Flower Celebration 2018
I have a confession to make this morning – I was sick as a dog when I went to write my remarks for this year’s Flower Celebration. After resting all day, in the evening, I opened up my Flower Communion file and found a copy of a service my friend the Reverend Elizabeth Foster and I did together in the First Universalist Church in West Chesterfield in 1997.
Some of you may recall I have spoken of my friend and colleague Betty Foster, who used to live in Milford, New Hampshire. She and I went to Harvard Divinity School together. After Betty suffered a brain stem bleed, which left her body crippled but her mind as sharp as ever, I worked off and on for a number of years as one of her care givers. Also, we occasionally wrote and conducted church services together. She was a courageous, insightful, caring woman.
Betty passed away this last Spring. I went up to Maine, where she had been living, to do her memorial service. Earlier this month, many of her her family and friends gathered on the coast of Maine at “Foster’s bluff” to toss her ashes into the ocean.
Flower Celebration Reflection, “The Flower and the Gardener”
by Reverend Elizabeth Foster
Introduction by Reverend Elaine Bomford
So all the way from the other side, my friend Betty has, in the way of friends, once again saved my bacon. Because instead of writing a sermon when I was still feeling queasy, I decided I’d read you Betty’s words from her sermon “The Flower and the Gardener.” Betty was a deep thinker, not always easy to understand, but always giving us something to reflect upon, and always finding a way to touch the heart. The flower service was one of her favorites.
Here are her words:
“The Flower and the Gardener”
“The message of the flower is Love. People often think that the first message of the flower is beauty. In fact, the flower symbolizes beauty. Beauty is in the design: the color, the fragrance and the cycle of the flower. It is harmonious and pleasing to people. That is why it seems that beauty is the message. But beyond that is love, because it is something that cannot be tamed by anybody and it is like a gift for people and critters of the garden.
A flower cannot be created, but it can be enhanced. Yet flowers are there to offer people solace and pleasure. For example, their shape is pleasing to the eye, the texture is interesting, and they take up space with a powerful design. Their fragrance is sweet and agreeable, and their color is unmatched. The gardener knows the flowers are significant whether planting bush or tree. The gardener can enhance the flowers with materials, tools, and information. The gardener can bring his or her own meaning and shape to the garden by what is planted, the structure, the choices made for use of the environment.
The garden is an experience
The garden is a place, but more than that, it is an experience. Whether it be a sultry summer afternoon with buzzing bees going from Hollyhock to Honeysuckle, or a cool spring morning with Lily of the Valley pushing through the ground, it will be a unique gift with no requirements other than to notice it. The observer and the gardener recognize, but maybe do not name it, as love, yet they might think of beauty. The flowers are really love because they are a way to offer a form of companionship so that we are not alone. There is love because we realize that there is something that will stay with us and live with us no matter what we are like. That is unconditional love.
We know it because of the wonder everybody feels about the flower. For critters and the insects it is more of a practical thing, but for people, the flower and the flower garden represent something deeper that is not practical. The gardener might find the garden practical also, but also symbolizing something deep in the soul. The gardener wants to offer to self and the world something beautiful, but has also created something loving because it is a way to make us feel good as observers.
The many types of flowers are like the “many mansions in my Father’s house” spoken of in the Gospel of John. The petal of the Aster, the texture of the Gloxina, the aroma of the Rose, the color of the Violet, the surprise of the Forget-Me-Not are all different rooms of the soul. The discrete differences of the flower are similar to the souls of people and their images of spirituality. And like the flower, the beautiful image of the soul is tangible evidence of love to the observer.
The flower is love
Why is the flower love? Because it is so enjoyable and obvious. Flowers grace the world and offer hope as well as pleasure, because they have a cycle of growth. When one dies, another one takes its place. They come in many designs, and bring the senses to fruition. Flowers are just there for us to offer a gift for no practical reason, clearly for love. They are a way to form offerings of love to another person, from one soul to another. So it will be important for us to contain the flower for continued observance and to pass it on. The flower would exist anyway whether we see it or not. It brings us so much pleasure and comfort that we seek it out and offer it to others.
Flowers are a significant form of our spirituality and need to be named as that. The observer is drawn to the flower and feels worshipful. This is similar to what Martin Buber has called the “I and Thou.” This “in-betweenness” is the essence of the powerful interaction for the observer and the flower. Both are elevated and both are enlarged. The flower exists as a whim of the gardener, and always has the potential to blossom and grow. Through fertilization and hybridization, the gardener can change the flower, but the life force of the flower cannot be recreated. The life force can be shared. It is a circle of love.
The flower is evidence of something more that cannot be seen except as we take it in through the senses. Flowers are a way to experience something spiritual. We do not end up worshipping the flower, yet we recognize it is there for us and offers something ineffable.
We worship what is unnamable
We do worship what is unnamable. There is something more behind the flower. The gardener recognizes it and brings it to our attention when he or she creates something of beauty. The gardener becomes like a priest then, and we are the community of church goers who frequent the garden for sheer connection.
I have an image from when I was a young girl of a family garden on a sunny summer day . The insects were buzzing, and I could smell the sweetness of the flowers billowing around the fence. They captured my gaze and my memory of them. I have seen them since in their many forms, environments, and also adornments. They have come to symbolize a lot. Ultimately, to me, I realize they are accompanying me. If I have a deeper and wider view of them it seems like they are indistinguishable from spirituality. They are tangible evidence of something more. In reality, the flower and the flower garden are containers for love. AMEN