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Summer Metaphors

By Rev. Sheila Graves

So…April showers have brought May flowers, and June blossoms, and the natural wealth of summer. And for centuries, the arrival of lush growth and color has been celebrated in spiritual traditions of the northern hemisphere, from Pagan to Christian.

But while we’re all familiar with the concept of God’s being expressed thru Mother Nature, we are perhaps less familiar with the ways in which She offers us metaphorical reflections of our human spiritual processes.

We’re encouraged to search far away and high above for Truth, while Wisdom calls us to restore and transform ourselves and the world through ordinary human experiences. And nature is a major vehicle for this. Even if we’re not natural gardeners or die-hard campers we can take a journey through our own spiritual experiences and processes simply by walking thru a garden, a field, or even just looking out our window.

So let’s start with a common sight—a flower beginning to open, leaves and petals wrapped tightly around its beauty and possibility. How intently it must need to send the message to bloom against the resistance of the cradling green, in order to cause its protections to burst apart, so that it might emerge and become its full self!

Thus, we’re taught by flowers and trees to push beyond what seems to hold us in…until we’re ready to open in heart and mind. And if you’re thinking but it’s a plant’s inherent directive to bloom! Well, it’s ours also, and we resist every bit as much (maybe more) than, say, a tulip bulb pushing against the cold and earth. Thus does our urge to bloom push against early teachings and measures that, like the earth, were put in place to keep us safe.

In every moment, new information comes into our world and our Knowing, and earlier protections diminish. These protections were the ways of thinking that held us in, like the sepal or the calyx of a flower. But they have to be thrust open from within by the flower’s own urge to become. And like the flowers, we have to lose ourselves in one moment in order to find ourselves in the next. As quantum physics would phrase it: in each moment, the universe is switching on and off, dying and being reborn.

Then there’s the endless variety of plants. Flowers reach up to the heavens or curl along the earth…some petite and gentle, some sturdy and confident, some with great flamboyance…all reflecting the myriad differences among humans, and all open to  whatever might come.

And, in this vast and breathtaking array of beauty on our earth, no two flowers or plants are ever exactly alike, even two from the same stalk—just as no two people are alike, even identical twins. In this is reflected our individuality, and that what is wisdom for one is not necessarily wisdom for another. We are creations of so many streams of influence, and each of us has our own particular way of embracing Life.

Plants also experience natural phenomena like storms, drought and cold, throwing off their “expectations” of growth. Now, this time of year, we look outside our windows and see grass turning green and rising again…reflecting that even after challenging experiences of health, finance, emotion, and more, there’s still life in us and, if we let ourselves, we keep growing.

Nature’s constant awakening asks of us the ongoing fruitfulness of our being, allowing our minds and hearts to become fertile fields, giving direction to our lives that contributes to the world around us…and models the truth of Wordsworth’s often quoted words: ‘Tis Nature’s privilege, through all the years of this our life, to lead from joy to joy: for She can so inform the mind that is within us, that all which we behold is full of blessings.

Flowers also have preferred times to grow, keeping the earth in color and life all year long. Spring beauties, trillium, violets and heal-all carpet spring woods. Tulips, iris, roses and daylilies greet our summers. Winter cress, phlox and crown vetch decorate our June highways. Chrysanthemums, asters and ironweed inspire our autumns with deep rich color.

In our lives, too, there are times for rest and inner preparation…and times for expression, strengths and inspiration to come forth, encouraging us to respect and delight in the unfolding of our lives until the time of our passing.

And wildflowers and weeds, those plants that don’t seem to fit into our ideas of beauty and worth, serve and seed life just as surely as those we’ve come to treasure. May they remind us that we have assigned worldly value with the understanding we might have in the moment, but that this understanding will probably change over time. So those of us that haven’t always fit in—our time to contribute will come, just as many “weeds” have been discovered to be healers, like nettle, St. Johnswort, and foxglove.

And I don’t know all the steps in any particular food chain, but I know they’re all quite necessary. I know that if we casually destroy just one small link, plant or human, because we consider them weeds, we begin a process of destruction that reaches to the corners of the world. So those people whom we might consider weeds are every bit as important a part of humanity as the beautiful magnolias, or the sweet lilacs. Everyone has a gift to offer, and our role is to facilitate that offering.

When we move our plants, that they might grow more green and fragrant, we’re reminded that we’re renewed when we choose to nurture ourselves in different “soil”…new friends, values and lifestyles. And that we, in turn, become the soil that nourishes others, with our new ways and words, spreading the richer beauty and aroma of our positive, kind, life-giving choices. We become the seeds and cones that start new ideas and possibilities of all kinds.

SO…when we pause and appreciate the natural world, we come home to a wisdom we’d known, yet had forgotten: that we are the place where the spiritual and the physical join—the marriage of body and spirit, heaven and earth, ever-reaching toward expressions of life and beauty.

When we appreciate what we see in Nature, and just as much in ourselves, we understand these words by poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil crushed. Yet for all this, nature is never spent……and neither are we.


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