Flowers Preach

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
~Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems

Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.

Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.

Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.

We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.

Tenderness Brushing Tenderness

Abandon entouré d’abandon, tendresse touchant aux tendresses…
C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même, par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème du Narcisse exaucé.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Dirait-on” from his French Poetry collection ‘Les chansons de la rose’

Translation:

Abandon enveloping abandon, Tenderness brushing
tendernesses,
Who you are sustains you eternally, so they say;
Your very being is nourished by its own enlightened
reflection;
So you reveal to us the theme of Narcissus redeemed.

So like the Valentine sunrise brushing the sky this morning:

There is nothing so tender as love in full bloom–
no longer an enclosed bud with potential
but opened fully
petal unfolding upon petal
in caressing abandon.

An Advent Paradox: Salvation from a Small Shoot

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A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.
— Isaiah 11:1-2a

 

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Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.

I find this a hopeful message. Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind to the “shoot that shall sprout from the stump.”

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown young man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.
— Henri Nouwen from Gracias: A Latin American Journal

 

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He who has come to men
dwells where we cannot tell
nor sight reveal him,
until the hour has struck
when the small heart does break
with hunger for him;

those who do merit least,
those whom no tongue does praise
the first to know him,
and on the face of the earth
the poorest village street
blossoming for him.
~Jane Tyson Clement from Watch for the Light

 

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I see buds so subtle
they know, though fat, that this is no time to bloom.
~John Updike from “December, Outdoors”

 

Our local grocery store garden center will soon do a brisk business selling buds. There is no market for the subtlety of potential.

After Christmas, overnight, unsold poinsettias and fresh evergreen wreaths are hauled away with the oddly shaped and drying Christmas trees to make way for containers of unbearably cheerful primroses and early forced narcissus and hyacinth plants.  Just a week into winter, spring is right in our faces as we wheel past with the grocery cart, a seductive lure to effectively skip a whole season of restorative quiet.  Color and fragrance and lush blooms are handed to us without taking a breather and simply waiting a couple months for them.

Dormant plants and hibernating animals have the right idea this time of year.   Rather than slogging daily through the daily burden of mud, skittering precariously across icy pavement or reaching up out of snow drifts, they are staying busy taking a break.  Well fed and pregnant with potential, they remain alive and well beneath a facade of sleep.  Come out too early and risk frostbite.

It’s no time to bloom right now — being a bud is exactly what is needed, out of season blossoms need not apply.

We can stay busy swelling with potential and dream dreams of the glorious growth to come.

 

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Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

The Great Good Night Rain

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Open the window, and let the air 
Freshly blow upon face and hair, 
And fill the room, as it fills the night, 
With the breath of the rain’s sweet might. 

Not a blink shall burn to-night 
In my chamber, of sordid light; 
Nought will I have, not a window-pane, 
‘Twixt me and the air and the great good rain, 
Which ever shall sing me sharp lullabies; 
And God’s own darkness shall close mine eyes; 
And I will sleep, with all things blest, 
In the pure earth-shadow of natural rest. 

~James Henry Leigh Hunt from “A Night-Rain in Summer”
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The rain returned briefly this weekend – a blissful reminder of God’s intent to refresh and replenish us when we are at our driest.
It is sweet to fall asleep listening in the dark to the patter of raindrops after weeks of drought.
I’ll make sure to remember the relief I felt these nights while grumbling and sloshing around in the fortieth day of rain this winter.
When will I be satisfied there is enough but not too much?
~~when God’s own darkness closes my eyes in natural rest and His glory opens my eyes to the illumination of eternity.
In the meantime, let it rain – preferably as I sleep.
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Willingness to Give Something

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For a long time
     I was not even
        in this world, yet
           every summer

every rose
     opened in perfect sweetness
        and lived
           in gracious repose,

in its own exotic fragrance,
     in its huge willingness to give
        something, from its small self,
           to the entirety of the world...
~Mary Oliver from “The Poet Visits The Museum of Fine Arts

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This time of year, I go out to our flower garden twice a week and pick several fresh rosebuds for the bud vase on our kitchen table.  This feels like a luxury to interrupt the natural unfolding of a blossom simply so it can be enjoyed indoors for a few days.  Yet “its huge willingness to give something” grants me permission to do this.  I am consoled that there will be more buds where those came from.  The blooms will continue to grace our table until October when the first hard frost will sap them of all color and fragrance, leaving them deadened knots of brown curled petals.  They give no more for seven long months.

I wait impatiently for that first spring bud to appear, forcing myself to wait several weeks before I begin rosebud harvesting.  Although roses from the florist may be perfect color and long lasting,  they are neither as sweet nor their scent as exotic as those growing in the soil right under our windows.

It is a wee joy receiving this humble gift from the garden.  It is enough that a rosebush in gracious repose gave its small self long before I was and will continue long after me.   I hope I am as willing to give something from my small self during my time here, and may it ever be as sweet.

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The Jeweled Prize

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But we are older,
I to love
                 and you to be loved,
                                        we have,
no matter how,
                 by our wills survived
                                        to keep
the jewelled prize
                   always at our finger tips.
We will it so
                  and so it is
                                       past all accident.
~William Carlos Williams, excerpts from “The Ivy Crown”
written at age 72, published in Journey to Love

 

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How can we, at our late middle age,
who have treated love as no accident,
look into a well
of such depth and richness~
how can we tell the young
to will their love to survive –
to strive through thorns and briars,
though tears wept and flesh torn,
to cherish the prize
of rose and ivy crown.

It is all that matters,
this crown of love
we have willed and worn together
through the years:

I love you or I do not live at all.
I to love and you to be loved.

 

 

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God Was Here: Wanders Through the Thorn

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…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you
Ezekiel 2:6

 

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Christ … is a thorn in the brain. 
Christ is God crying I am here, 
and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, 
but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, 
here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God. 
To walk through the fog of God 
toward the clarity of Christ is difficult 
because of how unlovely, 
how ungodly that clarity often turns out to be.
~Christian Wiman from Image Journal essay “Varieties of Quiet”

 

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Gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns,  he was grateful that thorns have roses.
After all, there was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death. In desiring more than we were already generously given, we have received more than we bargained for.

We reel under the thorns we have chosen to wander through — indeed every day there is more bloodletting, barricading us from all that is sweet and good and precious. Thorns tear us up, bloody us, make us cry out in pain and grief, deepen our fear that we may never overcome them.

Yet even the most brutal crown of thorns did not stop the loving sacrifice, can never thwart the sweetness of redemption, will not spoil the goodness, nor destroy the promise of salvation to come.

The Lord, our Rose, has mercy upon us.

 

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“the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made”
~from the Nicene Creed

 

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1. Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison.
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

2. What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

3. And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie eleison,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria.

 

 

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
~from “Lo! How a Rose”