“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
~ Albert Einstein
“I no longer have any great desires,
beyond that of loving ’til I die of love.”
~ Saint Teresa of Lisieux
“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses…..
I will spend my Heaven in doing good upon earth.”
~ Saint Teresa of Lisieux
Jessica R., Saint Teresa of Lisieux, and the Rose Petal “Miracle”
On observing noteworthy phenomena which we can’t yet explain by known natural or scientific laws, we call them “miracles” and often attribute them to a Divine power. So some rare mystics and saints allegedly perform “miracles” for the good of humanity, and to foster faith in the Divine. Thus, after “miraculously” healing an official’s dying son, Jesus observed: “Unless ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe.” John 4:48
Here is a story about a noteworthy “miracle” involving my daughter Jessica and a mystery which I haven’t yet solved:
Following my traumatic 1976 divorce I did not share with Jessica and Joshua (my children who were then quite young) my intense new interest in Eastern religious philosophy. However, Jessica later independently became interested in Buddhism during a pre-college high school course in comparative religions. And she maintained her interest as she matriculated as a student at Amherst College, Massachusetts in the 1980’s.
In her 1983 application essay to Amherst, Jessica at age seventeen wrote:
“While I make no claim to being a Buddha –
a true master or enlightened being –
I have begun to understand that I must always be a seeker:
open and receptive to all new people, ideas, and things.
For although I have been extremely privileged
and have had the best possible education,
I haven’t yet and never will stop learning.
Having just recently discovered its spiritual dimensions,
I now know that a world of knowledge awaits me,
diverse and filled with surprises.
Fully aware of its vast potential and wealth,
I feel that I am ready to venture further into it,
and to explore what it has to offer.
‘I who do not know, and know that I do not know:
let me through this knowledge know.’
Idries Shah, The Way of the Sufi”
After her admittance and enrollment at Amherst, Jessica began doubting whether she was receiving there the “best possible education”. Seeking spiritual rather than secular knowledge, Jessica enrolled in and attended a brief accredited Buddhist Studies course in India sponsored by Antioch College. In 1987, after returning from India, she resumed her Amherst studies, and practiced Buddhist Vipassana meditations at a nearby Insight Meditation Society center. During a ten day silent meditation retreat there, she experienced a profoundly transformative spiritual awakening. Thereafter, her dissatisfaction with life at Amherst and her desire to go back to India gradually became so intense that she elected to leave Amherst for India, just one semester short of graduation. (Only after spending many years in India, did she return to complete her Amherst curriculum and post-graduate studies at Smith College.)
In India, Jessica initially spent time with Buddhist monks and practitioners in Bodh Gaya, a shrine where the Buddha was ‘enlightened’, and in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama of Tibet lived in exile with a large community of expatriated Tibetans. Then, planning to return to the US, she decided ‘out of curiosity’ to first visit a Hindu ashram in the state of Kerala, Southern India, the home of Ammachi, a renowned woman spiritual teacher. Instead of returning to finish her college curriculum, Jessica was so drawn to Ammachi and ashram life that she elected to live and remain there as a Hindu renunciate for many years. She was given by Ammachi the auspicious sanskrit name “Yogini”, wore only white attire, and contentedly lived the life of a Hindu nun.
While Jessica was living on the ashram in India, I consulted expert Vedic astrologers to interpret her chart or “karmic map”. I was told Jessica had an auspicious spiritual destiny, and that I would some day be “proud of her” spiritual achievements. Especially because of Jessica’s prior transformative meditation experience in Massachusetts, this seemed to me a credible prediction. So, I waited with interest to see what might happen with her.
In May of 1993, Ammachi was scheduled to make a world tour, including a stay at her San Francisco Bay area ashram in San Ramon, CA. And Jessica was to accompany Ammachi as part of her entourage. Jessica’s mother, Naomi, and I eagerly anticipated Jessica’s arrival in the Bay Area. While I continued to be supportive of Jessica’s life in India, Naomi was skeptical about Ammachi and strongly disapproved of Jessica’s life with her. She wanted Jessica to return home to finish her education and lead a “normal” life. Naomi was then living in a Victorian house in San Francisco, with a small raised front porch.
A day or two before Jessica’s scheduled arrival, Naomi awakened one morning with repeated thoughts of Jessica, and irrationally thereby intuited that Jessica was arriving then – early. She came downstairs from her bedroom and opened the front door, thinking that Jessica had arrived. Jessica was not there, but Naomi beheld that her entire front porch was strewn with rose petals of various colors. Since there were no nearby rose bushes, or other apparent explanation for the mysterious appearance of the rose petals, Naomi assumed that someone (probably Jessica’s “born-again Hindu” father) was playing a trick on her. Thereafter, when Jessica arrived as scheduled, Naomi reported to her the manifestation “miracle” of the rose petals.
Soon, Jessica recounted Naomi’s story to Ammachi. On hearing the story, Amachi gathered and handed to Jessica a packet of rose petals and instructed Jessica to give them to Naomi, “so that mother will remember this mother”. Jessica obliged, and on opening the packet Naomi observed that the rose petals from Ammachi were the same colors as those which mysteriously had appeared strewn on her front porch. So, Jessica believed that Ammachi had manifested the rose petals on Naomi’s porch, while Naomi remained skeptical about the incident, thinking it was some trick.
When Jessica told me that Ammachi apparently had graced Naomi with rose petals from “heaven”, I began continuously wondering about that incident. I had never before heard of any such manifestation attributed to Ammachi or any saint. And I wondered why such a special blessing was bestowed on Naomi, who was not a devotee of Ammachi but, rather, one who remained skeptical of Ammachi and her teachings. Also, I wondered why Ammachi would send rose petals to Naomi, rather than giving her some other spiritual experience that might assuage her skepticism and her consequent concern for Jessica’s future.
“Coincidentally” or synchronistically, soon after the rose petal incident, I read for the first time the autobiographical memoirs of Saint Teresa of Lisieux, the patron saint of France, entitled: “The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul.” Teresa, who became the most popular of modern saints, entered a Carmelite convent at age fifteen and died there of tuberculosis, an unknown young nun, at twenty four. She would have remained unknown to the world but for her memoirs written at the direction of her prioress (in epistolary form) and for three volumes of her letters, all published posthumously.
In reading Teresa’s memoirs I was repeatedly reminded of Jessica. That little epistolary book reminded me of Jessica’s letters – of her way of sharing in writing her feelings about spiritual and inner matters. Also, apart from such syntactical similarities, I just constantly kept thinking of Jessica while reading about Teresa. But in no way did I then connect my repeated thoughts of Jessica, with the manifestation of rose petals on Naomi’s front porch, following Naomi’s repeated thoughts of Jessica. However, that mental/intuitive connection soon happened while I was on vacation in Northern New Mexico, visiting my spiritual author and poet friend Richard Schiffman.
In July, 1993, Richard and I journeyed to a remote Benedictine monastery calIed “Christ in the Desert”, situated in a very beautiful canyon on a wild river. Previously, I had asked Richard and others if they knew of any other examples of rose petal manifestations by saints, like Ammachi’s apparent rose petal “miracle” on Naomi’s front porch. Until then, no one was able to identify for me any such alleged manifestation by Ammachi or anyone else.
Not until my visit to the book shop at Christ in the Desert, did I find what I was seeking. At the book shop I found several books about Teresa of Lisieux, and I told Richard how Teresa’s autobiography had reminded me of Jessica. Thereupon, Richard remembered that Teresa had been associated with rose petal “miracles”; that during her life she often threw rose petals; that during her last illness she had announced: “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses”; and, that rose petal manifestation “miracles” (amongst others) were posthumously attributed to her.
Apparently, those “miracles” together with the publication of Teresa’s autobiographical diaries and letters resulted in such an outpouring of public sentiment that the Vatican “fast-tracked” petitions for her beatification and canonization in a manner unprecedented in modern times. When Teresa died, she was an unknown young nun. But for her writings about her inner life and aspirations, she would have remained historically unrecognized, and she would not have inspired millions of people to her ‘little way’ of spiritual devotion.
On returning to San Francisco from New Mexico, I began reading biographical materials about Teresa, and discovered some noteworthy parallels between Teresa and Jessica. Teresa – like Jessica – was a beautiful, precocious, sensitive and charismatic child to whom people were instinctively attracted. From childhood, Teresa – like Jessica – suffered from depression and other psychological insecurity issues without any apparent cause. Teresa – like Jessica – had hypersensitive hearing. In childhood, Teresa – like Jessica – could be obstinate about her wishes. From an early age Teresa – like Jessica – often showed wisdom and judgment well beyond her years. Teresa – like Jessica – had a simple yet elegant and eloquent way of sharing in diaries and epistolary writings her feelings about spiritual and inner matters.
On the eve of entering the Carmelite convent, Teresa wrote to her sister Agnes: “I want to be saint”, an aspiration which she often reiterated thereafter. In India, after soul searching and wondering about her life’s purpose, Jessica intuited and wrote in her daily journal her answer to that question: “I want to be saint”. (It is difficult to explain from her Jewish background, Jessica’s extraordinary aspiration to be a saint. Also it was surprising to me that Jessica assiduously kept journal diaries throughout her stay in India and prior thereto, a practice not instilled by her parents.)
The biographical materials about Teresa confirmed what Richard Schiffman told me at Christ in the Desert: that throughout her life Teresa loved throwing flowers and scattering rose petals as religious offerings; that shortly before her death Teresa proclaimed, “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.” “I will spend my Heaven in doing good upon earth.”; and that rose petal manifestations were posthumously attributed to Teresa.
Also, l learned that just after Teresa’s twenty first birthday (January 2, 1894), she abandoned the sloping handwriting style which theretofore had been imposed upon her, and began to write in the way that came naturally to her: upright. In comparing photos of Teresa’s upright handwriting with Jessica’s upright handwriting, I perceived noteworthy similarities. But most noteworthy for me was comparison of photographs of Teresa and Jessica taken at similar ages. I found great similarities in their faces, especially in the eyes. To make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, one Sunday on visiting my beloved Jewish mother, Sue, I showed her a picture of Teresa dressed in nun’s habit, and asked: “Mom does this photo remind you of anyone?” Her prompt reply was: “She looks like Jessica, especially around the eyes.”
Here are the photos of Teresa and Jessica, which I found noteworthy:
By 1995, Jessica had a change of heart about continuing her life as a Hindu nun at Ammachi’s ashram. After much soul searching, she decided that she did not want to spend the rest of her life in India as a nun; that she wanted to finish her US education, marry and have children. And so after spending many years in India – in Bodh Gaya, Dharamsala, and Kerala – Jessica returned to Massachusetts to complete her Amherst curriculum and post-graduate studies at Smith College. At Smith she met and thereafter married David Channer. Their first child, Uma, was born on January 2, 2000, the 127th anniversary of Teresa’s birth on January 2, 1873.
In researching Saint Teresa, I learned that Father Jacques Sevin, a priest who founded the Boy Scouts of France, was one of her early and exceptionally ardent and influential devotees. And I found in his photo on the Internet an unusual resemblance to Jessica’s husband, David. Here are photos of Father Sevin and David Channer which I found noteworthy:
After Jessica returned to Massachusetts, I reported her changed status – from Hindu nun to American householder – to my friend Pravin Jani, father of spiritual teacher Shri Anandi Ma, and expert Vedic astrologer and pundit who had predicted an auspicious spiritual future for Jessica. His brief comment was: “Very good. She needs that experience in this lifetime.”
What does this all mean? Why did it happen? How did it happen?
I don’t know.
Did Ammachi manifest rose petals on Naomi’s porch? If so, why?
Did Saint Teresa? If so, why?
Until now, Jessica hasn’t wanted to even hear or talk about this subject. But for me it raises significant questions not only about the rose petal manifestation mystery, but about prevailing Eastern views on “reality”, afterlife, reincarnation, and evolutionary transmigration of the soul from lifetime to lifetime.
What do you think? Remember, your thoughts are important:
“We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make the world.”
© Ron Rattner – ““From Litigation to Meditation – and Beyond” An ex-lawyer’s spiritual metamorphosis from secular Hebrew; to born-again Hindu; to uncertain Undo.