Special occasions require beauty – living beauty. When we gather to remember, to bless, to consecrate, to reflect on the meaning of life – we desire living beauty – flowers and music.
I worked four years as sexton of my church. My job was to provide the basics for the occasions: clean floors, open doors, light, heat, sound system, and proper seating arrangement. My job was to be unnoticed. I took great pride in my job – making it possible for those responsible for the content of the services – Sunday worship, weddings, or memorial services, to concentrate on making the occasion as rich as possible. But as important as the people who led these services were, it was always the music and the flowers that conveyed the most emotional meaning to those present.
Churches are full of beauty – standing beauty: vaulted ceilings, painted murals, stained glass windows, carved woodwork – all created to inspire and edify the occupants of the space. But it is the beauty with life – the flowers and the real people singing and playing instruments that communicate the required deep emotion of the occasion. In part it is love – the love that goes into the preparation – the arrangements of the frail flowers cared for to be in their most glorious beauty at the moment of the gathering. And the selection and rehearsals by the musicians, having the experience to know from the vast repertoire of music, what would be just right for this occasion; making sure they were in one accord: their breathing, their phrasing, and the shaping of the music. It is love that does this.
I trust my granddaughter, Vita, to know what is most important. To her, there is nothing on earth as precious as a flower. Just before she was three years old, it was Christmas lights which she could now see from her car seat. But once spring came, flowers soon supplanted the lights which were still draped around bushes and on porches. And flowers have reigned supreme ever since. When she comes into the city we take walks around the neighborhood and always stop by the garden center. Her mother has taught her about “special” flowers – flowers people have planted to be left on the plant – or early blooming flowers that others will enjoy as they walk the same path through the woods. But she is allowed to pick up fallen petals, and always comes home with an incredible array.
My daughter has helped to organize The Prison Birth Project in western Massachusetts. Vita once asked about prisons and why people were put there. When told it was for people who had done really bad things, she said “like cutting down a whole tree full of special flowers?”
I trust Vita’s judgment. Flowers are special and those who grow them, care for their transport, and arrange them to enhance our special occasions do so with love.
My wife is a violinist. She plays many weddings, church services, and memorial services. When she comes home, she always talks about the people getting married, what the minister said, or the life of the person who died. She gets invested in these events. It is an act of love.
There are seamier sides to the two industries. Those of us who live in the northeast want our fresh flowers in the winter, and they must come from Colombia where the workers live in the green houses full of toxic chemicals. And much of the music industry still operates under the 19th century myth that it is those with huge egos that make the best music.
But the reality is that no one enters either field to make money. They enter the field because they have been touched by beauty – living beauty. And they want to be a part of it – to give that beauty to others. Next time you are at an important occasion, like a church service, a wedding, or a memorial service, go up and smell the flowers. Admire their arrangements, their colors, how they match their surroundings. Listen to the music and know that it comes from real people who are in love with what they are doing, giving their love to you.
This post was written in penance for an insensitive email I sent to Diana Trautwein in response to her wonderful post: Ribbons ‘n’ Roses — Reflections on Creative Arts as Ministry for The High Calling