“Souls Inherently Whole”
Last Thursday after dinner while we were doing dishes and bagging up lunch I declared to my husband, Chuck, “Tomorrow, I write.” I say this most Thursday evenings at some point! “What will you write about?” - the next logical question because he is nothing if not logic driven. “About completeness,” I said, “and about how the flowers in our Flower Celebration are complete and how they are a metaphor for our completeness,” I rambled on in a stream of consciousness sort of way. And then, ushering forth from the lips of “Mr. Science” as we have come to call him in my family, a lengthy explanation came about complete flowers and those not so much so, about pollen and stamens and bees and then onto something about diversity, at which point I stopped him, not wanting to confuse my topic or mix my metaphors in the process. Just wanting, really, to confirm my initial thought. Not a science lesson for you all here today. A jumping off point though, to be sure.
My colleague, Dan Schatz, wrote a meditation on a flower some years back. There were those who would argue that he meditated on a weed because it was a dandelion he was examining so closely, but the bright yellow flower with its swirls of petals is a thing of beauty regardless of how you feel about their persistence in your lawns. It is lovely, complex, and wonder-filled, he says. And just because some folks don’t agree with that wonder within its makeup doesn’t take away from the truth of it. He makes the metaphorical leap, too. Maybe we are seen as weedy ourselves and even believe that to be so – somehow less desirable or needing to be plucked up from our rootedness and cast aside, but we are also stunning and complicated parts of creation. We may not be attuned to our preciousness and importance, like a rose or an orchid, he points out, but we are every bit as valuable, our uniqueness a gift, something to take pride in and to honor, just as the treasure we are.
Completeness in flowers has to do with reproductive processes and whether or not a flower contains all the necessary parts to reproduce within itself – male and female all in one place. Roses and lilies and hibiscus are technically complete. This is a somewhat narrow definition of complete to my way of thinking and where Chuck would say that my science goes a little askew! It’s not that a flower isn’t complete in and of itself if it possesses only male or only female parts and a plant like a squash produces both male flowers and female flowers, requiring pollinators to do the work for them. Each of those flowers is a thing in its’ own right, designed with its own purpose, valuable to the plant’s evolution – complete, even if not scientifically so. And flowers have evolved in ways that ensure their survival, like the spring ephemerals whose flowers hang downward to prevent them from filling up with rain and having their pollen washed away. Pure genius in these seasonal plants!
We are like this, too! Each of us possesses within us all we need for survival, even if we can’t reproduce on our own – does anyone remember the utopian novel, “Herland,” by the early 20th century feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman? It tells of an isolated island where only women live and have evolved to reproduce without men, creating an ideal society free of war and conflict and domination. I digress, but perhaps we can get there by evolving in other ways! Because we have what we need within us, as I said. And what each one of us brings is different, but no less complete. In fact, we may be more like the squash blossoms, needing one another in the evolutionary scheme.
Capek’s Flower Communion is about this, really. It is about the amazing individuals who made up his congregation, about what they created in their coming together and how their lives were enriched in sharing that unique gift each one brought. Capek wanted to acknowledge difference and to lift up the value of it – each distinct member dissimilar to the next, even as they showed up in all of their glorious completeness, and yet becoming even more so as they gathered together. Our enactment of this ceremony isn’t about honoring the past so much as it is about making a statement about the present that is vital to our future. It is about the beauty within each of us and the necessity of making space for all the life-giving contributions that will ensure our survival as a species, about the oneness of humanity.
I began thinking about this idea of completeness a few weeks ago while attending a virtual conference. One of the workshops was about healing the world through nurturance, entitled Tikkun Hanefesh V’Olam with Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit. It was about an inner balancing and repair and the ultimate balancing and repair of our world. It wasn’t based on any sense of absence within us, but rather an absence of an awareness of the interdependent relationships between all the energies that make up the fabric of our world. He suggested that we are inherently whole, but not always in relationship with a sense of potential or each other or our world. So this healing is both internal as we acknowledge our completeness and external as we determine ourselves to connect in ways that mend the brokenness in the relationships that make up our lives and our existence as people.
As I pondered the teaching, I realized that this was a message for me as a person, but also for us as a people here at UUMH. My soul is inherently whole. And our soul – the soul of this collective endeavor is inherently whole, too, holy and good, inherently worthy, possessed of great value. And as the times reshape us this kernel of truth remains at our core. We are whole, however different we may be from what was. Whole, no matter if it is different from all we have dreamed we could be in the past. Whole as we are and as we come each time we show up together, each time we are reminded of the us-ness of this place, nothing to do to make it so. Nothing lacking here. Wholeness as persons and as a people. Inherently whole souls. Inherently whole soul of this space. The healing is in the nurturance, nurturance of one another, nurturance of new dreams, new ways of being that meet our times and bring to them a sense of this inherent wholeness born of our individuality and our relationality at once.
David Whyte, in his essay on “Self-knowledge” from the book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, speaks to our completeness and our becoming. We are about half full he says at any given time and as I read it, we are in this constant process of emptying out to make room for more – a spiral of life, tipping back and leaning in, always in motion. We are complete, but not completed, I have determined. We are always whole in any given moment and then something spins us around again causing a shift in our make up and we enter into a new way of being, no less whole than the last.
I was reading the other day about how even inanimate objects are in a nested series of processes. The writer gave an example of a marble staircase at his school that had been traveled over many decades, causing the stone to sag in the middle where it had worn away from use. To compensate, metal treads had been installed to keep folks from falling. Here is this rock hard set of stairs that are constantly changing, the marble itself having undergone many changes over eons of time to become what it was and purposed as stairs. We are so much more pliable than marble and so much more likely to weather the pressures of time and circumstances, constantly in process. We are complete at given step along the way, but who can say what we will become next, always moving toward completion as the next iteration of our being. Round and round the spiral we go .
This year’s flower communion bouquet is perfect and complete – inherently whole and at the same time totally different than the last one we created. If you spend some time reflecting, you will likely say the same thing about yourself. How have you evolved in the past year? What has spun you around, reshaping you? In the whirlwind that has been our lives of late I feel like this process has been sped up and it can be dizzying for sure. Time to attempt a gentler circling where we can notice and incorporate in ways that are personally nurturing, a healing in the becoming.
It is the same for us a people here at the Meeting House. We are in a place of becoming – always have been, but now we are taking some time to awaken to that truth, to develop an intentional awareness of the spiral we are gathered into as a community of faith. What is calling us onward? How do the twists and turns bear out in the next moments of emptying and filling? We are in a place of great potential because of our awakenings, the world not passing us by as we sit, unawares. The perspective that each of us brings – our complete, but never completed flower, if you will, to the container that is our beloved community – helps to create the beauty of the whole. We need all the colors and shapes and sizes and scents for it to be truly representative.
This Flower Celebration is an invitation to each of us to come with our whole selves to the creation of something currently beyond our individual imaginations; to participate in an ongoing evolution that meets this moment in time with a boldness like that of Capek’s church, thinking beyond its doors, beyond what it might have thought possible. It is an invitation to risk and decision-making in the company of these trusted whole souls as we nurture a process of building our future here on the hill. As we each leave here today, we do so with a flower we did not bring, with a part of this place that is unique and different and so very complete from which to draw fresh ideas. May they blossom within us and may we return again and again, filling our container with fresh blooms, forever complete and being completed, both. So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, June 5, 2022