Monday, January 24, 2011

Of flowers, funerals and quotidian mysteries

Friday evening I watched while nearly a dozen clergymen gathered to lay a brother to rest. A simple birch box, far more beautiful than any shining metal casket could be, contained flowing folds of green vestment.  His hand gently cradled the blessing cross, with a gospel book at his side and face draped in honor and respect. 

When cloth was removed, tears and kisses were gently laid on the cheek and forehead, a face which radiated peace, a face that shone with the light of God.  The deep, somber and echoing notes of the Trisagion Hymn rang through the church as a thousand around him were being saved.

Saturday, I joined friends in celebrating their marriage, glowing bride, all in white, the color of Pascha.  Over the past week my hands have slowly formed and molded the delicate sugar flowers to adorn their wedding cake, my mind filled with the mixture of bright sadness of preparing for a funeral and a wedding within hours of each other.  It calls to mind another week of bright sadness, Paschal joy mixed with the death of my grandmother. This week, each evening is spent preparing, heart and soul pondering life's end, hands preparing for new life in marriage.  One man receives a crown of glory in heaven, while another man and woman accept crowns of martyrdom to each other. 

The bride carried calla lilies. 
I love creating calla lilies, as art imitates life, creation imitates creator, and I work sugar dough across the palm of my hand, gently but firmly stroking it until paper thin.  Simple ingredients, eggs and sugar, mixed and kneaded.  No cutter or mold to form this flower, simply the pressure of thumb into palm as the lily takes on its shape.  Organic, elegant, each one is unique.  As I watch them take shape, slowly furling the thin dough from flat into deep, intriguing spirals, I consider the calla lily.  Modern, sophisticated some would say; gracing the cover of many a home design magazine.  Elegant.  Beautiful.  Ironic, really.  Our world and the way it assigns value to a thing.  Why is a calla lily given such honor; because it is exotic?  Expensive?  Who decided the calla lily was more exalted than the countless ruffled petals of the common carnation?
I think back to college, semester after semester of Hispanic language, literature, and history courses.  I remember the painters with whom I became intimately familiar; Diego Rivera and his frequent depiction of the calla.  I vaguely recall a paragraph from some long forgotten piece of literature, telling of a young man in Mexico, head down, ashamed as he rode the bus.  He was on his way to a funeral.  He hugged an armful of calla lilies, the poor man's flower; embarrassed to carry a load of flowers many a bride clamors for here. Why?  Because to him it is an ordinary flower.  Ordinary.  Everyday.  Abundant, therefore of little value.  How different his perspective is.  What we see as beautiful, he sees as a sign of his poverty.  What we exalt for its simple elegance, he sees as ugly, worthy of shame.  Would we love the calla lily as much if it grew by the side of the road, if it was as inexpensive as the carnation?   Familiarity breeds contempt. How easily we come to dislike the common, the everyday, the daily things of life.  Rivera's paintings made use of calla lilies not for the beauty he saw in them as a flower, but for what they represented to him within his culture. They represent the "indigeno", the poorest of his society, the common, everyday man, and there he found beauty.

"It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation." Kathleen Norris

I think back to that priest, lying in his plain wooden box.  His hands that now hold that cross were once accustomed to molding, creating from clay and pigment.  He took ordinary things - clay, eggs, wood - and made them extraordinary.  His years as an ordained priest were few.  Never the opportunity for his own parish.  In the last year too weak to serve the Eucharist, yet always he served.  He served by reminding young moms what a blessing their children are.  He served by offering a smile to everyone.  He served by letting people know they mattered.  He served by letting them know they had value.  He served daily, in ordinary ways.   I doubt there is anyone in our parish who was not at one time or another given a few simple words expressing his gratefulness for them.  And the couple, newly married, must also now serve.  They serve each other.  They die to self everyday, by doing the everyday for each other.  I am reminded of how often I fail to feel grateful for the daily: the piles of laundry, the ringing voices of my children, the husband who comes home late.  How often I forget about the crown placed upon my head 16 years ago, how often I refuse to wear that crown.  May God remind me to embrace the everyday rather than look for a way to avoid it.  May we embrace the calla lily for its beauty, and the carnation as well.

"[it is a] kind of hubris that allows men and women alike to imagine that by devaluing the bonds that connect us to the .. household, to the daily, we can rise above them."  Kathleen Norris

22. kissing the face of one of God's saints
23. celebrating the marriage of my littlest ones' godfather to a beautiful woman
24. strong healthy lungs shouting "Mom"
25. a husband who comes home every night
26. unprompted "I love you" from a toddler
27. calla lilies and carnations
28. 8 hours of sleep
29.  swollen burnt orange moon, glowing through a dark, misty night
30. spontaneous prayers from little ones
31. the deep somber voices of chanters who give of their time and talents to bless my worship
32. six giggly little girls dressed to match each other on a Sunday morning


DebD said...

so beautiful. thank you.

Jennifer said...

Your words and your flowers are beautiful.

elizabeth said...

How often we say Many Years and Memory Eternal all in a short space of time!

May God remember this holy priest and may He bless this new couple!

Thank you for your pictures and words.

Michelle M. said...

this is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for writing it. it should be published in a newspaper or magazine- it is just lovely.

pam said...

Beautiful flowers and lovely list of love

Cassc said...

Thank you for that beautiful reflection. Your words brought tears to my eyes.

Unknown said...

So beautiful, so true. I often overlook and take for granted the miracles in my daily life- the health of my children, their ability to see, speak and hear, a warm home and food on the table. Even more miraculous to me is my husband who, through all my faults, happily comes home to me each night.

Thank you for helping me remember!

Karissa Knox Sorrell said...

Beautiful! Thank you for this.

SoliDeoGloria said...

I knew and loved Fr. Seraphim very much. Thank you for your beautiful prose.

Erin said...

Really lovely and rich thoughts. Thank you.

Anna said...

thank each of you for your kind words