review,  spirituality

Rosary recovered: ‘The Way of the Rose’ digs up old path for modern seekers

book cover the way of the rose rosary with flowers

How the rosary got me to put down my phone.

“Rosary is a string of beads, true — but there are no strings attached.” — The Way of the Rose

The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary (Spiegel & Grau, 2019) by Clark Strand and Perdita Finn turned everything I ever thought about a rosary on its head, although I hadn’t thought about a rosary since my first communion many decades ago. A recovering Catholic, I always saw rosaries as the accessory of joyless, penitent crones entering churches with lace headscarves — the stereotypes of the Cuban or Spanish elder of my ancestry, whose permanent scowls always provoked eyerolls.

Why did they carry such burdens?

I judged. But what did I know? I’d been pushed off the path, turned off by patriarchy and modern secularization. The God of Catholicism left every woman guilt-ridden and shame-filled on the casting couch of life.

But what if the rosary were a source of abundance? Of joy? The book’s radical approach to the rosary was the thing I didn’t know I needed — “a new way that is really an old way.”

Prayer as practice

Strand and Finn had also been put off by institutional religion. A former Buddhist monk and high school teacher, respectively, the couple’s stewardship of the divine feminine began through memorable moments in their day-to-day life. One example: Strand feels unusually compelled to buy a Madonna statue, even as they struggle to pay bills. Relatable, surely — at least for me. When have I felt the intuitive pull that defies practicality? Often. The sacred skirting the mundane — if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

And so authors weave their memoir of deeply spiritual awakening that includes apparitions in their upstate home in New York, which Strand records. A very real anxiety about climate change — and how their children will inherit a damaged and spent earth — is a huge motivating force, too.

The book shares a wide view of the divine feminine as mother earth or mother in all her cultural manifestations. A history of the rosary as mantra comes down to a personal, visceral experience of rubbing beads and being fully embodied in prayer. Life is like a rose, full of thorns, growing out of dirt. This book digs the Goddess out of the ground for all of us to see. She is very modern and compels us to put down the phone and reconnect.

The suggested rosary practice, which the authors emphasize is not Catholic, or even religious, has no “strings attached” and beautifully explains “one of the world’s oldest living spiritual devotions and the Earth wisdom it still holds for those willing to reclaim it.” I started by simply holding the beads of a rosary — that simple act left me grafted onto the proverbial vine. Uttering or chanting the Aramaic prayers already familiar to me brought mama home.

To see the rosary as path — a fluid one, but a path nonetheless — to rub its beads against my fingers and become fully present in the moment through breath and repetition is a timeless mantra, an antidote to a chaotic world where ritual swipe-left or swipe-down hardly fills the God-sized hole left by industrialization. One section of the book dives into the 19th century paradigm shifts when “our bodies began moving faster than our souls.” The book digs up the proto-analog worldless language of the heart.

Creation story is now

What do I know now that I didn’t know then when I rolled my eyes at the old ladies? The sad part is that I never met my grandmothers — epidemics, migrations and exiles cut me off from their loving embraces. The rosary experience, nevertheless, has opened a conduit from “before the Catholic church” and provided an umbilical cord to all the mothers. As a childless woman, coming to this book in mid-life, postmenopause inspires the generative power in me that rebels from abstraction. My creation story begins every morning. My creative womb is no longer just sacral, but in every cell of my body, alive with ancestral inspiration.

Beautifully illustrated by Will Lytle, The Way of the Rose is heart-opening for readers with spiritual curiosity, but could easily satisfy anyone who enjoys cultural history. For me, the first read was nourishing. I’ve since found myself opening up a random page now and then to taste again, feed once more on one of its brief but profound chapters — an occasional reminder that this heart-centered practice “is the prayer of life for Life itself.”

The book has also generated an international fellowship with active participation in social media. Learn more at The Way of the Rose, a rich resource. Click here to learn more about the book.

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artisan of words | award-winning indie writer + journalist, poet | teacher | publisher of #heartcenteredliving new and founder of the #heartcamp unconference