The Richness of Diversity

Rev. Chris Jimmerson & Laine Young
May 28, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
austinuu.org

For flower communion each person brings some flowers to church, and we enjoy them collected all together, recalling the beauty in our own diversity.


Reading

An Eye for Miracles
Diego Valeri

You who have an eye for miracles
regard the bud
now appearing on the bare branch
of the fragile young tree.

It’s a mere dot,
a nothing.
But already
it’s a flower,
already a fruit,
already its own death and resurrection.

Chris Jimmerson’s Homily

Each year around this time, many of our Unitarian Universalist churches engage in a ritual ceremony we call the “Flower Communion”. In just a few minutes, Laine will tell us about the history of our Flower Communion and lead us through our trading of flowers ritual itself.

But why has this ceremony become such a well-loved annual tradition? What larger truths does this enduring ritual allow us to embody together?

As I look out over the flowers we have arranged up front here, as well as those you still hold, I find striking the diverse beauty of the individual blooms. Somehow, the individual radiance of each one of them is magnified by both its unity and contrast with the other flowers.

Also though, gathered together, they form a bouquet that is its own new form of beauty, different than that of any of the separate, individual flowers.

That’s quite a metaphor for what happens when we gather in community, each of us bringing our individual talents, abilities, challenges and blessings for our world and one another – each of us bringing our own perspectives and desires.

And at our best, just like we do when we exchange flowers in the flower communion, we trade at least something of these magnificent expressions of our individual selves. At our best, each of us goes home with something new and beautiful, some broadened perspective because of our encounters with one another.

At our very best, we form a radiant bouquet that is greater than the sum of its individual elements. Together, our individual flowerings are amplified so that we are far better able to nourish souls, transform lives and do justice.

I think that within this metaphor dwells what has been a historical, theological challenge for Unitarian Universalists.

On the one hand, we arise from an ancestry with a strong inclination toward individualism – the heretics who have again and again questioned dogma and called for the freedom and right of conscious of the individual.

We are the products of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”, Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”.

Yet, our history also includes the legacy of the Universalists, who valued a religious community of all souls and believed in the universal salvation of all people.

Likewise, our Unitarian ancestry has given us our covenantal way of being together. We make a promise as a religious community to walk together in the ways of love.

And we have tended to view this instinct toward individualism (and sometimes radical individualism) and our inclination for forming deep religious community as standing in linear opposition to one another.

From this perspective, we have had to try to balance the rights and inherent worth of each individual with our desire to create strong and institutionally sustainable communities. We have seen it as either/or rather than both/and.

That is understandable given a long human history in which in which community norms and biases have so often stifled and oppressed individual expression and flourishing.

I think what the Flower Communion helps us to better understand though, is that this linear duality between individuality and community does not necessarily exist. The interplay between each of us as individuals and the larger community we wish create can be far more complex and multidimensional.

Like when we gather our flowers together, we can create communities that value our differences and see them as what fuels the richness and fullness of the community as a whole.

We can create communities wherein each of us can radiate our own beauty by locating ourselves in both solidarity and loving contrast with one another.

Our flower ritual reminds us and helps us to more deeply grasp that rather than having to be in opposition to one another, individuality and communalism can exist together in harmony.

And that truly is communion.


Laine Young’s Homily

In the city of Prague, in the land of Czechoslovakia, in the year nineteen twenty three, there was a church. But the building did not look much like a church. It had no bells, no spires, no stained glass windows. It had no piano to make beautiful music. It had no candles or chalices. It had no flowers.

The church did have some things. It had four walls and a ceiling and a floor. It had a door and a few windows. It had some wooden chairs. But that was all, plain and simple.

Except… the church also had people who came to it every Sunday. It had a minister, and his name was Norbert Capek. He had been the minister at the plain and simple church for two years. Every Sunday, Minister Capek went to church, and he spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quietly and still in those hard wooden chairs. When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they went home. And that was all-no music, no candles, no food. There was no coffee, bagels, not even breakfast tacos.

Springtime came to the city of Prague and Norbert Capek went out for a stroll. The rains had come, the birds were singing, and flowers were blooming all over the land. The world was beautiful. Then an idea came to him, simple and clear, plain as day. The next Sunday, he asked all the people in the church to bring a flower, or a budding branch, or even a twig. Each person was to bring one.

“What kind?” they asked. “What color? What size?”

“You choose,” he said. “Each of you choose what you like.”

And so, on the next Sunday, which was also the first day of summer, the people came with flowers of all different colors and sizes and kinds. There were yellow daisies and red roses. There were white lilies and blue asters, dark-eyed pansies and light green leaves. Pink and purple, orange and gold-there were all those colors and more. Flowers filled all the vases, and the church wasn’t so plain and simple anymore.

Minister Capek spoke to the people while they listened, sitting quiet and still in those hard wooden chairs. “These flowers are like ourselves,” he said. “Different colors and different shapes, and different sizes, each needing different kinds of care-but each beautiful, each important and special, in its own way.”

When he was done speaking, the people talked a little bit among themselves, and then they each chose a different flower from the vases before they went home. And that was all-and it was beautiful, plain and simple as the day.

It is now time for us to share in our own Flower Communion. I ask that as you each approach the communion vases, 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.

Once you bring your flower up, select a different flower to take with you. One that particularly speaks 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.

Norbert Capek started this ritual to celebrate the beauty of our faith and the people in it. Remembering that the sounds of children are a part of the quiet, let us now share quietly in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness, community, and love.

Benediction

And so go forth into our world, holding tangible representations of the beauty we have shared with one another.

And so go forth, knowing we carry the richness and fullness of this religious community with us.

May the congregation say, “Amen” and, “blessed be”.

Go with love. Go in peace.


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