If you were to look outside my office window, you would see that the forsythia bushes are currently in bloom. Over the next few days, little yellow flowers will cover the ‘brown sticks’ protruding from the ground. These flowers will be around for a few weeks and then will then disappear. In our nation’s capital, the cherry blossoms are expected to reach peak bloom over the weekend, lasting just a few days. I am also reminded of the excitement around the city in September, when Fester, the corpse plant cultivated by the Franklin Park Zoo, was expected to bloom – it’s flower lasts only a day or two – but, alas, it never flowered. That is the nature of flowers – here today and gone tomorrow.
What could possibly be the benefit of something that only lasts but a moment? While the flowers that adorned the sanctuary on Easter morning were beautiful and fragrant, they will likely be only a memory in a few weeks. While arrangements of cut flowers and funeral sprays can be pressed and saved, they will wilt and wither far too quickly. Still, with such an ephemeral inventory, floral shops and nurseries accounted for more than $26 billion in annual sales last year. To put that figure in perspective, it is more than twice the income of the National Football League.
Flowers are not an experience, like a vacation in Cancun. Flowers are not a consumable, like a dinner at Top of the Hub. Flowers are frivolous, a bit of whimsy in the world. Perhaps that is why we value them so greatly. They have little utility or function. They are just pretty to look at. Jesus put it this way:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:27
Flowers serve as a reminder of the limitless imagination of God. There are over 400,000 plant species across the world (which is more than the number of bird, butterfly and bee species combined) which have been conceptualized and created by God. 400,000 species – with multiple varieties – of something unnecessary for our existence. Isn’t God amazing?
The flowers all around us ought to remind us of God’s love for us. Our landscapes could be covered with green leaves (taking for granted that we need the plants’ chlorophyll to complete the process of photosynthesis which, in turn, scrubs our atmosphere of carbon dioxide and replenishes it with oxygen), but splashes of violet, rose, lilac, goldenrod and periwinkle dazzle our eyes. This is simply because God wanted to give us colors. This is because God loves us so much that He wanted us to enjoy and not simply exist. This is because God is greater than we can imagine.
God created delight in our world for no purpose other than our enjoyment. Yes, flowers will wither. But in time, others will take their place, bringing beauty and blithe spirits to those who notice them. Sometimes, the function of an item in God’s creation is nothing more than to bring joy. May we all appreciate the unnecessary diversity of the Almighty’s design this spring and always.
As I stood with my wife in a stranger’s backyard last Friday, I was gripped with a troubling question: when did my little girl grow up? There she was, beautifully adorned in her formal dress with a group of ever-so-slightly less beautifully adorned classmates, taking pictures and getting ready to head off for their Junior Prom. How did we get here? A few days ago, she was born. It seems like it was only yesterday that she learned to walk and then to run. It couldn’t have been all that long ago that she started school, but now, as I stand watching her laugh and pose with her friends, I realize that this is but the first in a list of events that will take place over the next year. Then she’ll be gone.
Unfortunately, I’m not ready for this. Maybe it is because she is our only girl or maybe it is because she is so fiercely independent; all I know is that many tears (some of joy and some of sadness) will roll down her mother’s and my cheeks throughout the intervening months. Despite the fact that Rebekah is 17 years old and 64 inches tall, I still see her as a two foot tall ray of sunshine with a missing front tooth, a fashionable purse and crooked bangs.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3–4 (NIV)
No matter what happens to her mother and me, Rebekah will be fine. As her aunt commented on Facebook© when she saw the pictures of Beck in her prom dress, she is a ‘beautiful girl…inside and out!’ We must have done something right, or more precisely God must have enabled us to do something right, for she has a beautiful soul. In the days that led up to the dance, Bekah’s ‘invisible” qualities radiated – from her willingness to alter a hand-me-down dress to her joy in doing her own hair and makeup. She invested her resources in the treasures that last long after the memories of a night at the Copley fade.
In a world where hemlines are creeping higher and necklines are plunging ever deeper, I am proud of many of the fashion decisions my teenage daughter has made (don’t take this to mean that I agree with all her choices – I don’t). I appreciate that she tries to maintain a balance in modesty and modern fashion. I am even prouder of the choices she has made deepening her inner beauty. She invests some of her energies on looking good and some of her energies on being good. I am glad I have had a chance to witness all of that.
I am glad that she has taught me a thing or two, too, along the way. Teenagers are not the only ones who are tempted to value outward appearances over inner beauty. Sometimes I am guilty of judging a book by its cover and missing the depth of character within.
One of the many things I like about living in the city is the ubiquitous presence of public art. There are giant baby heads behind the MFA and a giant pear on Columbia Road next to the KFC©. There are the ducks in the Public Garden and Mayor Kevin White at Faneuil Hall. There is even a mural painted on the gas tank next to the expressway. The other day, as we were driving past the Ashmont T station, my youngest asked where the sleeping moon statue was before it was at the station and why it was there. I said, to the first question, that it was commissioned for the station and, to the second question, that there doesn’t have to be a reason.
That is the wonderful thing about art, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to have a reason for being, it doesn’t have to tell a story and it doesn’t have to have a function to be appreciated. I may not understand what makes for great art (case in point, the Oscar©-winning movie Birdman) and conversely great art doesn’t need to be always understood. Statues can be erected simply to add something beautiful to the landscape; poems can be written simply to add something beautiful for the ear. Art does not need a reason.
Sometimes I wonder if the Church has lost many of her artists. Are there things – songs, dances, poems, sculptures and feasts – that people of faith have ceased to produce because of the false logic that they do nothing to advance the gospel? Is a sunset diminished because it is spiritually unnecessary? Is the roar of the ocean diminished because it does not speak words that lead to salvation? Is the choreography of a double-play diminished because it is secular amusement? Is there a place for art in the Kingdom of God?
God is an artist. He created the universe from the formless and void. He is described as a potter and an author. He enables us to experience colors and textures. His word designed varieties of flora and fauna the greatest human minds could never fully comprehend. Without a doubt, some things we see and hear are given to us by God simply because they are beautiful. In the extravagance of God, the weeds have greater sartorial splendor than the richest of kings:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:27 (NIV)
Not everything needs to have a function. Every gathering need not include a Bible study. Every handshake need not include the transferring of a gospel tract. Sometimes some things are simply meant to be beautiful and to point us to the God who first expressed true beauty to us. I don’t want to live in a place where art is purely functional; I desire that some art be superfluous and whimsical. I desire that there be a place in the Church for that kind of art, too. After all, some of God’s greatest masterpieces can be found within its walls.