Interdependence

Communion is not something we talk about often here. It is a word with strong associations. The obvious one is to the Christian ritual of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Some of you will have positive associations with this kind of communion from another faith community. Others may bring negative associations and be more than a bit uncomfortable finding that word in our Unitarian lexicon. 

Still others, with the nearly clean religious slate that comes of growing up in our essentially secular society, will be curious and open to whatever comes. 

Well, this communion does not involve a deity and it does not metaphors of blood or flesh. It turns instead to the truest meaning of the word communion: from its Latin root ‘mutual participation’, we join together in participation, in cooperation, and in love. 

Norbert Capek, the Czech Unitarian minister who, with his wife, created the “flower communion” service was trying to get away from the oppressive Catholic tradition that dominated his religious environment. In fact, he preferred to call our celebration the “flower festival.” We’ve ended up with the word ‘communion’ and I think that’s a good thing – I am loath to give up useful words to more conservative traditions. Communion is about sharing lives together. It is about being together – with all our differences – as one people. Flower communion provides a powerful symbol for that connection. 

Flowers reach something deep within… They help us to mark the deepest feelings and transitions of our lives: love, marriage, illness, and loss. 

As we take in their beauty, we see why flowers have meant so much to us. With their vibrant colours, their gentle, sensuous shapes, their smells. They seem so improbable! How can we not be astounded by them? Flowers are part of the experience of the natural world that helps us to move outside of ourselves. 

At the same time as I speak of the wonder of flowers, and we reflect on the reading that speaks of flowers as an extravagant gift of nature, I feel a bit torn. I feel pulled away from this sense of gratitude and awe – from this deeply spiritual perspective – by knowledge and rationality. 

Our ancestors looked up in the sky and they saw celestial beasts and gods. In flowers, they saw God’s artistry and generosity. I envy them the awe that comes from experiencing the natural world without the lens of science. In some way, I wish that I could look upon a flower and simply wonder at its beauty and thank God for this undeserved gift. 

And I also want to say that the scientific view can unveil new depth and new meaning in the wonders of the world. It can reveal new stories to inspire us. 

The story of flowers began many millions of years ago when plants developed sexual reproduction. The earliest sexual plants needed to find some way to transfer germ cells between individual plants – and that’s not so easy when you are anchored in one place. 

And so, they came up with the innovation of using the wind to carry pollen from one plant to another. But plants needed some way to catch the dusty pollen from the passing breeze and so, over time, they developed a sort of sticky sap. 

Then something surprising and important happened: a few insects discovered that some of the sap produced by plants was good to eat. While an insect dined, it accidentally picked up pollen, and then carried to the next plant! The plants gained a better way to transfer pollen. The insects were fed. Insects and plants had entered into a special and different kind of relationship. 

As the millennia passed, plants continued to change. They developed ever more beautiful flowers to attract insects. Insects developed better ways to carry pollen and benefit the host plants upon which they relied. The intricate dance of interdependence between insects and flowers has continued for millions of years. The relationships have deepened: some plants and insects have even come to rely on one another exclusively for their very existence. 

This is not a story that speaks of a divine gift of beauty to us – but it is a sacred story nonetheless. It is a story of beings working together to create and sustain life; and it is a story of the remarkable beauty that arises from that relationship. It is a story that tells us that we need not do it all on our own – that we need not walk through this life alone! It is a story of communion. 

The flowers stand before us – beautiful in all their wild variation. It’s easy to arrange flowers if they’re all the same – as it is easy to be in communion with those who are just like us. The challenge is to create beauty and harmony amid diversity – to have diversity without divisiveness. 

Diversity means that we may not agree – even on things that are important to us. Diversity means that our congregation will never be exactly what we are most comfortable with. I hear the strains of this tension often in our inclusive religious faith. I hear that our music is too new and too traditional. I hear our services are too informal and too formal. I hear that we are too theistic and not theistic enough. Diversity means that we will always be too something for somebody. 

When you’ve finally got a great bouquet of flowers arranged just right, try adding a flower you didn’t expect! Diversity means change – it means that there will always be new differences to face. 

This radically inclusive faith is not about sameness! It is about embracing diversity and embracing change. “We need not think alike to love alike” said Unitarian hero Francis David. This is the radical position of Unitarianism. We insist that sameness is worse than boring – it inhibits us from achieving our potential. We know that from our differences and contrast, something magnificent can emerge. We know that peace and justice can grow only if we all learn to embrace differences. 

We commit ourselves to struggle with the discomfort of welcoming and loving those who are different from us – to coming together in community and striving to enter into true communion – true interdependence – with one another. 

We know it is hard. We know we are imperfect. If I am white and you are black, if I am rich and you are poor, if I am straight and you are gay, we may look at each other and see only our differences. We fail more often than we succeed. But we accept our failures and try again. This is a sacred purpose. 

Norbert Capek introduced the flower communion in 1923 in the Unitarian church he founded in Czechoslovakia – a church that eventually grew to over 3,000 members to become the largest Unitarian church in the world. After the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, Capek remained in his homeland. He would not be silenced by the Nazis and, although he knew that his life was in danger, he would not abandon his people even when those close to him begged him to leave. 

Capek died in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. To the end, he remained grateful for his blessings – a source of strength and consolation to those around him. He never lost his faith. Shortly before his death, he wrote these words: 

"It is worthwhile to live and fight courageously for sacred ideals. Oh, blow, you evil winds, into my body's fire. My soul, you'll never unravel. Even though disappointed a thousand times or fallen in the fight, and everything worthless seem, I have lived amidst eternity. Be grateful, my soul. My life was worth living. " 

May we be guided by the knowledge that in diversity is beauty, possibility, and hope. May we - who are more alike than flower and insect - learn to welcome interdependence – to enter into communion. And may we, “though disappointed a thousand times,” never lose our faith in the great vision we hold so dear.