There are days when, if I stop to think about it, the capacities of the internet for understanding what I’m looking for are quite astounding. I had little hope of finding the answer to the rightful name of my “prayer plant” when I went searching this morning, but there it was, almost immediately – the name with a picture so I would know it was the one I was looking for: Maranta leuconeura. There was even a short video to illustrate the miraculous nature and reason why this plant got its “nickname.” Every night while I’m sleeping my friend, Maranta, is deep in prayer. All her leaves are raised to a vertical position, just as some of us raise our arms to heaven in worship, singing. In the morning, if I rise before dawn, I catch her in her concluding prayer and am reminded that it is now my turn to lift my mind and heart to God during the day as she lowers her arms. (A caution: The video never captures the fullness of her stretch as I do.)
It was so surprising when I found the description of my plant; I had never searched before, thinking the name I had was just made up by someone who didn’t know the real name and coined what seemed appropriate because of function. I learned how extraordinary my Maranta was when I read that these plants are rarely grown inside! She has been with me in my bedroom for at least a decade, a gift of one leaf on a stem in a tiny earthen pot for my birthday one year. I have thought several times that her days were numbered but I learned today that this is a seasonal happening. The best thing of all (next to the consistent prayer life that I have been taught) is her willingness to share herself. I have separated and given away shoots over the years, gifts of prayer for birthdays and other special events to at least seven people, with little or no distress to the main plant.
The miraculous nature of this plant is certainly worthy of a place in this blog but why today? Of course (she says, assuming everyone would know!), it’s because of the O Antiphons. At Vespers (the evening prayer of the Church liturgy) on each of the seven days before the celebration of Christmas, a different prophetic title attributed to Christ introduces the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise. Today we remember the lineage of Jesus. Jesse was the father of King David. The prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be of the house and family of David and born in Bethlehem. Thus, today’s antiphon this evening will be: O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the people, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer. So in addition to considering my family lineage and our religious lineage, I think about the strong roots of my Maranta and how she has grown and been transplanted in different homes – perhaps to some I don’t even know – as those I have gifted pass on the gift. From a tiny root has come great beauty and instruction in prayer. What a blessing!