The world is beautiful
with a rainbow of flowers,
pink, red and white
and sunflowers that are
yellow with brown faces.
The church is beautiful
with a rainbow of people,
pink and red, white and yellow
and beautiful with brown faces.
And in just a minute,
the church too will be
beautiful with flowers.
Brought by our hands,
grown by the sun and watered by the rain,
A sign of hope that spring has come again,
and summer is not far behind.
Carried by our children and youth,
our own sign of hope in this world.
If you are here today,
where from near or far, whether at home or away
Whether you are new or have long been planted in this place
Whoever you are, because you are here, you are welcome!
Chalice Lighting Children of the Church School
We kindle the chalice of our community
It is the light in our eyes
It is the warmth of our hearts
It is the fire of our passion for justice
It is the candle that welcomes us home.
The Flower Communion
I want to begin today by telling you a story about the beginnings of a tradition that started in our religion many years ago. And my story is about a man named Reverend Norbert. I bet you didn’t know that my official title is Reverend Allison, just like Reverend Norbert, because the Reverend part means you’re a minister, and Reverend Norbert was a minister far away in a country that used to be called Czechoslovakia, and is now called the Czech Republic.
Reverend Norbert had the biggest Unitarian church ever – thousands of people went there to listen to his message of love and acceptance. It was a very big Unitarian church in a very dangerous time – a time of war. Because at that time in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and all over Europe, Jews and the Roma people, sometimes called Gypsies, were being persecuted – and it was becoming very difficult for them to practice their ways in safety.
So Reverend Norbert saw the trouble they were in and invited them to come to his church where for a time they could be safe. And so they did, and the church grew and grew and became known as a safe harbour for miles around. He wanted to do everything he could to make his church a place of peace.
Now it was part of the tradition in his Unitarian church to have communion. That’s when you tell the story of the last supper that Jesus ate before he died, and break bread and drink wine in church. But not everybody could share in the bread and wine. Some people don’t drink wine or alcohol at all, and others had come from religious traditions where they didn’t do that. Still others didn’t like to take communion because it reminded them of Jesus’ death and they wanted to remember his life.
So Reverend Norbert got to thinking “How can I have a “communion” (which means a sharing) so that everyone can take part; children, grown-ups, people who like the story of Jesus and people who don’t – people who are all beautiful and yet all different and unique? In the springtime in Czechoslovakia, it was very beautiful – as it is here. And as he was thinking, he looked out the window and it was spring and what do you think he saw outside? Flowers everywhere! Pink and yellow flowers, white and blue flowers… and he decided to have a flower communion where everyone would bring a flower to church, and everyone would go home with a different flower, to remind them of each other’s beauty.
You have all come here today bringing a flower – and there are extra flowers in case you forgot or it’s your first time here and you didn’t know about the flowers. While the music plays and the basket is passed, we ask you to take a different flower home – one that will remind you of the gifts that someone else brings to this church. So when you leave the church today with your flower, I hope you think about the person who brought it and how special and different and beautiful they are – just like the flower they brought. And maybe you will take a walk around the church and see the beautiful flowers in our gardens, too!
Now let us ask in our own words, the blessing upon the flowers that Rev. Norbert wrote all those many years ago and then while Rachel is playing, Maya, Jude, Stefan, Laura, Nathan and Samantha will bring your flowers to you…
Spirit of Life,
We ask that you bless these flowers that we will share.
May they remind us of the beauty in each man, woman and child.
May they teach us that though we may be different,
we are all beautiful in our own way.
May they remind us to admire each other’s uniqueness,
even as we remember that inside we are all the same.
May they also remind us that friendship, family and community
are places where everyone is invited to grow, gardens where together
we create even more beauty than we could on our own.
and that this church is where we learn to love the differences as well as the ways that we are the same…
May we remember not to compare ourselves to others,
But to celebrate each one’s uniqueness as a special gift,
And may these flowers help us remember
that whatever we can do, great or small,
everyone is needed to serve the Spirit of Life,
and to make the garden beautiful. Amen.
The flowers are distributed…
Unison Reading Each one of us is unique and special,
Each one of us is beautiful and good.
We bring a flower to remind us of our own beauty
We receive a flower to remind us of each others’ beauty.
Offertory (the people form a bridge under which the children pass as they go)
The beautiful Unitarian tradition of Norbert Capek’s “Flower Communion” that we have just shared was created in a time of war to bring sanctuary and safety to everyone who needed it. In sharing his “communion,” we remember Rev. Capek as one of our heroes, a person whose name and deeds live on long after his death. It is important to honour his example and to speak the names and stories of other heroes throughout history, whether they be 25, 50, 200 or 2000 years ago.
They may be heroes who have persevered for justice, stood up patiently to oppressors and inspired millions with their example, through feats of extraordinary bravery, generosity, physical or spiritual endurance. Or those whose remarkable creations – be they great works of art or music, prophetic words or deeds remain to bless us long after their lives have ended. These heroes deserve our admiration, but Rev. Norbert’s flower communion was not created to celebrate them, nor are they the ones who inspire me on a regular basis. That task, dear friends, lies with you.
The poet Adrienne Rich writes:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save;
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who, age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary
power, reconstitute the world.
So today I turn my thoughts to just a few of my heroes, who, “perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world” every day. The names may have been changed to not embarrass the inspirational. But really, they are composites of many heroes I have been privileged to meet in my life.
Let me tell you the story of an everyday hero who survives; who is only 8, who has had a beginning none of us would want, born into a fractured world, with a heart, mind, body and spirit wounded and wanting – and still goes outside and plays and is kind to his dog, struggles and is teased in school and tries hard anyway – who loves the moms who are raising him and grows up to forgive the parents who abused and abandoned him, who has more burdens at 8 than most of us will ever experience in our lives, and despite it all is capable of such profound kindness that it brings tears to his mothers’ eyes; who turns into a wonderful teenager and an even finer young man who makes this whole community proud.
Let me tell you the story of an everyday hero who perseveres – whose teenage daughter grows up to date that young man, which, in of itself is not so bad, except that they were only 16 when they met and that is way too young for just about everything that is probably going on. A hero who listens to her kids and tries to keep them standing as their world is kicked out from under them; who has given only love and known only betrayal, who is generous of heart and knows smallness of spirit, who doesn’t know where the money will come from next month, next week or even tomorrow, who feeds the kids and the cat and the hamster as she forgets to feed herself.
Who is a fierce lioness standing over her children even as she trembles inside, who hangs in and hangs on, and when she has to, even hangs up – knowing that the love and values and time and effort she put into her children will be worth whatever she has to take. Who carries her hearth with her wherever she goes, spreads a soft blanket in front of the fire, and makes glad welcome to all those good spirits who are holding her now.
Let me tell you the story of the everyday hero who struggles. Who came here alone, with a small suitcase containing tea and ginseng from home and the hopes and dreams of her parents and grandparents bundled tightly inside. Who is shy and worries she doesn’t belong but tries her best anyway, who struggles with feelings of unworthiness and isolation, but manages to find the courage to reach out to that teenage daughter who now sits beside her in Intro to Psychology class in their first year together at McMaster, and makes a lifelong friend. Friends who can call each other at 3 am when none of it seems worth it and the pressure is all too much, friends who make each other feel a little less alone. Everyday heroes, girlfriends who have each other’s backs for 40 years as it turns out.
Let me tell you the story of the everyday heroes who wait, who dwell in that place of not knowing, and are often not even able to act. Who do not know what is to come – what the ending of the story will be. Who have suffered some grievous injury or enduring struggle and cannot see the life that might yet lie ahead – the person in a wheelchair who takes 3 hours to do what you and I do without thinking – wake up, get washed, use the bathroom, get dressed and eat breakfast. And who is finally able to sit in their wheelchair in the back of that class, dictating notes to themselves with a quiet sense of triumph.
Let me tell you the story of the everyday heroes who resist, who don’t lose their sense of humour even when confined to hospital for an abysmal length of time, even when that hospital feels like an unjustifiable prison, who again and again make me laugh in the middle of a psychiatric ward or an addiction centre, that I know are trying to help and yet can still be two of the most depressing places in the world.
The hero who day after day fights an unwinnable fight or speaks up for the voiceless not because they believe the cause is won but just because it’s the right thing to do. The hero who advocated for the ramp and the elevator that welcomes everyone into the classroom.
Everyday heroes who have the courage to be vulnerable, to say “I need help,” who wake up depressed more often than not, whose very act of getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other is a tremendous display of determination, who are waiting for the cloud to pass, then discover it seems to cover the entire sky, who know that the sun is still there but cannot feel it just yet, but keep on going because they believe they are loved and know they are connected, even though they just can’t feel it right now. Who couldn’t make it to class today but will get up and make it to Student Wellness Services tomorrow.
Let me tell you the story of the grandfather of that person, an everyday hero who lives, whose act of heroism is simply to be alive for another day. Who lives far from any family and dwells with dignity in the loneliness and insulting infirmity of old age, who has seen loves and lives come and go, who in his youth was called to bravery, in his middle years grew wisdom, and now displays a patience and optimism that would shame the young and healthy.
He is delighted by the smallest kindness and his hug and the twinkle in his eye are a reminder of the vibrant man that lives within. He faces it all – disability, diminishment, solitude and regret, as well as the bittersweet taunt of memory, knowing that there is far more water under the bridge than before it, yet still stands facing tomorrow’s new beginning, giving of himself to make the world a better place.
Let me tell you the story of an everyday hero who remembers, whose husband was that grandfather’s best friend, who has lost the companion of her youth and the father of her children, and who misses him every day as much as she ever did; who carefully wrote and mailed thank you notes to all the doctors and nurses after her husband died. Who gives of her time and money and kindness to help others, thinks of self seldom, who counts herself lucky to have been so well-loved, busies herself with living, and says goodnight to a picture until, perhaps, someday they meet again.
Let me tell you the story of an everyday hero who serves, who got the note the widow sent and his classmate who went to Africa and fell in love with the continent and never came back. Who goes to work and takes loving care of patients before, during and after anyone hears the words AIDS, SARS, Ebola or Corona Virus; because that is what doctors and nurses do – and ends up giving his life in selfless service to others before anyone can figure out what happened.
And the everyday hero who cares – who raises her own grandchildren in Africa because all her children have died of AIDS and that is just what grandmothers do. Who carries her grandchild over many miles in the blazing sun to get medicine, care and comfort. Who meets and thanks the doctor from Canada who stayed and who tries in his local community, day by day, act by simple act, to make a difference in one life, in one city, in the world.
Let me tell you the story of the everyday hero who inspires – not just now, when the world knows her name, but then, when no-one had heard of her; who cares that the sun under that African sky is getting hotter and the land drier, who worries about the refugees fleeing every kind of human and planetary disaster; who was a movement of one, a school child holding a sign saying “Climate Strike” in Swedish and taking a stand for our Mother the Earth and who, in her silence spoke louder and drowned out all the noise that adults make.
Let me tell you the story of the everyday hero who shines. Who is looking cancer square in the eye for not the first but the second time, who had a job she loved teaching English to those refugees, but now takes up the work of encouraging every single other person she meets on the oncology ward; who leaves a trail of laughter, joy and kindness behind her like fairy dust everywhere she goes. Who faces a terminal diagnosis with more optimism and hope than many people feel in their entire lifetime and who creates works of beauty with her hands to warm, delight and adorn others.
Let me tell you the story of an everyday hero who hopes. Who lies in a hospital bed, knowing that her time on this earth is finite and may be counted in smaller measures than any of us care to consider, who is doing the hard, hard work of forgiveness, of letting go, of leaving behind, who can still make me laugh, and with difficulty rises up in her bed to hear the latest gossip and demand to be included, to give good advice, to encourage the weak and chastise the bully. Whose dearest wish is to just go home so she can make a few more cuddly dolls to send to those same orphans in Africa whose grandmothers care for them, who is trying, amid a landscape of pain and medical intervention to squeeze every last drop of meaning and inspiration and kindness and goodness out of her life.
Let me tell you the story of the good healers who tend her, and the loving family who support each other, and the angels of kindness who miraculously find and surround them all.
And finally, let me tell you the story of the everyday hero who tends. Who listens patiently to the spouse or lover or friend with empathetic silence and a comforting hug, who takes out the garbage, both literally and figuratively, who can bear whatever needs bearing, whose small acts of thoughtfulness keep the world afloat, make all things bearable, who makes his loved one breakfast or a simple cup of tea, just to make life easier, who tends the garden of love just because love is all there is, and it means everything.
Of the woman who gets up every day and cares for her elderly parent, because that is what daughters do – and of the caring man who gives her respite and a hug at the end of the day. Of the couple who simply love each other, and made of their love a life and a family – who held firm against a tide of family or societal disapproval and simply found the courage to love, to prevail, to be and stay together until the world catches up.
Of the millions of people the world over who are simply decent and kind, loving and strong, patient and courageous, spectacular in their simple humanity, the people who love and hold and lose and grieve, and keep on loving even though they know it can never be forever, and who, “with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world” every day of our lives.
These are my heroes. They are each and every one of you and all of us. The philosopher William James says “We live in a world that is uncertain of being saved.” If this is so, then every act of daily heroism saves us. Every one of us has our part to play in reconstituting the world, and each act of heroism is as great and as necessary, as important and as essential as any other.
Today we celebrate a flower communion of recognizing and encouraging each other’s strength and beauty and of saying “Yes” to life, and “Yes” to each other. I hope that when you return home today, you take the message of the flower you were given with you – the gift of knowing that behind its giver is a story, and that story is heroic – that your story, too is heroic, and that we come together in this beautiful garden of community – to remind each other of that every day that we are given.
I cast my lot with you
“who, age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary
power, reconstitute the world.”
So may it be.