Tag Archive | Spring

Lencten

IMG_0230 (683x1024)In my line of work, I read and hear a lot about the church’s decline and what we ought to do about it.  But as I sat outside in the chilly air last night, I began to wonder if instead we can take a lesson from what happens in the garden in Spring.

Poets, balladeers, and greeting card writers talk about Spring as the season when flowers are in bloom, leaves are on the trees, and the grass is green.  But that is not the way I experience Spring in my garden.  Spring is the season when I am anxious for all of that beauty to be fully manifest.  And it is also the season when I am reminded daily that the beauty I want so desperately is not, in fact, manifest, at least not yet.

I want new leaves and branches and buds to appear on my hibiscus, assuring me that they have survived a particularly cold winter and will glare again with their flashy yellows, oranges, pinks, and fuchsias.  But all I see are stubby, brown sticks with a couple of tiny, vulnerable green leaves around the bottom.  I want the calla lilies to stick their points out of the ground so I know that soon they will unfurl their verdant swords and, later, their cups of pink and yellow and, if everything went well with the ones I just planted last year, orange and purple and white.  But only one has a few thin sticks pointing out, and the rest are nowhere to be found.  I want to know if the hosta I transplanted last fall made it through the winter, but to find out, I would have to dig under the pine straw and an inch or so of dirt to see if the roots are still there.  Even the cannas, which shot their first variegated leaves above the surface of the dirt a month or more ago seem stuck.  Each one has only one leaf showing, and I worry that at any time that one leaf will whither and rot, rather than pushing a tower above it on top of which will be the orange floozies to animate the front yard.

Everything in my yard seems stuck this time of year.  I am anxious for the plants to be grown and the flowers to be in bloom, but they aren’t ready yet.  They are starting to come back, but when it comes at all, their growth is in fits and starts, depending on the temperature of the nights and the brightness of the days.

In past spring seasons, I have let my impatience get the best of me and gone digging around in the dirt, looking for some assurance that my vegetation will, in fact, grow and bloom.  I have poked at roots.  I have fingered sprouting leaves.  I have even stuck my trowel into the soil surrounding rhizomes and tubers.  I have told myself I do this poking, fingering, and sticking because it is what the experts say I should do:  loosening dirt, pulling away last year’s decaying leaves, opening the plants to fresh gusts of air.  But really, I have simply been looking for assurances that my garden beds have a future, and more often than not, I have 0nly damaged the tiny, vulnerable, thin, singular signs of growth which have already appeared.

As I was outside this evening, I thought about my anxiety and impatience in this season.  And I thought, too, about the church and the logic of some folks in it.  The world has changed and continues to change rapidly.  Everyone knows that.  And the church has to change, too, the logic goes, at least as rapidly as the world, if not more rapidly.  If the church does not change rapidly, then it will not have a future.  I get that logic.  I don’t disagree that we have to adapt to a new world.  I want the church to embrace new ways of communicating, to build relationships with new residents of our community, to meet new needs which appear on our doorsteps, and to wrap our minds as well as we can around new ways of understanding human beings and our institutions.

But I see and hear a lot of anxiety and impatience among some church folks which mirrors my anxiety and impatience at the flora in my garden.  That impatience and anxiety compels those folks to start digging around, poking at the roots, fingering the sprouting leaves, and sticking sharp instruments into the soil.

And I cringe.  Because if we poke in the wrong places, if we press too hard on fragile things, if we disturb soil that has to remain solid right now, then we will do more damage than good.  In the name of loosening things up, we will tear things apart.  In the interest of pulling away decay, we will remove some powerful fertilizer.  As we try to open the church to fresh gusts of air, we will make everything vulnerable to an untimely, hard freeze.

Maybe the best way to lead the church in adapting to a new world is not to poke and press and stick sharp objects in.  Instead, maybe the best thing we can do is to simply notice what is happening in the natural order of the seasons with which God has always blessed the world.  And when we see new growth, maybe all we need to do is look at it and point it out to others:  to appreciate its beauty, to thank God for the hope it represents, but to tread cautiously lest we destroy it before it has a chance to develop fully.  There will be time later to fill in the gaps, to put trellises where they need to be, to train and shape the stems, and to prune the branches that don’t bear fruit.  But for now, early in this new season, we might need to hone the spiritual gifts of seeing, of wonder, of gentleness, and of patience, even as we perceive the rapid changes to the temperature and light.

I think there is a reason the early church named this season before Good Friday and Easter after the season of Spring.  In the liturgical world, Lent is the 40 days (not including the six Sundays) before the celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Festival of Easter.  But the word “lent” really just means Spring in older forms of English (the Old English version is “lencten”).  And that make sense to me because Spring is not the time when new life has been fully manifest.  The flowers are in their full glory, the leaves are filling the trees, and the grass is most verdant in Summer.  New life has been fully manifest only in the time of Easter; the time of Lent, or Spring, is a time for seeing, for wonder, for grace, and for patience.

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Embarrassing Faith

IMG_5384 (800x533)Early spring is an embarrassing time for gardeners.  O.k., maybe not for all of them.  Maybe it’s just me.  If I really knew what I was doing, I would be able to time my plantings so that something spectacular would always cover the stuff that is not so spectacular, at least not yet.  The big, empty spaces where the black-eyed susans have not yet come back up would only serve to highlight the spectacular blooms of the azaleas.  The camellia blooms would linger long enough so that the spindly mess of roses would have time to leaf out and bloom.  The densely-planted pack of daffodils would distract one’s eye from the variegated liriope which hasn’t yet come back from its post-freeze shearing.  Then, the daylily greens would be up and full and ready to shoot forth stems of blossoms just in time to hide the dying daffodil foliage, which, the stern voices of the experts who write the newspaper columns warn, one ought never to cut off.  The dying foliage gathers sunlight to feed the bulb, which stores energy for next year’s blooms.  If you cut that process short, you risk a whole year of wimpy daffodils (gasp!  oh, the horror!).  So, you have to put up with dying foliage, and if you are clever, you find a way to make sure it is hidden.

I have never been that clever.  A couple of weeks ago, I started cleaning out my perennial beds in the front yard.  I usually leave the woody branches of hibiscus, the dried-out stalks of cannas, and the spindly nest of lantana stems right where they are through the winter.  Their own leaves drop and cover the ground around their bases, and they collect the stiff, brown leaves from the oak trees as they blow down the street.  Again, the experts warn against this practice; leaves can harbor diseases and hold in too much moisture, causing the roots of the perennials to rot over the winter.  But I take my chances, figuring that the leaves will also insulate the tropical plants from the freezing air which occasionally infiltrates our semi-tropical climate.

But then, in early spring, after the danger of frost is past, as the heather and hibiscus and lantana are just starting to shoot forth bright, green leaves into that brown, rotten mess, I clean things up.  I cut the heather back to the ground, and I push the oak leaves to the center of the bed so they can work their way into the soil.  I cut the lantana back to the ground, too, so its new shoots will come strong and healthy from the center of the plant, keeping its more-or-less mounded form rather than continuing to spread all over creation from last year’s branches.  I cut off the towering, dead stalks of the cannas, I remove the dead leaves of the gerbera daisies, and I cut off the clematis, leaving only about six inches of each stem from which the new growth can emerge and spread up the trellis.  I pull the clover and chickweed and dichondra which has spread into the beds, and I lay out fresh mulch where last year’s has become thin enough for these weeds to push through, being careful to see if the calla lilies and oriental lilies are poking up through the dirt to announce that they will, in fact, come back for another year.

In my mind’s eye, at the end of all of that hard work, I see the potential:  the many colors and textures of foliage and blooms that will take us through the late spring and into the summer and fall.  But to look at my yard in its present form, you couldn’t prove that any of that beauty is ever going to be real.  I have to acknowledge in this season that I may be deluding myself.  Things may not turn out as I envision them right now.  Something might have died over the winter; some of the pretty things I planted last year may not come up again.  Or worse, a few of them might come up, but others might have rotted into the soil, so that there will be awkward holes in my landscape by the middle of the summer when it is too late to do anything about them.

Faith is like that.  I was preparing for my Easter sermon the other day by listening to the Working Preacher podcast.  The seminary professors who participate in the conversation pointed out that Easter requires us to admit that faith is risky.  We believe what we proclaim, but the fact is, we may be wrong.  We may be wrong to talk with such certainty about a savior who was raised from the dead.  We may be wrong to conjure such authority when we talk about a God who loves unconditionally.  We may be wrong to say with any conviction at all that sometime in the future, as things are coming to an end, everything will work out o.k. because God is in charge.

We may be wrong because we don’t see those things right now.  We know them; we feel them; we believe them; we even experience them.  But we do not see them.  We cannot prove to anyone that the stories we tell are truth, or that the love we perceive breathing life into being is real, or that the hope which strengthens us will ever be realized.  We have to admit, if we are honest, that it is possible that we are deluding ourselves, and things may not turn out to be the way we envision them.  That is why it is called faith, not certainty or authority or any of those other, more definite words.

And I wonder if that is why a lot of people are not willing to commit to it.  It is hard to embrace something while admitting that I may be wrong.  Faith requires vulnerability.  It requires me to risk embarrassment; just like the whole world can see my naked front yard, with all its big, empty spaces and sheared ornamentals and spindly roses and dying daffodil foliage, the whole world might also see my faith proven wrong.  But for me, faith is worth the risk; my knowledge and feeling and belief and experience of God summon a courage that is enough for me, just like the beautiful colors and textures I see emerging in my mind’s eye right now are enough to take me into the next seasons of life in my yard.  Everything may not turn out as I expect; in fact, I am pretty sure I will be wrong about some things.  But that is part of the strength of vision and faith, and the reason I am willing to risk so much for it:  more often than not, even when it doesn’t turn out the way I expected, its unanticipated revelations are more lovely than I ever could have imagined.

When I cleaned out my flower beds a couple of weeks ago, I looked carefully for the calla lilies which grow next to the heather and gerbera daisies near my mailbox.  They hadn’t poked their pointed leaf shoots up through the surface of the ground.  Frankly, I was disappointed, but I made my peace with it.  Perhaps they are only supposed to live a couple of years.  Maybe an accidental tromp through the flower bed last summer crushed them for good.  But their absence would leave a hole, and I was beginning to doubt that the flower bed will be as I hoped this year.

Then, just the other day, I looked again, and there they were, just jutting the tips of their shoots about a half an inch above the mulch I had spread.  Those points will grow taller and taller, no bigger around than a pencil, and once they are tall enough, they will unfurl into sword-shaped leaves whose flat surfaces will absorb the sun’s heat and light.  And then, once they pull enough stored energy from the bulbs underground, more shoots will emerge from the base of the leaves, and they will reveal fascinatingly beautiful petals curled around erect stamens.  Calla lilies are some of my favorite flowers.

At least I think that is what will happen.  Only time will tell.

Knock Out. Indeed.

IMG_3258 (533x800)My next-door neighbor has two Knock Out Roses in her front yard.  These are the roses that you see everywhere these days:  in every suburban yard, in every landscaped island in the shopping mall parking lot, even in front of the windows at every Denny’s restaurant.  If they can keep them alive at Denny’s, they must be indestructible.

In fact, Knock Out Roses were designed to be indestructible.  They are relatively new on the market, only appearing in the last 10 or 15 years.  They are supposed to be the perfect rose:  they will grow in any climate, they will resist any disease, and they will overcome any obstacle to spectacular, long-lasting, vibrant rosiness.  Jackson & Perkins advertises them like most dealers:  “Easy to grow, long-blooming, winter hardy and heat tolerant, and perfect for any landscape, … Knock Outs® don’t require special care, they’re self-cleaning, have stunning flower power, and are the most disease resistant roses on the market.”  Any time an advertising copy writer can use the phrase, “stunning flower power,” you know something significant has been developed.

The key here is that passive construct, “has been developed.”  To bring such almost-mystical perfection to suburban gardens and parking lots, someone took a common rose bush and engineered it to within an inch of its life.  Notice that when the Jackson & Perkins copy writer mentions the Knock Out variety, there must be a copyright symbol appended to its name.  These roses are nature manipulated to such a degree that all rights to divide it, to root a cutting from it, to graft it, to name it, or even to sell it must be granted by the patent holder.  The message is clear:  this rose will never belong to you.  You may place it in the soil in which you garden, and you may trim it and water it and fertilize it, but its ownership will forever belong solely to the genetic engineering firm which deigned to grant you those very limited rights.  Frankly, I am a bit nervous writing about these marvels of engineering.  I am afraid that I will have attorneys swarming my home tomorrow morning because I can’t figure out how to get my keyboard to cram a little R into a circle after each time I use the name Knock Out.

I have to admit, though, that for all of their ubiquity and carefully patented design, they really are pretty.  The colors of red, pink, and fuchsia are brilliant, and even the yellow ones, which the engineers introduced to the market in the past 5 years or so, are coming along in their vibrancy.  As a flower, I am not disappointed that my neighbor has some Knock Out Roses where I can see them.

My disappointment is where they are located in her yard.  They are planted right on our shared property line, about three feet back from the curb.  On my side of the property line in the same place is my perennial bed.  That is where I planted my variegated lantana, the “cemetery lily” a friend gave us, and some cannas which have filled out some empty spaces nicely.  That bed is the only place I have anything like an Asiatic lily, since it is open and breezy out there and the pollen is less likely to activate my wife’s allergies.  It is where calla lilies and gerbera daisies have come back two springs in a row now and the tropical hibiscus flare all summer.  It is where I have our beloved black-eyed susans, which remind us of the flowers my wife carried in our wedding.  I built the bed around our mailbox in the only space of full sun that makes sense for a perennial bed in my yard, and overall, I have been happy with the results.

But the neighbor’s Knock Outs crowd too close.  The cemetery lily has to compete for sunlight.  The cannas have to force their way through the branches of the Knock Outs before they bloom in their yellow torches.  The neighbor doesn’t choose to remove the bermuda grass from under her roses, so weeds and grass spread from her yard into my flower bed.  And did I mention that the engineers who developed the Knock Outs did not think it wise to remove the genes that produce the thorns?  Those things are as wicked as any wild rose, so trimming and weeding around them require some gyrations which the guy across the street who lurks in his garage all day undoubtedly finds amusing. Other than some passive-aggressive trimming here and there, I have not been sure what to do about the Knock Outs which so garishly cross the boundaries of suburban civility and invade my prime perennial real estate.

Really, the conflict for sunlight and air space is not my neighbor’s fault.  Her husband planted them as small, spindly shrubs about five or six years ago.  At that time, there was a wooden, split-rail fence which ran the length of our shared property line, and there was only grass in that part of my yard.  I remember the day they planted them, although it seemed insignificant at the time.  My neighbor and her husband were always working in the yard together, and even through the mundane tasks of mowing and weeding and planting and pulling, it was so clear that they had a long-lasting and beautiful relationship.  She placed the pots from the nursery where she thought they should go; he shared his own thoughts.  She nagged him a bit, and then he dutifully dug the holes.  Together, they planted them.  The new shrubs were already flush against the fence, but at the time, that made sense; their growth could intermingle with the fence rails to add some color and texture to an otherwise unremarkable part of their yard.

If I remember right, it was only a few months after they planted the Knock Out Roses together that my neighbor’s husband stopped my wife and me in our driveway one day.  He wanted to tell us that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  Was it lung cancer or liver cancer?  Or maybe leukemia?  I don’t remember, and it really doesn’t matter now.  He had surgery, and I visited with him briefly when he was in the rehab unit at the same time as a member of my congregation.  He went through other treatments; we would inquire about how he was doing when it seemed appropriate.  Like so many people in their situation, they tried hard to stay positive, so we never really knew whether their optimism was based in what the doctors were telling them or in what they wanted to believe.  Probably the truth was somewhere in between, but again, that doesn’t really matter now.  I don’t know if it was from our neighbor or from the nice couple across the street that we first heard he had gone under the care of Hospice.  But a few weeks later, the woman from across the street knocked on our door late one evening to tearfully tell us that she heard he passed away.  Together, we went to the house of the guy who lurks in his garage all day because we knew he would want to hear the news before it came out in the paper.

This winter, I realized it was time to do a major overhaul of my perennial bed.  Besides the usual spring cleanup, the space needed to be expanded and some plants needed to be divided and moved.  Last week, I moved the cemetery lily and the cannas away from the property line so they wouldn’t compete so much with my neighbor’s Knock Out Roses.  I reached my hand rake under the Knock Outs to scratch away the grass that was still trying to invade my flower bed, and I spread a generous layer of mulch to keep the grass and weeds at bay for a while.  I am making my peace with my neighbor’s Knock Outs, recognizing that, if I design things right, they could be less of an encroaching competitor and more of a vibrant and pleasing backdrop for the mix-up of cannas and lilies and hibiscus and lantana and black-eyed susans I am trying hard to nurture.

Green Wood

IMG_2001 (800x600)This is the time of year when not much is happening in my yard.  Last year, I got restless about this time, and I started trimming back my perennials, trimming bushes, clearing leaves from the flower beds, and generally uncovering everything for spring.  The plants responded to the message that it was time for them to wake up and get ready for spring and summer.  Fresh, bright, green buds of leaves and branches started to appear in the ensuing weeks.  And then, we got a late freeze, and all of those new buds which I had so optimistically encouraged withered in a droopy, slimy, sad little mess.  It took most of the plants several weeks to recover, and I spent those weeks worrying over them, fearing the worst, and watching to see if they would live or die.

So this year, I have vowed that I will not engage in any pruning, any cleaning, or any other form of encouragement with my perennials and shrubs until the middle of March at the earliest.  I will gingerly start my spring cleaning then only after checking the long-term forecast to make sure there is no freeze anticipated. I will not be disappointed again.

The problem with that commitment is that it has left me a little restless, with not much else to do in the yard on the warming days of February and early March.  So, I have been trying to content myself with pulling weeds.

God knows there are plenty of weeds to pull.  And this time of year is the perfect time to get them.  For the most part, they are tiny things, flimsy, with barely any roots to hold them in the ground.  Some of these are the early spring weeds, whose whole purpose in life is to produce seeds so that more of the same kinds of weeds can come up next spring.  They do not live for very long; the period when it is not too cold and not too hot and dry for them is very brief.  They never grow very tall.  Some, like the chick weed, spread a quite a bit in their brief lives, but they don’t have much depth to hold them in the ground.  Some, like the sticky burrs with their nasty little spikes which poke our early spring feet as we go walking across the early spring lawn, become more annoying as they age, but even they are not with us for more than a few weeks.  The early spring weeds seem to have evolved to be efficient:  they shoot up quickly, they get their work of reproduction done quickly, and then they die quickly.  Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, as my Aunt Suzy would say.

Others of these weeds, though, are the ones that will be around for a long time.  They may or may not produce seeds; some of them mostly seem intent on spreading their roots.  These are the dichondra, the clover, and even the dandelions in the grass.  Once these get a hold in the lawn, they cannot be eradicated without horrible petrochemicals.  They can only be managed so they don’t push out the good grass altogether, which is a fine enough arrangement for me considering the alternatives.  But when they get into the flower beds, everything starts to look ragged, and the good flowers can’t ever seem to get ahead.

The theory of both the early spring weeds and the long-term spreaders is the same:  get rid of them now while it’s easy.  If you get the early spring weeds before they go to seed, the theory goes, you won’t have nearly as many next year.  If you get the long-term spreaders now before they spread to far or dig their roots too deep, the theory continues, you won’t be fighting with them as hard in the summer.  So there I was last Friday, alleviating my early season restlessness by pulling up the tiniest little sprouts.

As I went along, I realized that my efforts were an act of great optimism.  The fact is that no amount of early-season pulling is going to prevent weeds from growing in my flower beds.  Whether or not I go out there now on my hands and knees pulling the flimsy little sprouts, I will be out there again in a few months pulling more.  My work may or may not be in vain.  But as I was trying to make sense of what I was doing, a song kept coming into my head.  It is a song sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary, on one of their more obscure albums which, depending on the company I am in, I either proudly or timidly admit that I regularly popped into my cassette tape player in my car when I was in college.

The song is called “Greenwood,” and it was written by Peter Yarrow in the early 1970s.  It takes its title and theme from a saying of Jesus in the Gospel According to Luke.  The words are what one expects from Peter Yarrow in the early 197os:  an earnest lament about violence and war.  They are predictably preachy, but their purpose is noble:  to stir people to act to overcome the systemic forces of repression.  The song’s melody is haunting yet beautiful and simple; it focuses attention on the carefully chosen interrogative of the lyrics:  “If we do these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?”  If you want to listen to the song, someone has been kind enough to load it onto YouTube:

If you just want to read the words, you can click here.

Besides its clear insistence that violence must end, and despite its clear tone of lamentation, I see this song as a call to hope.  It makes the point that how we choose to view the world will change how the world actually is.  “The killer and the cynic waltz together,” the lyric goes; those who choose to see only the worst in others are dancing awfully close to those who are willing to take another person’s life.  It talks about “the impotence of people raised on fear,” pointing out that if we do not teach each other how to have hope and trust, which are the antidotes to fear, then there’s no reason to even attempt to make things different.  What Peter Yarrow wants us to do in the “green wood,” now, while we still have a choice in the matter, is to not only end violence, but also to keep the realities of violence from persuading us to embrace a cynical and fearful view of the world.

I agree, and that is why I was pulling weeds.  While I don’t believe my work now will make the weeds go away forever, I think pulling weeds in the early spring helps me practice hope.  And I need the practice after a winter filled with dark headlines of violence, distrust, fear, cynicism, greed, and on and on.  I need to believe that the more weeds I pull now, the fewer sticky burrs will find their way into the tender skin of my little boy’s feet and hands and knees and elbows and whatever else might come into contact with the lawn later this spring.  I need to believe that the more clover and dichondra I remove now, the more profuse and brilliant the azalea and clematis and lantana and heather and daylilies will bloom throughout the seasons to come, each in their own time.  And I need to believe that my restlessness can be channeled into productive work, so that I can also believe that my impatience with the way things are can be channeled into some positive work in the communities I am a part of to make things more like the way they ought to be.  If I don’t channel that restlessness and impatience, all I will know is that the frost will invariably kill the new buds, that weeds will inevitably smother the flowers, and that violence and distrust and fear and cynicism and all the rest are just the way the world works.  Considering the alternatives, I will pull the early spring weeds.

“As they led him away, … [Jesus] said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?'” (Luke 23:26-31)

A Sucker for Beauty

IMG_0959 (602x800)I’m a sucker for beauty.  The other day, my wife and I stopped at the big box store (please don’t judge us) for a light bulb and a new number 2 to stick on the front of our mail box.  The old one fell off months ago, so we have been displaying to the world an incorrect address; we cannot have that any longer, particularly when the solution to the problem costs 58 cents.

I think my wife believes I cannot go to such a store without at least sauntering through the garden section.  She may not be wrong.  This time of year, I did not expect to see anything interesting in the garden section; they had the typical pansies, dianthus, stock, and other flowers in their vivid fuscias, pretty pinks, pure whites, and splashy purples.  In other places, these annuals appear in the spring, just before the last frost date, to be put out when the crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths, and daffodils bloom.  Around here, the crocus, tulips, and grape hyacinths just rot in their holes because the weather never gets cold enough for them to work right, and the daffodils I have tried tend to come up early then wait to bloom until the weather gets too hot for them.  When I am lucky, and when I haven’t planted them too deeply, they flash their sunny glory for about a day or two, then they fade because it’s just too warm.  And, around here, the pansies, dianthus, stock, and other flowers are out all winter, embracing the occasional dip below 32 degrees not as a life-threatening crisis but as a refreshing break from the wilting 70s.

But then, as we wandered the aisles of early-blooming annuals, we saw an end cap overflowing with calla lilies.  They were in the colors calla lilies are known for.  There were the cheery yellows and the almost-blacks.  There were warm reds and oranges.  There was a purple color that faded to a creamy rim, and there was another solid purple, lighter than the others, but still rich in its tone.  And no one had tried to make the store display all neat and orderly, with the reds together with the reds, and the yellows with the yellows, and all of that.  All of the colors were mixed up together, with broad, green leaves stippled with white dots under the flowers to give them the heft that colors like that need.  They were like the photos of calla lilies in the catalogs which make us dream each winter of the warm days of the late spring to come.

And they all had that unique calla lily shape.  I think that is why I find flowers like callas and iris so appealing.  These are no daisies, with orderly petals evenly arranged around a center, although those flowers have their own beauty, too.  These are odd, asymmetrical, twisted, and wrapped in their form.  The single colorful petal wraps itself around the stamen like one of those old-fashioned woolen cloaks with no sleeves or buttons, IMG_0960 (699x800)which just hang from the wearer’s neck and shoulders and wrap him up in warmth.  I’ve always wanted to be able to wear a cloak like that, and I have always found the form of the calla lily to be beautiful.

A couple of days later, after worship on Sunday, I went back to the store to buy some of those calla lilies.  I had to have them.  And, of course, they wouldn’t look the same if I just bought one or two.  Part of the effect of the whole display was the great mix of all the colors.  So I bought six of them.  Yes, six.  It was utterly ridiculous.  They cost about $8 each, and I really shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on something as frivolous as flowers for my yard.  And more importantly, it is way too early for calla lilies here.  It is true that we are having an unusually mild winter.  The air temperature only dipped solidly below freezing one day, and that was just last week.  But we have another solid month with a good chance of a real cold spell, the kind that lasts three or four days, with the nighttime temperatures dipping in the 20s and the daytime barely making it over 45.  Calla lilies don’t tolerate that kind of weather.  The callas in my front yard usually don’t poke the pointy ends of their leaves out until the middle of March.  The labels on the calla lilies at the store said they were grown by an outfit in Miami.  And no wonder; fully-grown, blooming calla lilies have no place this far north in the middle of February, even in a mild year.

But I really wanted them, not because it was a reasonable decision, not because it made sense, but because they are beautiful, and I’m a sucker for beauty.  At many times in my life, that has been the best way for me to explain my faith, too.  I choose to see the world through the lens of faith because I’m a sucker for beauty.  Or, put another way, I believe in beauty.  Beauty has to be more powerful than anything else in the world.  At the end of it all, I expect that beauty will win, because beauty is so, well, beautiful.  There is just too much of it in the world.  The natural world is beautiful.  People are beautiful, not because all of our teeth are straight and our lips are adequately pouty or our lumps are smoothed over or our bulges fit into skinny jeans.  They aren’t, and they don’t.  People are beautiful because we are capable of appreciating beauty when we see it, and we are capable, too, of projecting beauty in our actions and words and our laughter and empathy.

Of course, there is plenty of ugliness in the world and in the people who populate it; please don’t dismiss me as naive.  But I look at the beauty of a display of calla lilies in the midst of the sparse, functional big-box gardening department, and I am struck by the mixed-up colors and wrapped-up petals and broad, stippled leaves adequate to back it all up.  And I wonder if I am gazing at “the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.”  Calla lilies are breathtakingly beautiful, so maybe beauty rules the world after all.  People can perceive and reflect beauty in unspeakable ways, so maybe beauty will win at the end of it all.  That is faith.

Although they cost more than I should have spent, and although they don’t really belong there, at least not right now, there are now six calla lilies planted in a circle around the bird bath in my back yard.  They are interspersed with the variegated vinca vine which I planted there last fall, which is right now responding to our mild winter by growing full-force toward the sky, ready to flop over and wind around in a thousand different directions as soon as it gets long enough.  It looks like the temperature will be dangerously near 32 degrees on Saturday night, so I might have to dig out an old sheet to cover them up.  Who knows; they may not even survive the spring.  But there they are, because I am a sucker for beauty.