Flower Communion 2020
I want to start by saying: Happy Mother’s Day.
As is our custom, this is the day we choose for our flower communion.
The Flower Communion is a uniquely Unitarian Universalist ritual, first developed by the Czech Unitarian minister Norbert Capek, in Prague, in 1923. The ceremony was brought to the wider world and the United States by his wife, also a Unitarian Minster, Marja Capek, shortly before the US’s entry into the Second World War. This is where the story of the Flower Communion and Dr. Capek’s leadership and confidence in promoting tolerance and mutual respect turns poignant. During the occupation of Prague, the 72 year old Norbert Capek was arrested by the Germans, tried, sent to Dachau, and finally killed by poison gas as part of the Nazi program to exterminate the undesirable old and infirm.
At our Flower Communion, Norbert Capek’s story generally is not the emphasis of the service or the sermon. But this year, in our time, I would like to take just a few moments and make a point about the circumstances surrounding his death at the hands of the Nazis. First of all, Capek was imprisoned in a concentration camp because he was a freethinker, who preached and practiced humanism. There are accounts of the witness he provided to this, even in the camp. Second, he was executed because he was aged and infirm. As our society and our politicians debate safe measures versus the cost of “opening up” to the benefit of the economy, which is necessary and needs to be done, I am taking this opportunity, where we briefly recall Capek’s life, work, and death, to remind myself of our first principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Capek spent his life in preaching, teaching, and writing, that in recognizing this inherent worth and dignity, people are capable of great things. That every person has a contribution to make to the world. That every person has their place in the bouquet that is life. This is what I choose to help guide my decisions and actions.
At this time, I believe this means we work together to make it a high priority, to put the safety and security of those most vulnerable chief among our concerns. Whatever the official policies are, or will be, I will do my part, make my little sacrifices, to keep people as safe as possible. I generally do not like slippery slope arguments, but in these very atypical times, I just want to be sure to remind myself that when I weigh costs and benefits, that I put a greater weight to the inherit worth and dignity of every person. I have to admit that having to think about this, and say it out loud, and even campaign for it, is unnerving. But it is something we will all, eventually, need to consider. As well as be respectful and considerate. There was a CNN article this morning in which historians spoke about the ends of pandemics. The conclusion was that it gets messy. So I also invite all who hear and read this message today, to also think about it, and what it means to you, and where the trade-offs have to be made, keeping in mind our first principle.
And so it is a good thing that we have this Flower Communion today—an optimistic act by an optimistic person. We keep the tradition alive every year when our members, as part of the service, create a beautiful bouquet, in front of this pulpit, when each friend, member, and visitor, places a flower into the vase. I like to see the bouquet as a symbol for how our uniqueness and beauty as individuals, as each individual flower is unique and beautiful, comes together to form, in all the differences of color and shape and size and fragrance, a harmonious blending of the whole. This to me communicates the power of unity and hope. No flower of the bouquet clashes or is out of place. Every element belongs there, and makes it the beautiful bouquet it is.
This year, we are not able to do the ceremony in person, but I nonetheless made sure I had a small bouquet here, to remind us of what our assembly does every year on this day, and help us create a vision of what we are, and what we look like, as a church.
Whether in person and gathered together, or safely spread out due to social distancing, the bonds of our church community are still celebrated today, in our Flower Communion. Our commitments to each other, our respect for one another’s uniqueness and beauty, are present. Our principles and mission remain intact. We come together in body and spirit, for the transformation of society, and the witness of Beloved Community.
I will recite the prayer written and spoken by Norbert Capek, that he would use, and which we use every year, for the consecration of the flowers:
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these messengers of fellowship and love.
May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection and devotion to thy holy will.
May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike.
May we cherish friendship as one of the spirit’s most precious gifts.
May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.
Doing good work in this world. I am speaking with many people from our congregation, usually on the phone, sometimes along the side of the road or in the park, or outside their houses. The one thing we all seem to have in common is how the distancing can frustrate the impulse we have to be together, and to be doing positive things toward our growing together and sharing, and our reaching out to each other and the community. Several have mentioned to me how it seems to them like things were rolling along so well, in terms of company, action, getting needs met, and meeting the needs of others—and it has kind of slowed or ground to a halt.
Another concern that is often shared is about how and when things will pick up again. That is what that CNN article was about. We all know that eventually there will be adequate immunity and treatment, but there is still much uncertainty about when that might come about, or how we will know when it is time to return to those things that up until the middle of March, we took for granted.
If there is one thing of which we have been reminded, is that we do not control the future. Many of our well made plans had to be delayed or abandoned. The smaller things like the Flower Communion and the new member ceremony. As well as the most basic elements of our modern lives, like school, careers, jobs, visiting relatives and loved ones, retirement, all up in the air. Over and over again I’m hearing, “I think…but I’m not sure…I don’t want to be…but I don’t want to…”
But our bouquet today assures us that, whatever may come, we have within us the spirit of life that we sing about when we gather. Our Flower Communion reminds us that our faith, in our taking our time to make our decisions, will not be misplaced. That whatever stage of life we find ourselves, in whatever condition, there is a beauty there, because there is a promise and a fulfillment planted within each one of us as a person. And we are placed here together, to recognize that in each other, to help others see it within themselves.
Even in a concentration camp, Norbert Capek was able to sustain this confidence in the beauty of life in himself, and help to instill in others. In another prayer of Capek’s that is customarily used for today, he speaks of providence. Something that in our busy and planned world and associations, we sometimes lose track of. In addition to spending some time considering what the inherent worth and dignity of each human being means to you, I would also invite you to consider what providence means to you. By the very fact of our existence, we know providence exists. In this prayer Capek speaks of that providence.
“In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the flower, and in our hearts the longing for people to live in harmony; in the name of the highest, in whom we move and who makes the mother and father, the brother and sister, lover and loner what they are; in the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives to hasten the coming of the age of mutual respect–let us renew our resolution–sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges us from each other. In this holy resolve may we be strengthened, knowing that we are one family, that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us; and endeavor for a more perfect and more joyful life. Amen.”
Unites us. Ushers in the age of mutual respect. If you are spending any time with electronic screens and you are able to watch things on Netflix, watch “Becoming.” It is about Michelle Obama, and her message to young people. It reminded me me of things I needed to be reminded of. Most of all, it reminded me of how it is better to feel united in diversity, than divided. And that it takes me, and it takes you, to make that happen.
It reminds me like this bouquet does, standing in for the bouquet that we normally make together, that my hopes and aspirations are not misplaced. That the way we think and the actions we take shape our souls. And that we are not to let the bad qualities of this time in which we live, shape what we are going to be.
We take this time to plant our seeds. That in providence’s time, all of our thoughts and works come to fruition. We know what we are missing. We have a lot of time to think about that, but even more so, we have been given the time to plan and imagine what the future will be.
The good people, yes, the sages and leaders, but most of all it is us who work for the age of mutual respect. On a day like today, we join together to celebrate and maintain our holy resolve. By placing our flower into this bouquet, in person or in spirit, we renew our resolution. The future is open. We decide, and work towards, what it is going to be.
I will conclude with a benediction written by Barbara Pescan:
Because of those who came before, we are, in spite of their failings, we believe; because of, and in spite of the horizons of their vision, we, too, dream. Let us go remembering to praise, to live in the moment, to love mightily, to bow to the mystery.