I walked into church on Saturday afternoon for some practice time just as a member of the Flower Guild was putting her finishing touches on the altar arrangements for Sunday. I made a few admiring comments and she said that her purpose had been to recall the blood of martyrs by using the dramatic streaks of red gladiolus I was seeing, in honor of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, whose feast day it was that day and for Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast day came two days later.
Well, I’m sure you would have made that connection right away, but I admit it eluded me at first glance. Having read a charming book last year, however, called The Language of Flowers (an enjoyable beach read), I knew that flowers carry symbolic meanings for some, and gladiolus represent strength of character and honor. Red gladiolus seem like the perfect choice for three martyrs. Would anyone else on that Sunday morning have those bits of knowledge at hand? Probably not, but does that matter? Not at all, in my opinion. Our days are filled with small connections and invisible acts that enrich our lives without us even realizing it.
Several years ago I wondered aloud with a colleague about why I put so much thought into hymn choices, making key relationships with prelude and postlude music, thinking about meters for walking hymns and texts that are theologically sound, on top of relating the hymns to readings and liturgical seasons. Why bother? He assured me that the flow of the liturgy was enhanced and appreciated in ways that no one would ever be able to verbalize, and I took that heart. I remember now a conversation with another colleague about Evensong and other Daily Offices, and the beauty of simply knowing that prayers and music have been sung in cathedrals and monasteries on our behalf for hundreds and hundreds of years in some cases. Swirling around us at any given time is an invisible world of prayers and intentions.
We may not ever be aware of the tiny thoughts – red flowers or a prelude in C minor before a hymn in Eb Major – that thread through our lives, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. In our daily lives it might be something as simple as using cloth napkins at family dinners to communicate the importance of sitting down together for a meal. I, for one, am happy to think about the existence of those moments of subtlety versus conspicuousness, humility versus flamboyance, poetry versus prose. There is a place for all of these things in the Christian experience, so let’s not undervalue the many, many decisions made behind the scenes that lie beneath so much of what is communicated by our liturgies and our lives.