“The spring flowers that stand all about my room in Arab pots of green and yellow earthenware bring a very real revelation of Him, ‘by whom were all things created.’ The clear happiness of the daisies and the radiant shout of the celandines, and the deep sweet joy of the great almond blossoms with their mystical hearts – all are literal foreshadowing of the ‘gladness above His fellows.'” 13 February 1927
Spring arrives early in Central Florida. Sap pushing dead leaves from trees; buds swelling from branches, orange blossom scenting the air. Indications of new life abound: bud and leaf and frond.
Nothing is so beautiful as spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
… What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning…”*
Even as I savor each indication of new life – Spring! – flower shops and grocery shelves are flooded with bulb flowers evoking for me the quiddity of my childhood. Spring flowers: narcissis, tulip, daffodil, crocus. A northern spring!
February flowers. Native beauty; northern nostalgia. Garden or green house. Little matter. Each speaks its special message through shape and texture and hue. Straight through the senses to the heart.
God spoke to Lilias through His Handiwork. Flowers were, for her, His intimate love letter. Each stage of growth – from bud to bloom to seed – was not only a source of delight but a message straight from God – “a very real revelation of Him ‘by whom were all things created.'” Daisy. . . cyclamen. . . poppy. . . solendella. . . dandelion. . . desert crocus. . . . . Each contained a special lesson. Each pointed to its Creator.
Her early pocket sketchbooks captured, in watercolors, English wayside flowers and alpine wildflowers. Her first year in Algeria she painted flowers unique to North Africa along with vignettes of people and places – and later she recorded desert flowers of an even more exotic character. During her pilgrimage to Palestine she observed: “. . . Galilee – all in its spring beauty of flowers & budding fig-trees – all our own North African flowers. . . & it brings a hallowing over our blossom time there to know that they have their sister flowers here & that they must have been dear to the Lord’s eyes & heart. . .” (26 March 1924)
While bound to bed, during her final years, she culled images of flora and fauna from forty years of loving – village, plain, desert – and locked them into the delicate paintings (along with people and places) that became the treasured publication, Between the Desert & the Sea, her love affair with North Africa. (See above “Almond Blossom”)
Lilias’s classic work, Parables of the Cross, demonstrates through the life stages of plants and flowers how death is necessary for life to continue in the physical world – and in the spiritual: “‘Death is the gate of life.’ Does it look so to us? Have we learnt to go down, once and again, into its gathering shadows in quietness and confidence, knowing that there is always ‘a better resurrection’ beyond?
It is in the stages of a plant’s growth, its budding and blossoming and seed-bearing, that this lesson has come to me: the lesson of death in its delivering power. It has come as no mere far-fetched image, but as one of the many voices in which God speaks, bringing strength and gladness from His Holy Place.” (Parables of the Cross)
Flowers “speak” their own individual story: poppy. . . buttercup. . . dandelion. . . vetch. . . . Like the Parables of the Cross they speak of living, yes, but of dying as well. Dying in order to live. During these 40 days, we walk with Christ through His suffering. But a suffering, a death – that leads to triumph, to life. “The magnificent defeat,” in the words of Frederick Bueckner, which is the ultimate victory over death.
“Death is the gate of life.”
*Gerard Manley Hopkins
Painting: from Between the Desert & the Sea