Have you noticed the beautiful flowers at your feet lately? Listen carefully, and you may hear the flowers speaking in this ancient story, “The Best Flower in the
Throughout the church garden, the flowers were in a tizzy! They saw the gardener strolling the pathway with her snippers and basket collecting flowers, and began to argue. Who would be selected to grace the Sanctuary table this Sunday? Who was the most beautiful flower in the garden?
The fragrant lilies of the valley, with their white coral bells upon their slender stalks, exclaimed with joy, “We are the ones who ring when the angels sing! What more fitting flowers for the Sanctuary?”
The gardener noticed, snipping just a few. “Ah! So beautiful and fragrant!” she said, adding them to the basket and continuing on.
The Virginia Bluebells called out, “We are much taller and more regal! Our bells bring the beauty of the blue sky to the shady forest floor. Surely, this gardener appreciates a splash of blue!”
The gardener noticed, snipping just a few. “Ah! Such a beautiful color!” she said, adding them to the basket and continuing on.
In the meadow and near the stream, the delicate Cuckoo Flowers waved in the breeze and whispered, “Over here! Over here! We are the wisest flower of all, for our blooms signal the arrival of the cuckoo birds each spring!”
The gardener noticed, snipping just a few. “Cuc-koo! to you, too!” she said, adding them to the basket and continuing on.
Meanwhile, the May Apple spread its broad leaves and spoke softly. “Just you wait! I guard the most beautiful flower of all! When the time is right you will see my blossom dangling beneath my leaves.”
The gardener noticed. “Ah! What beautiful, glossy foliage!” She kneeled to have a look underneath the leaves and said, “Ah, the time is not yet here. Your flower will come – I must be patient.”
Her basket filled, the gardener returned to the pathway to make her way indoors. Looking from ground to sky, she gave thanks for the abundant beauty of the flowering ground covers, shrubs and trees. As her eyes swept the landscape, she couldn’t help but notice the hillside covered by masses of a delicate-looking flowering white plant.
She gasped. More garlic mustard! European settlers brought it here in the late 1800s for its food and medicinal qualities. Since then, this innocent looking plant has spread so aggressively it overpowers the native plants and robs them of the nutrients they need to flourish.
The gardener wept inwardly and vowed to do everything she could to help remove those plants, so that life in its fullest diversity might once again flourish on the grounds.
She returned indoors, placing the flowers into vases of cool water to prepare them for the bouquet. She rested and reflected on the importance of finding beauty in a world that holds both joy and sorrow.
Refreshed, the gardener entered the Sanctuary to create the bouquet for the annual flower celebration service. She gathered her supplies, and in gratitude first blessed the flowers.
She began to select and arrange the flowers in combinations she found pleasing, balancing color, height, shape and texture, placing the most fragrant where their scents would not compete or clash with one another.
At times, she clustered like flowers and colors with like, for there can be a sense of belonging, strength and impact in unity. Sometimes, she intermingled the flowers with wild abandon, appreciating the energy each gave to another in the contrasting of their qualities. Mindful of the tension between unity and diversity, she favored no one flower over another. “How much better and more beautiful we are together,” she thought.
She remembered learning about the first flower ceremony years ago conducted by Rev. Norbert Capek, minister to the Unitarian church in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In 1923, inspired by a springtime stroll through the city full of blossoms, he asked all the people in the church to bring a flower, a budding branch, or even a twig with them the following week.
“What color? What size? What kinds?’ they asked. “You choose,” he said. “Each of you choose what you like.”
And so, the next Sunday people came with flowers of all sorts. There was excitement in the air as they filled all the vases. Together, they had created something greater and more beautiful than any one blossom.
That day, Rev. Capek preached: “These flowers are like ourselves. Different colors ... different shapes … different sizes, each needing different kinds of care -- But each [is] beautiful ... important and special, in its own way.” He invited the people to choose a different flower from the vases to take when they left that day.
As the gardener finished arranging the flowers, she wondered who in her congregation had chosen and brought each one. Who would take home which flower?
She reflected on the importance of biodiversity and wondered how she could be a good steward and Place Keeper of the land on the church grounds, in her own backyard, her neighborhood and all through the world. She pondered in her heart the importance of preserving a similar diversity in our own communities, one that values and includes all expressions of humankind. Why do we not appreciate different sizes, shapes and colors of people the way we do flowers? What would it take to remove those practices and institutions interfering, like the garlic mustard, with the full flourishing of all life?
She noted the proper conditions for the flowers’ growth -- fertile soil, nutrients, sunshine, rain, mulch -- and the important roles of pollinators and gardeners.
So, too, she thought, must we tend to the proper conditions for growth and vitality in human communities. So, too, must we use the right tools for different kinds of care. If we keep at it, inch by inch, adding our prayers and songs, so might the bouquet of life and the communal garden of our dreams flourish.
(Adapted from the May 7, 2017 flower celebration multi-generational service, CUUC, White Plains)