Passion Flowers

Since time immemorial, people have felt the presence of God in a very real way through His Creation. Sometimes this is felt as awe at its immensity, vastness or power. Other times, particular species serve as God-made rather than man-made icons, beckoning us to prayerful contemplation. I encountered such a “natural” icon growing in the tangles on the far side of our parish’s parking lot when I found Passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata) were scrambling over the undergrowth at the woodlands edge, dotting it with their intricate purple flowers. Totaling a little more than 2 inches in diameter, these flowers provide the wary Christian naturalist a study in the Passion of our Lord, instantiated in its floral structure. At the base, the whorl of ten petals and sepals remember the 10 apostles, save for the denier (St. Peter) and the betrayer. The tendrils, which the vine uses to climb, bring to mind the whips used to scourge. The ring of hundreds of multi-colored filaments, to which the flower owes much of its intricate beauty, elicits a different emotion in us when viewed as representative of the crown of thorns upon His head. Closest to the investigator are the three arms of the flower’s stigma; the three nails which made the five wounds brought to mind by the five anthers found immediately below. Lastly, the thrice-pointed leaves resemble the head of a lance, used to pierce our Savior’s side. The Passionflowers (Passiflora) number some 520+ species distributed throughout the New World tropics. Only two species are native as far north as Virginia (the other is Passiflora lutea). Their varied colors enhance our meditation: the purples of our native one remind us of the robes with which Jesus was clothed after being crowned with thorns, blues and white remind us of the role played by Mary during the Passion, martyrs’ red is worn on Good Friday so that we might not forget the bloodshed and suffering involved, and gold commemorates the joy and glory of His Resurrection which would have been impossible without the Passion and Death. The Passionflower is now valued world-wide for the calming tea it provides, the sweet edible fruit it produces (Passionfruit/Granadilla/Maracuyá), and its graceful, complex beauty in the garden. However, as in many other things, the thoughtful Christian will find more than utility or superficial aesthetics—in this case a living occasion for prayer found in the uncultivated margin of our parish’s lands. If you walk straight out of the church, the patch is behind the last row of the parking lot, closer to the left side. -Chris Golias