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“Kindle the Flames”



I have always known that Lily of the Valley was the “birth flower” for the month of May. What I didn’t know was that there is a second flower associated with the month – Hawthorn. And I never really knew where this idea of birth flowers originated, chalking it up to another Hallmark gimmick to get consumers to buy flowers and flowery stuff throughout the months of the year. A little research over dinner as we pondered these big questions of life, led to more digging and unearthing on my part. Assigning birth flowers likely began in Ancient Rome. The Romans were the first folks known to have celebrated birthdates and flowers being a common gift, the association of a particular flower with a particular month gave direction and meaning to the practice. In the 18th and 19th centuries the “language of flowers” developed so that in sending a specific flower you were conveying a certain message to your recipient.


The flowers were selected based on what blooms best when and where, which is why there are most often two flowers, since what comes into blossom here may differ greatly from somewhere across the globe and in another hemisphere. All tolled though, it seems pretty Eurocentric to me! The flower for June is either the Rose or the Honeysuckle. August is the Gladiolus and the Poppy. This calls to mind the little garden by the rock wall on the land where I grew up – my mother’s flower garden – which was planted with both of these beauties. She was born in August, and I had no idea there was a connection between that and her little garden of showy blooms!


All of the flowers have meanings and symbolism attached, said to be qualities of persons born that month. October’s marigolds speak of determination, optimism and prosperity; February’s Violet, Primrose and Iris of love, faithfulness, modesty and virtue. So, if you want to tell someone that they are wise or convey affection you might choose Asters or Morning Glories, the September birth flowers, as a gift.


I arrived in Barre, Massachusetts three weeks ago today and encountered the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society in a much different state than I usually see it. I had never been this late into the spring. I was taken by how well managed the garden areas were and the care with which the grounds people tended them. I was struck by all the irises just about to burst open and unfurl their showy blooms. Tightly wound balls of peony flowers hinting of pale pinks and white. The orchid in the walking room window, one fuchsia blossom open wide to the western sun, four more waiting their turn.


Periods of walking meditation – a slow, measured lifting of the foot, moving it forward, placing it down – noticing what is next and all the intricate details of what is engaged and moving in the body beginning with intention to that first bit of movement and onward. Slowly I made my way back and forth over sections of the walkways, no more than twenty feet at a time. It is an exercise in noticing, in freeing the mind from focusing on more than one thing at a time, of truly being in the moment – things our lives rarely give us space for. It is a practice that gives way to opportunities otherwise missed in daily life.


When distracted, one notes the distraction – hearing, feeling, seeing – whatever senses are aroused, tending to them for the moment and then back to primary focal point – the walking. So, you can imagine I was distracted aplenty over the course of two warm spring weeks with just the right amount of rainfall mixed in with sunshine. First the little lavender irises out front began to pop – three, then four, then the next day seven. Clumps of white irises began to show themselves wherever I walked, then purple ones and variegated varieties. And suddenly, in a small garden in a courtyard between buildings there were yellow ones, three one day and six the next. All the while, the peonies were ever so slowly unfurling – bigger and bigger until they spring to full life, their centers calling out to pollinators, heavy blooms that the gardener one afternoon, with great care, propped up with a makeshift fence along their way. And the orchid, by the time I left had managed four additional flowers greeting the afternoon sun. A row of impatiens appeared one day, lovingly planted equidistant from each other.


And I began to think about us, here on the hill, how like these blooms we are. All of us planted here at one time or another, some with longer tenure and others new to the grounds. And we tend to one another with such care, like the gardeners in Barre. Each of us comes into flower in our own time, as we are ready. We all serve a purpose in the ecosystem that is UUMH. And when we are done with a task, we rest our showiness and let others take their turn. We gather together with likeminded, like-gifted folks in clumps of life and color and vibrancy to take on the work of the Meeting House. All are so unique in what they offer and yet, it all comes together with such beauty and grace – a little mulch here, a little pruning there, we guide one another on this journey.


Brenda Hillman writes, in leaning toward light: Poems for gardens & the hands that tend them, that her poetic practices as a human being are influenced by a variety of models – naturalistic, scientific and historical. She has talked to plants since childhood, as did her mother and her mother before her. Beyond animistic wish fulfillment, she says, it stems from a sense of whatever experience plants are having adjacent to our own and that in the liminal spaces between the two there is room for play and the creation of something more than humanistic projections. What she hopes for as an adult with this practice is some kind of give and take, a reciprocity, and a taking back of some of the harm that her human footprint might have caused the wider planet. We have a new fig plant in our yard , a birthday gift from my beloved, and she is very happy it seems. I talk to her every day when I walk past up the drive with Emma. Encouragement. Appreciation. Noticing her beauty and all the new leaves popping out to catch the sun. She is full of life and gives me a real sense of peace and trust that all will be well.


Our flower communion today is full of symbolism, but rooted in the creativity of Norbert Capek, the early 20th century Unitarian minister from Czechoslovakia. He was looking for a way to bring ritual other than the traditional bread and wine communion to his people who had left such traditions behind. He asked each participant to bring a flower or stem from home and place it in a communal vase. At the end of the service everyone would take home a flower different from the one they supplied. The flowers represented the uniqueness of the individual, their worthiness as each bloom or stem was valued equally to the whole, and their acceptance of one another as they took away with them something of each other. It was a celebration of their diversity. It is all these things for us as well. A chance to honor all the parts of the whole and the whole of the container itself.


Capek was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and sent to the concentration camp in Dachau where he continued to hold a flower ceremony until his death there at the hands of the Nazis. His wife, Maja, brought the ceremony to us here, first in Cambridge and it has been a part of Unitarian Universalist liturgies ever since. We honor the spirit, courage and commitment of people like Capek even as he is gone from our midst.


This poster up here came too late for last year’s flower communion, which I had intended it for! Thankfully we do this every year! It was purchased as part of a fundraiser the UU Minister’s Association was doing for our Eastern European UU congregations, our roots being in Transylvania and churches still in existence there. It depicts all the flowers, and their names are written all around the edge, half in English and half in Czechoslovakian. And around the center are the words of Norbert Capek:


Kindle the flames of love,

Where human sorrow goes,

Tell the joyful stories of those who vanquished woes,

Smell the flowers of faith,

Breathe the breath of love,

Open yourself to the rays of the sun above.


Perhaps it can be hung somewhere as a reminder of the spirit and courage of folks like Capek who fight for freedoms for all of humanity, a reminder to us to continue to kindle the flames of love in times of sorrow as well as in those of joy, to keep the faith and to be open to what is life giving in our world, to breathe that in and to share it with one another, our community and beyond.


Gail and I will gather up the flowers you all brought and come around with them. Please select something other than what you brought and hold that flower and its provider – their uniqueness a gift to the whole of who we are – in your heart. May we always know our worth and our dignity. May we live with gratitude for the beauty in our lives and the freedoms we share in this faith tradition.


Blessed be and Amen.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, June 9, 2024

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​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
All MAIL To: PO Box 18​​
Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986

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