The thistle is one of my favorite flowers. Its cup of green surmounted by its crown of purple is architecturally interesting. It is not classically beautiful like the rose or the lily. Its does not have the fragrance nor the softness of either. The thistle is covered with small thorns which nature has developed so that herbivores do not wipe them from the field edge too quickly. They were Eeyore’s favorite food which makes me smile simply because delight for Eeyore was so hard to muster. It is the plant to which Adam is cast in the third chapter of Genesis when God curses humanity for eating of the tree of knowledge and it is a favorite resting place for Tinkerbell.
I know so many people like the thistle. They are tough, resilient, lovely but in an other-worldly way with a beauty which keeps one at a distance. They have very soft, colorful parts to them but also sharp thorns developed as a means by which to ward off predators.
The thistle is easy to miss along the road. If I could name a patron of the pilgrim from nature, I think it would be the thistle since so much of my walking has been along the public paths in England; and there one so often finds the thistle at gates, along stone walls, bordering pathways and roads. Their brightness is an advertisement for their nectar which is a favorite of some birds.
I recently had guests for a long, many-course dinner. The subject of God came up (as it so often does in a priest’s home) and the question emerged regarding why some do not believe in God. When someone tells me they do not believe in God I usually ask them to tell me about the god in which they do not believe and I am often amused by how quickly and fully they can describe the one in whom they will not posit faith. When they are finished describing the god in which believe is hard-won, I usually respond that I do not believe in that god either for it is sullen entity, unworthy of praise – angry, mean, vengeful, arbitrary. I do not spend time with people like that, so why in the world would I worship a god like that?
I believe in a God who would make the thistle.
I believe in a God who understands how hard life can be and is forgiving of our foibles and our failings. I believe in a God who loves and is extravagant with smiles and touch. I believe in a God who, when I am in despair, points, silently to a thistle and smiles, making me laugh and feel grateful to be alive no matter how hard the pathway.