greeted me warmly. “You must be the nurse we’ve been expecting,” she said. “I’ve been praying for one to apply for the past two weeks, but no one has showed up but you.” I was hired on the spot, even though I had not worked as an LVN during the past several years. It was as if things just fell into place.
Under our administrator, Sister Bernadette Silva of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, I began my work. Soon after, she assigned to me a wing of terminally ill patients -- most of them dying priests.
I quickly found lodging nearby until my husband could join me a little more than a year later, while I often worked double-shifts to save up for our future home.
It may seem like way too much of a coincidence that, on July 16th of that year, Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s feast day, I took the small amount my husband and I had had in savings and invested it in Canadian maple leaf gold pieces and put them away in a bank deposit box, so as not to be tempted to spend them while awaiting my husband’s arrival. But I did, and, two years later when we went to retrieve them, they had gained considerable value.
I have never been able to explain this series of events nor other events that have taken place in my life, except that I believe miracles happen all the time, and there are always angels and saints to help us find the way. But we may not even recognize them if we are not paying attention, if we pass off certain happenings as “mere coincidences” in our lives. The fact that such occurrences can, if we respond to them openly, inspire us to change, to persevere, and to rise to challenges we do not feel ourselves capable of facing, is proof to me of God’s ever-present mercy, and of the presence of holy helpers who come to us in many different ways, disguised and undisguised. It is simply up to us to accept them and be grateful.