"Flower Communion: In Each A Gift"
"We're one, but we're not the same; we get to carry each other, carry each other ..." - Bono
A friend of mine recently shared
a story about surprises, gifts and unexpected grace.
This friend - I’ll call her Mary - has a wide open heart,
but she’s also someone who keeps her boundaries up.
Living in a large metropolitan area,
maintaining walls around ourselves becomes normal.
There’s a lot of information and stimulation
pounding at us,
trying to get in.
Many of us try our best to keep it out,
preserving our energy for the people and things
nearest and dearest to us.
One morning, out for her regular walk,
Mary noticed a man who had stopped
to smell and appreciate the roses in front of her home.
She said that normally, she would have steered clear of a stranger.
Given him a wide berth.
But there was something in the way he was admiring the roses
that caused her to continue walking toward him.
As she approached, he looked up, smiled,
and said, “These are so beautiful. I bet you live here.”
They struck up a conversation,
and he mentioned that it was his birthday.
She said it also became clear that he held some mental challenges.
As Mary walked through her front door,
she kept thinking about it being his birthday.
She grabbed up a colorful stone from her meditation altar,
wrapped it beautifully in tissue paper,
and went back out to give it to him.
She didn’t see him.
She looked up and down the street,
but he was gone.
She tucked the small gift inside her bag
and went on with her morning errands.
Later, coming out of her neighborhood market,
Mary encountered him again.
She walked up to him,
asked, “Remember me?”
And he smiled, “Yes, the woman with the roses.”
She handed him the gift,
feeling a bit awkward about it now,
but feeling a strong desire to honor his birthday.
He took the small package reverently into his hands,
gently untied the wrapping,
and gratefully - gracefully - received a surprise gift
from an almost stranger.
How many of us are able to do that?
Not give someone something,
because my experience of you all
is that you are quite generous
with praise, with time, with listening to each other.
But how are you at gratefully and gracefully receiving a surprise gift,
or any gift?
If it’s a complete stranger,
many of us wonder about the motivations.
Are they trying to manipulate us?
Cajole us into buying something?
Harm us in some way?
Sometimes even if it’s a dear friend,
we may think we don’t deserve the gift,
or fret and worry that now we must do something
equally nice in return or else our friend will
find us selfish or unworthy.
And what if the mysterious, unfolding universe
brings an unexpected gift of goodness into our lives, like:
- New friendships
- Improved health
- A better job
we may welcome it with trepidation,
thinking that this good news must be balanced
with something bad that’s just around the corner.
It can be hard for us to accept it,
struggling with what we perceive as unmerited grace.
Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son
from the Christian scriptures?
In this story,
a man has two sons.
He loves both with all his heart.
The older son stays home,
works hard and helps the family prosper.
The younger son asks for an early inheritance.
He leaves home,
and blows through all his money very quickly.
Ashamed, the younger son returns home,
expecting to be chided for his irresponsible behavior,
but hoping in the end to be forgiven.
Instead, his father sees him coming down the road,
rushes out to greet him,
and insists on a community celebration to welcome him home.
He says: “Let us eat and make merry;
for this my son was dead, and is alive again;
he was lost, and now is found.”
Pondering the reactions of the family,
we can easily imagine how we would respond in this situation.
The older son is understandably angry and upset.
Why would the son who misbehaved be greeted with a celebration,
while he worked hard without any special recognition?
We wonder about the father.
Could we forgive a family member - a child -
who walked out on responsibilities
and wasted all our hard-earned money?
And what of the younger, prodigal son?
How was he able to receive this unexpected grace
from his father?
Did he shrug it off with a sense of entitlement?
Or was he overcome with vulnerability or humility?
Is he the spiritual teacher in this story,
showing us that unmerited grace
is something that each and every one of us
is worthy of in our own lives?
That even when we make mistakes,
if we are courageous enough
to name them,
and ask how we can repair and heal
the brokenness that may have occurred
because of it ...
That we are then opened up to radical,
transformative personal change.
And it offers that same opportunity
for those we are in relationship with.
James Luther Adams, Unitarian minister and theologian,
spoke of an “ecology of grace,”
meaning that grace is a form of relatedness
that mutually nourishes people. (1)
Grace. as practiced between and among human beings,
is a two-way street.
We all benefit - those receiving and those giving.
My friend Mary offered a stranger a surprise gift of grace -
a moment in time when the other person’s
humanity was fully seen;
he was held in love and appreciation
for just being.
But it wasn’t only a moment of grace for him.
For Mary - she, too, experienced grace
in that moment.
As a giver of that attention
she, too, was lifted out of her everyday existence.
She experienced the world differently.
Her barriers came down.
Her heart opened anew.
She remembered that life itself is generous.
That life itself is open, not closed.
That life itself is full of wonderful surprises, not threats.
precious and sometimes too scarce in our lives,
serve as reminders of our connection.
We’re one, but not the same.
And we get to carry each other
through hurts and through good times.
You hold a flower in your hand.
A flower unique, and not like another,
just like you.
These flowers represent the distinct
contributions each of you make in the world.
The world, and our congregation,
would not be the same without each
and every one of you.
In a moment, you’ll have a chance to share the flower you hold
with someone else.
In doing so, we honor our covenanted community,
we celebrate the differences among us.
As you exchange flowers - and you can exchange multiple times -
thank the other person for the gifts
they share in this religious home.
We end our Flower Communion
with a prayer written by Dr. Capek (Chah-Peck), adapted:
In the name of love,
we celebrate the friendships found here.
May we be held in the long tradition of this faith,
knowing that we stand on shoulders
of those who came before us;
let us carry their same resolution
to honor the inherent worth and dignity
of every person.
May we gather strength from these good people,
knowing that the spirit of love and life unites us,
and may we endeavor for a
more grace-filled life.
1. Touchstones Journal, April 2016, accessed at http://www.uuca.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/April-2016.pdf.