Sunday, May 25, 2008

Garden Rose (Kris Delmhorst)

Today was Flower Communion Sunday at our UU church, and it's always been one of my favorites - since the member who usually coordinates the ritual had to work, I was called into service (no pun intended!).

Congregants were asked in advance to bring a flower of their choice, either from their own gardens or from the field or roadside - when they arrived at church, a variety of water-filled vases were arranged on a purple-cloth-covered dais in the sanctuary and each person was asked to place their own flower in the vase. Reverend Gail used The Summer Day (below) as the cornerstone of the service - she and I read other Mary Oliver selections interspersed with talks by three members sharing their "wild and precious life" stories... :-)

From the
Unitarian Universalist Association website:

The Flower Communion Service is perhaps the most widely-celebrated ritual in Unitarian Universalist congregations today. Every spring, most of our churches and fellowships devote a Sunday to this festive participatory service which celebrates both the earth's beauty and humanity's oneness. Its simplicity and universality make it meaningful for children as well as adults.

The Flower communion service was created by Norbert Capek (1870-1942), who founded the Unitarian Church in Czechoslovakia. He introduced this special service to that church on June 4, 1923. For some time he had felt the need for some symbolic ritual that would bind people more closely together. The format had to be one that would not alienate any who had forsaken other religious traditions. The traditional Christian communion service with bread and wine was unacceptable to the members of his congregation because of their strong reaction against the Catholic faith. So he turned to the native beauty of their countryside for elements of a communion which would be genuine to them. This simple service was the result. It was such a success that it was held yearly just before the summer recess of the church.

The flower communion was brought to the United States in 1940 and introduced to the members of our Cambridge, Massachusetts, church by Dr. Capek's wife, Maja V. Capek. The Czech-born Maja had met Norbert Capek in New York City while he was studying for his Ph.D., and it was at her urging that Norbert left the Baptist ministry and turned to Unitarianism. The Capeks returned to Czechoslovakia in 1921 and established the dynamic liberal church in Prague; Maja Capek was ordained in 1926. It was during her tour of the United States that Maja introduced the flower communion, which had been developed in the Prague church, at the Unitarian church in Cambridge. Unfortunately, Maja was unable to return to Prague due to the outbreak of World War II, and it was not until the war was over that Norbert Capek's death in a Nazi concentration camp was revealed. From this beginning the service has spread to many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations and has been adapted along the way.

Call to Community: It is time now for us to share in the Flower Communion. I ask that as you each in turn approach the communion vase you do so quietly--reverently--with a sense of how important it is for each of us to address our world and one another with gentleness, justice and love. I ask that you select a flower--different from the one you brought--that particularly appeals to you. As you take your chosen flower--noting its particular shape and beauty--please remember to handle it carefully. It is a gift that someone else has brought to you. It represents that person's unique humanity, and therefore deserves your kindest touch. Let us share quietly in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness and love.

The significance of the flower communion is that as no two flowers are alike, so no two people are alike, yet each has a contribution to make - together the different flowers form a beautiful bouquet. Our common bouquet would not be the same without the unique addition of each individual flower, and thus it is with our church community - it would not be the same without each and every one of us.

Thus this service is a statement of our community - by exchanging flowers, we show our willingness to walk together in our Search for truth, disregarding all that might divide us. Each person takes home a flower brought by someone else, thus symbolizing our shared celebration in community - this communion of sharing is essential to a free people of a free religion.

Just before he was put to death in Dachau, Dr. Capek wrote this prayer reflecting on his own life and the state of his spirit:

It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals.
Oh blow ye evil winds into my body's fire; my soul you'll never unravel.
Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight and everything would worthless seem, I have lived amidst eternity.
Be grateful, my soul, my life was worth living.
He who was pressed from all sides but remained victorious in spirit is welcomed into the choir of heroes.
He who overcame the fetters giving wing to the mind is entering into the golden age of the victorious.


To my knowledge, I've not duplicated a song/book/poem/quote in the 375+ days I've been writing this blog, but today I do so deliberately - Reverend Gail paraphrased Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius for her Words for All Ages in today's service and, although I used it in
a post almost a year ago, it begged repeating. The story became one of my favorites when I was a preschool teacher (I always asked one of my students to bring me the tissues before I read it aloud... =*) and I forever dreamed of traveling the world and living by the sea - I continue to challenge myself and others: "what will you do to make the world more beautiful?"... and I've gifted many a friend's new baby with the book as well...

Speaking of "one wild and precious life", and following up on
my blog of a few days ago, Utah Phillips died yesterday - here can be found the official obituary as provided by his family and a YouTube video from the Strawberry Folk Festival last year in which he retells the funniest story he ever heard. He will be much missed...

[Added 5/26/08: various articles over the years have mentioned the phrase "Rose Tattoo" in conjunction with Utah - I finally went googling today and came up with a definition ("the self-inflicted mythic fraternity of tramps, hobos and rare-do-wells"), the following explanation by Utah...

"Well now, what is the Rose Tattoo? I am not sure. We are not an organization. We are not a band. We are not something - yet. We are our own community, a circle of friends who go 'way back together. We have traveled and played together for years, and share a common experience on and off the trains. I guess you could say that the Rose Tattoo is made up of old friends who sing old and new songs, bring forward in our lives the lore of trains and tramps and carry a rose tattoo. There are more of us than you'll find here; how many? Nobody knows. We're scattered out all over North America. There might be one standing next to you right now."

...and this website.]

Garden Rose by Kris Delmhorst

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

POEM: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

QUOTE: "For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses! Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant!" ~ Edward Abbey


  1. I didn't know you taught. That is the coolest image in my head ever.

  2. Hey, Amy -

    Oh yeah - preschool was my vocation/calling/passion...

    I taught for 8 years and then segued into director of a city-owned and operated center, where I stayed for four years - I left in a metaphorical blaze of gunfire after a power struggle with the HR director (think Frau Brucher from Young Frankenstein), who was attempting to increase classroom ratios *and* tuition, therefore putting dollar signs on my kiddos' heads.

    I learned you *can* fight City Hall - you just can't win... :-/

    I should blog about it one of these days, maybe providing catharsis after all this time (October 2002) - I was good at my job, I was beloved... and I miss it terribly...