The Ministry of Flowers
May 25, 2003
O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, "Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously, so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, 'Ye are our gods'; for in thee the fatherless finds mercy."
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from them. I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
Reading from Swedenborg
The truth that goes with faith is spiritual light, and the good that goes with kindness is spiritual warmth. These two are related to each other in the same way as the two things in the material world that use these names. When they are together, everything on earth flowers; and in the same way, when kindness and faith are together, everything in the human mind flowers. The only difference is that on earth the flowering is the result of physical warmth and light, while in the human mind it is the result of spiritual warmth and light. Since this is a spiritual flowering, it involves wisdom and intelligence, and there is a correspondence between the two. That is why the human mind--in which kindness is united with faith, and faith with kindness--is compared in the Bible to a garden. This is the meaning of the Garden of Eden. (True Christian Religion #392.2)
The material universe is the embodiment and expression of the divine love and wisdom in natural forms. It is the created speech of the Lord, by which he reveals his own nature and his methods of creating, sustaining, governing, and blessing men. The idea that nature is a revelation of the divine mind is not, as is generally supposed, a vague and ideal fancy that means anything or nothing, according to the conceptions of human ignorance and caprice. The divine truth is more clearly and precisely expressed in the objects of nature than it can be in any artificial language. We do not merely hear a sound or see an arbitrary sign that suggests one, but we can see the processes and methods of the divine wisdom themselves. We can see the divine love in form, and the divine wisdom working out the purposes of love.
I know that saints and sages as well as sinners have banished the Lord from the universe, and think of nature as the creation of a simple act of omnipotence by a spoken word, finished in a moment, and destitute of any special spiritual meaning, or as something to which power has been given and stored up within itself to perform its operations. They regard it as a curious and beautiful piece of mechanism, a kind of perpetual motion, but having no voice of a supreme and ever-present intelligence.
Their sight is too dim to discern the glory of which the material universe is but the shadow; their ears are too dull to hear the finer harmonies that rise and fall and swell in perpetual anthems through flowing stream and whispering breeze, through the ocean's roar and the tempest's voice. The finer sense has long been lost that hears the still, small voice of morning and evening; that discerns heavenly wisdom in the noiseless dew, and perceives the secret mysteries of divine truth veiled in the soft texture of flowers, molded into their lovely forms, and flowing into expression through their pure and fragrant lips.
But this knowledge is being restored again. The key, so long lost, that unlocks the beautiful doors to these inner, lovely mysteries has been found, and as the mists of error dissolve at the coming of a new day, and man's faculties awake from the intoxication and stupor of self-love, he will open the doors of nature, and gain access to the gems of spiritual wisdom and the treasures of infinite love that lie garnered there awaiting his presence and possession. By the aid of this key, which is the correspondence between nature and spirit, let us try to understand what the Lord teaches us by the beautiful objects of nature mentioned in our reading.
"I will be as the dew unto Israel." Israel is the spiritual church, or a distinctly spiritual plane of human faculties. When man begins to acknowledge his evils to be sins against God, to strive to overcome them, and to act from a principle of love to the neighbor, which is true charity, he becomes Israel. He has wrestled with the angel of truth and received his blessing. He begins a distinctly new and higher life. He acts from new motives and he comes under new influences. The natural faculties represented by Jacob begin to blossom, and all his thoughts and affections assume new forms. He is to the merely natural man as the delicate forms of the blossoms are to the hard and rough stem of a plant.
The Lord promises that he will be to this state of man in his spiritual progress as the dew to Israel. The new spiritual affections denoted by Israel are watered and nourished by the divine truth represented by dew. If we regard this merely as a figure of speech, with only the vague and general meaning of the refreshing influence of the dew, we shall lose its special pertinence and force. We are to understand that in this state of spiritual life, the divine truth comes to us with all the characteristics and qualities that dew comes to the flowers, and that it performs the same uses to our spiritual natures that dew renders the plant.
Truth comes to us in many forms that are determined by our own state and the services it has to render us. It comes as a sword with which to smite our enemies--the false and evil principles that have gained possession of the mind; as an arrow to pierce them. It comes as light to illuminate our darkness; as water to wash away the impurities of evil and quench our thirst; as wine to exhilarate and cheer.
But in the state represented by Israel it comes as dew. It comes as gentle as the dew. There is no violence, no rushing as of a river, no leaping and dancing and laughing as in the mountain brook; there are no flaming splendors as in the rising of the sun. It comes without notice. Men cannot say, "Lo, here! or Lo, there!" (Luke 17:21). We cannot perceive its coming. It is a presence; it is a refreshing coolness. It is raised up from the earth on the soft wings of heat, leaving the impurities of the earth behind it. It broods over leaf and blade of grass and petal of flower, and offers its cool and refreshing cup to the parched lips of every blossom. And when every want is satisfied, it brings from the treasure house of the air gems of purest luster, hangs them upon every leaf and blossom and blade of grass, and even upon the useless weeds. It sows them broadcast over the fields with lavish abundance, and arrays all nature with brilliance more glorious than ever decked an Eastern monarch. This miracle of refreshing and beauty and splendor is worked in the silence and darkness of the night, and is constantly going on when winds are still and clouds have vanished.
"I will be as the dew unto Israel." So the divine truth comes to man in the silences of his inmost being, when the labors and the conflicts of the day have ceased; when the winds of human passion are still; when the clouds of doubt and error have vanished, and the stars of heavenly knowledge look brightly down to see and rejoice in the miracle that the Lord is working in the human soul, only with infinitely more delicacy, precision, and skill, and with larger refreshing and a lovelier beauty, imbuing our souls with his divine truth and adorning them with its glory.
"My doctrine," he says, "shall distill as the dew." Is it not a beautiful lesson? Let us be instructed and encouraged by it. When in the coming summer we see the refreshing that nature receives from the dew, and the landscape sparkling with diamonds in the morning sun, let us remember that this is a faint picture, drawn in coarse colors, of the miracle that the Lord will work in our own souls if we "take with us words, and turn to the Lord, and say unto him, 'Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously.'"
But the effects of this gracious influence of the dew of divine truth are revealed in the following clause of the text: "He shall grow as the lily." If these words mean anything; if they are anything more than a mere figure of speech, they teach us in the clearest and most beautiful way the excellence of every distinct step in our spiritual progress.
The changes wrought within us by regeneration are so covered up and concealed by the natural life and the material body that it is difficult to gain a clear and adequate idea of their nature and importance. They are to our spiritual faculties and to our life in the spiritual world as the secret processes that go on in the seed while it is in the ground are to the blossom. In our darkness, doubt, and difficulty of apprehension, the Lord says to us, "I will show you what the effect of my truth upon your spiritual nature will be when you return to me and receive my words into your hearts and lives. Look at this root; see how coarse and rough it is. There is no beauty in it; there is nothing you can discover in it that gives promise or hope of any loveliness of form or purity of color or delicacy of texture. And yet out of earth and rain and heat and light I will create one of the most beautiful forms in nature."
You watch the progress of this creation; you see the germ bursting the bulb; you see it push its way out of the ground; you admire the growth of the stalk. If you had never seen a flower, you might mistake the leaf for it. But no, the Lord says, this is only the preparation; there is something coming far more beautiful than that. The bud swells, the calyx begins to open its emerald doors, and you catch a glimpse of a purer color and a more delicate texture than stalk or leaf. Gradually the beautiful mystery opens before you. You see a form pure as the unstained snow expanding in delicate curves, filling the air with fragrance, and charming you with its loveliness.
"There," the Lord says: "as the blossom is to the root, so are even the first developments of a distinctly spiritual life to a merely natural life. So are spiritual truths to natural truths. So are spiritual affections to natural affections, except that the blossoms of heavenly wisdom exceed these earthly blossoms in loveliness of form, in purity and brilliance of color, and in sweetness of fragrance as much as mind excels matter. But here is a hint of the work that I am carrying on in every heart on which the dews of my truth descend, and which opens to their reception."
In flowers we have a demonstration of what beautiful results the Lord can effect by the simplest and the most apparently unpromising means. Every flower is a miracle wrought before our eyes. And it is wrought for the express purpose of teaching us something of the higher miracle that the Lord is continually in the effort to work within every human soul.
Reflect a moment upon the materials out of which these beautiful forms are organized. Suppose you had never seen an organized vegetable form. Could you find the stalk, the leaf, and the blossom of the lily in the black mould, in running stream or falling shower? Could you discover any of its forms in the evening breeze, in morning light and noonday heat? Put every force and substance in nature into the crucible; decompose and analyze and recompose their elements; scrutinize their primary forms with the microscope; apply to them every possible test, and could you get a hint of the rose or the lily, or even the blade of grass? No, not one. The wisest men with all their wisdom could not conceive of such a form. They would declare its creation to be impossible.
But we see that the Lord does work this miracle. And it should teach us to have faith that out of the unpromising materials of our natural life, he will produce correspondingly grand results. He weaves the delicate texture of the flowers, and distils their delicious aromas out of crumbling stones and the black mould of decayed leaves; out of vernal showers and summer dews. He paints them in all the hues of light, and quickens them into life with the breath of the sun's heat. And then he says to us, "You shall grow as the lily."
By these means he teaches us a great law of divine order, and demonstrates to us the methods by which he accomplishes his purposes. He is always in the effort to bring higher things out of lower. Everything that does not resist his purpose steps up and not down; unfolds into higher and lovelier forms; is commissioned to perform more important uses; and receives larger rewards. In the growth of the blossom he shows us how he is forming the spiritual mind. He shows us how it blossoms. He reveals to us the meaning of labor and the rough work of this life, and the use of our natural knowledge and experience. He intends that the labor of the forge, the mill, the office, and the household shall blossom into forms of heavenly wisdom. He intends that the dry details of business and daily duty shall rise into the consummate flower of lovely affections for wife, husband, and child, for neighbor and friend.
Our natural thoughts and affections are the ground, the carbon and oxygen, the chemical constituents that become organized into the glorious beauty of spiritual affections and thoughts. We cannot describe in words or fully illustrate by natural forms how excellent these will be. They cannot be revealed to the natural senses because these senses are not sensitive enough to discern them. "Eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard" (Isaiah 64:4, 1 Cor. 2:9). But the Lord uses the most beautiful of earthly things to give us a hint of the heavenly. He creates the pure, delicate, and lovely forms of flowers out of the coarse and rough substances of the insensate earth, and then tells us that our spiritual life will be as much more excellent than our natural life in delicacy of fragrance, in glory of color, and in loveliness of form, as the blossoms of the rose and lily surpass the coarse bulb and unattractive root.
The flowers not only teach us what we shall be, but also show us in the most clear and impressive manner that we cannot come into the full consciousness and actual possession of these attainments while we are in this life. No plant blossoms in the earth. The root remains there; but it sends up a stalk out of the ground and rises into a new world. Then the blossom springs out of that, and the fruit out of the blossom. Every distinct step in the growth of a plant is a resurrection. Here we have a beautiful example of our own progress. We are in the ground of the material body in this world, and great as our powers are, and lovely as our life may be, the highest attainments are only the swelling of the germs of our spiritual being. We are pushing out our roots, and storing up the materials for the spiritual forms into which we shall blossom when we are raised up. These materials, which are knowledges and affections, are so rich and lovely that we often mistake them for the final result that the Lord seeks to attain by means of them, and we content ourselves with obtaining the means of forming a spiritual life without ever using them.
But the lily teaches us a wiser lesson than this. It teaches us that every true step in life is the flowering of the step that preceded it. We shall blossom as the lily. It is impossible to carry the correspondence too far, or extend it into too many particulars. If we consider our spiritual being as a whole, we find that the spirit is the flowering of our natural faculties. It is our resurrection; it is getting out of the ground, out of its darkness and dreariness and confinement, and coming into a new world of light and warmth and freedom.
The air that "bloweth where it listeth" (John 3:8) can breathe upon us, and that air is the breath of the spirit that quickens every affection into new life. The sun whose light is divine truth can shine directly upon us, illuminate the soul, and give to every thought its color, as natural light gives to every flower its hue. Its warmth, which is the divine love, can penetrate into the substance of our being, and quicken every seed into a more vigorous and lovely unfolding. The horizon of thought enlarges, and the heavens lift into a grander dome.
Here, in the ground, everything touches and crowds upon us. Spiritual life is suffocated by the low and narrow walls. When we are raised up and blossom into the true forms of our nature, we can breathe freely; we can shine; we can get access to others, and they can get access to us; and the glow of affection and the play of intelligence can fill the house and the assembly. The life of regenerated men and women, compared with what it was before their resurrection, will be as the flowers of a luxuriant and highly cultivated garden to the earth out of which they grew. The Lord says today to every one of us, "Let the dew of divine truth fall upon your souls, and you will blossom as the lily."
Flowers not only teach us that we shall be raised out of the ground of the material body; they give us visual demonstration that the material body will not be raised. The seed is not raised into the stalk, the stalk into the leaf, the leaf into the blossom, and the blossom into the fruit. The seed dies, gives its life to the stalk, and is never raised up. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). The seed performs its use and dies. It is never raised up as a blossom, nor is there any instance in the creation where any organic form is raised up to life again, after having once served its use and died.
The flowers that now cover the earth will never be raised up again. So our material bodies, which are to the spiritual body as ground is to the plant, as the stalk is to the blossom, will never be raised up. The blossom cannot put off its beauty, divest itself of its form, change its delicate texture into the coarse, tough fiber of the wood, and become the stalk. Why should it? Creation never goes back. We hope better things for ourselves than that we shall ever crawl back again into the ground and become re-imprisoned in a material body. That would not be blossoming as the lily.
Flowers are not only the prophets of our resurrection from the material body; they also teach us some of the great laws of our spiritual progress. The blossom is formed of the finer substances of the plant, organized into a beautiful form and treasured up for a higher use. The blossom bears the same relation to the leaves as spiritual truth bears to natural truth. The blossom specifically corresponds to the first state of man's regeneration: that form or state of the mind in which our truths have become organized into heavenly states, and we are ready to apply them to the performance of heavenly deeds. Flowers are the last stage of preparation for the fruit. They are so beautiful because they perform so important a use; for it is a law of the divine order that everything should increase in beauty as it increases in use. Consequently, as the work of perfectibility goes on in the other life, the men and women who become angels will continue to increase in noble beauty and gentle, glowing loveliness to eternity. No dream of the greatest genius can equal the reality of what we may become, of what some are becoming and have become who once sat where you sit today.
The flowers also teach us a beautiful lesson of unselfishness. They give themselves to the formation of the fruit. They give their finest substances to nourish the tender germs of the fruit, and their bright faces and fragrant breath are beautiful symbols of the blessedness of an unselfish life. In the performance of their use, all that was most precious in them passes on into the fruit, and their life is continued there, while the gross body returns to the ground from which it was taken. They live in the seed that they have helped to form, and in this way they have a kind of immortality that teaches us the true nature of an unselfish deed, and prophesies of the immortality of man.
Regarded as individual objects, flowers fade and perish; but in their influence and in their powers of perpetuating themselves they never die. The flowers that preach to us from their pure lips will fade, and yet they will live forever. Their material substance will become dissipated, but their lovely forms will remain in our memories, and they will carry with them something of the beautiful lesson they teach. If we get no distinct principle of spiritual truth from their teaching, there may yet remain an influence, like their own fragrance, which will linger in our minds, pass into the composition of our nature, and become a part of our being.
There is a great difference between giving spiritual good to others and giving material good. When we give to another a material object, we part with it. A material thing impoverishes itself by what it contributes to the support of other forms. A blossom fades and falls as it gives its pure juices to nourish the tender germs of the fruit. Not so on the spiritual plane of life. No one can utterly divest himself of any spiritual possession. This is a glorious or terrible truth, according to the nature of our possessions. We cannot divest ourselves of a lie by telling it, of a lust by indulging it, or of a false principle by communicating it. We may fight against an evil desire until it becomes quiescent and no longer asserts itself; but it remains within, and cannot be entirely eradicated.
According to the same law of our nature, we do not part with a thought or a truth by giving it to others. We may give the same truth a thousand times, but it still remains ours. Instead of losing its luster and fading away by communicating it, it grows brighter and more distinctly our own. The affections we lavish on those we love multiply and enrich our own natures. Every time we communicate a true thought or an unselfish affection, the promise is fulfilled, "Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, and running over" (Luke 6:38). This law extends to every possession in the spiritual world. If we give away as a token of our love a flower that blooms in our garden, a more beautiful one springs forth in its place. As spiritual beings we lose by withholding, we grow poor by hoarding; we become enriched by giving.
The flowers that will blossom around us in the heavenly paradise grow from the seeds planted in our spiritual natures in this life. We are planting the seeds now. Every new spiritual truth we learn and bring into living connection with ourselves will grow there and blossom into varied and endless beauty.
It is sometimes said, "We brought nothing into this world, and we can carry nothing out of it." It is true we brought nothing with us but the capabilities of our being; but when we leave it, we shall carry everything with us that we ever really possessed. Every influence, every truth, every affection is a seed. As the flowers that blossom today contain all the substances of the earth, all the light of many days, all the fragrance they could distill from ground and air, so we shall carry into the other life all the treasures we have been able to lay up in our minds while we remained here.
All the strength we have been able to hoard from labor, all the patience from suffering, all the trust from disappointment, all the courage from danger, all the meekness from defeat, all the humility from sin, all the affection from society, home, and kindred, and the contacts of life, all the truths we have learned from parent and teacher and companion, from church and books, from earth and sky--all these, of every form and quality, are the ground and the seeds that will grow out of it to nourish us with their substance and delight us with their beauty. To every seed of spiritual truth the Lord will be as the dew, and he will cause it to grow as the lily, and cast forth its roots as Lebanon.
O Architect of the trees and Artist of the flowers, we praise you because this world of nature has been fearfully and wonderfully made. All your works are marvelous, as we know very well. How weighty to us are your thoughts! How vast is the sum of them! We see you all around us; wherever we go, we are still with you. Amen.
Rev. Giles Chauncey