Nothing But Flowers

I’m angry this morning.

I can’t really say why. There’s some ministry I’ve been doing that I would really like to talk about, but right now, don’t feel I can. It’s a ministry I’ve stumbled on to, an accident, the result of pure and utter chance. An act of God, something I’ve been led to.

And it feeds me. Deeply.

But I’m also angry. Not at anyone, not really at anything. I’m just … mad. At the circumstances of the world.

When I was at Georgetown University, working on my masters of Arab Studies in the School of Foreign Service, I noticed how well landscaped that little campus was. Gardens everywhere. In fact, after I graduated, I returned one day and noticed some small fish and duck ponds had been put in, and had been well landscaped. They looked so natural, so beautiful, so accidental. Like they’d been made by nature itself.

They hadn’t of course, since those little ponds – with their fish, and their frogs, and their water lillies and cattails – hadn’t been there the year before. I do remember a backhoe digging one of those pond sites out, actually.

Georgetown is a well cared for little campus.

But on a brick bridge leading from the courtyard of Red Square into the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, I noticed something on the shady side – a scrubby little plant growing straight out of the brick. There were several of them, all hanging on for dear life, shooting tendrils out and hanging on hard.

It’s easy to focus on the gardens, where beautiful flowers bloom. Where the plants are arranged artfully and carefully and cared for with love and devotion. But those flowers, they have to be planted and tended and watered and weeded and fertilized. We easily forget, as those flowers open and bloom to the sun, just how much work goes into making and keeping that garden. The planning, labor, and devotion needed.

Yes, blooming flowers may be the work of God, but it takes a lot of human hands to prepare that soil.

But those little plants growing straight out of brick, there’s the true tenacity and persistence of life! No hand tended those little plants. What little nourishment they found they extracted from cold, hard brick. They caught what water they could from the rain.

And they grew. In a place without soil, without care, without love, they grew.

There are people like this. People no one loves. People no one cares for. They struggle to grow in the most inhospitable places, with no direct light, water when it comes, and nothing resembling soil. And they grow. They can even flourish.

When Jesus says in Matthew 5 (and echoing Psalm 37), “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” I think he is referring to the people who aren’t given the kind of care and love and attention that we too often think is necessary to succeed. I think he means a hardscrabble people who struggle, and who frequently fail in their struggles, but struggle all the same.

The earth is theirs. They don’t need to conquer it. Because they grow and flourish almost anywhere without any obvious care.

I remember, long ago, in San Francisco, planting some sunflowers in the very sandy soil in the backyard of the apartment where we lived. One managed to struggle up, grew two who inches tall, and even blossomed – a tiny and pathetic attempt at being a sunflower. But it bloomed. Against all of the odds, it bloomed.

We like flowers. We ooh and ahh over them, impressed with their form, pleased with their beauty. We rip out the weeds. And, I sadly suspect that some maintenance crew was, at some point, ordered to rip out those plants sprouting from of that brick wall. After all, they probably distracted from the aesthetic appeal of clean, straight brick.

And that’s what makes me angry. We don’t look at those those plants and see the gritty, determined, amazing persistence of life. We don’t generally admire that. They are nature’s chaotic intrusion in the otherwise beautiful and well-ordered work of our hands. They are the mess in our well-sculpted and manicured world. So, we pull them out. We’d rather have the flowers, and nothing but flowers, in all their engineered and cared for and costly beauty.

Because flowers are all we seem to value.

3 thoughts on “Nothing But Flowers

  1. I often felt that way about weeds in the soy bean fields in the days when I “walked beans” to pull the weeds that devalued the crops. Weeds are nothing more than flowers that grow in the wrong places. Morning glory vines strangle the soy bean plants and sunflowers in the soy beans take away from the crop yield ratios so they needed to be removed before they overwhelm the crops that bring income to the farmers. Yet, people in the city plant these flowers along their fence rows. Sometimes I see these things as a metaphor of my self. I often felt like I was no more than the weed that was pulled out, not because there is no beauty or value, but because I was in the wrong place or wrong time for people to see the value I offered. Milk weed is another problem in the soybean fields, yet it is planted by those who want to have butterfly gardens. Over time, I have realized that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that even those of us who feel as if we are weeds, plant seeds and scatter new life as we travel where God sends us, even if that is to places others never see or take time to discover. I have learned to love the wild rose, it is never planted in the formal gardens, yet it blooms where it is planted much like its Hybrid T cousins and can be found allover the country in road ditches, woodlands, and wherever the seeds are scattered and is a beautiful surprise that one never expects among the grass and thistles and milkweeds. It is also a weed, but has a great value as the state flower of Iowa among other states that realize its true beauty is not in the flower, but in its ability to adapt, change and grow where it is planted.


  2. Playing landscaper’s advocate for a moment (realizing it’s well off the main point): If the grubby little plants growing from the side of the brick bridge are pulled out, it may be less for aesthetics and more for the integrity of the bridge. Such plants can dig into cracks and other faults in the structure and widen them over time. I learned some hard lessons over the years about the damage otherwise attractive plants can do. I don’t mean for this to refer to any human counterpart in your analogies. I wish all hardscrabblers well, and have been known to help carry some of their burdens. (Some might nowadays consider me a bit of a hardscrabbler myself, though at the softer end of the scale.) And there may be some structures we want to see reduced to dust by the patient subversion of those growing in the cracks.

    I first went to the Georgetown campus in the late 70’s, where my wife was attending a conference on childbirth education, amidst flocks of counterculture home-birth enthusiasts like her. I don’t remember the landscaping then as all that elaborate — I think colleges have made a bigger deal of it in the years since; that’s certainly true of the one where I live. The thing which caught my attention was quite different. I happened to walk past the infamous steep steps going down to the Potomac which featured in the film “The Exorcist”, which was filmed on the campus.


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