Monday, January 21, 2008

I've Never Seen Colors That Vivid Before. Is this the face of God?

In late March of 1979 I stood at my work bench at the American Floral Arts School of Chicago where I was attending on a football mum scholarship; we were working in the corsage and wedding flowers unit, an area that I was especially interested in, I liked the idea of flowers being connected to fashion. While standing at that bench I was handed a white phalenopsis orchid. This particular orchid variety had a plant that had been named for the owner of the school, Mr. William Kistler. The Kistler orchid was pristine white and had a finish that looked like Dresden. It seemed fragile to look at and it was given to me to use nestled in a bed of orchid straw, (aka shredded waxed tissue paper.) Yet these flowers thrive on neglect and grow on the side of trees, hardly the fragile thing it would have you believe it to be.

I have no idea what other students where thinking while they looked at those blossoms sitting before them on their bench, but I was drawn into the flower, just as Alice was drawn into the looking glass. There are five petals on this snow-white flower; it has a shallow throat that reduces down to two very fine, hair-like filaments that curl toward the center of the throat. As you can tell, words don’t do this flower justice; it is truly something that one should see in person. I know that for me it was like looking at the face of God. All of God’s best work in nature came together in that flower. While it was white, when the light fell on it just right I could see the spectrum all in one tiny spot, turn the flower another way and it was pure white, no sheen, the only thing breaking the purity of the color was the touch of pale apple green in the center of the throat. There was nothing about it that made me think of any other flower, it was truly unique and I thought it quite an honor that a man should have a flower variety named for him, and how fitting it was that it should be named for a man who had devoted his entire life to the floral industry.

Mr. Kistler saw me looking at the bloom the way that I was and he came to me and said, “You were meant to be a florist, I can tell by the way that you look at my orchid. What do you see in it?” I responded, “The face of God.” Mr. Kistler smiled and walked away, I think that he saw the face of God in the flower, just the way that I did then and still do whenever I see a phalenopsis orchid.

Yesterday morning as I sat in worship at All Saints I drank in the incense as the thruifer walked passed in the processional. The church was cold and the winter light coming strongly through the south windows of the church made the smoke from the censer all the more obvious. During the opening prayer of the mass I looked up and saw that the rising smoke, rich and heady continued to the vaults overhead the smoke brought out the colors of the beams of light that fell across the wall to the floor, just before the altar. The smoke drew my attention to the area where the beams of light were coming from; I could not see the window that was the source of the colors, I could only see the beams.

The shafts of red and orange were very intense, the colors of fire trucks and safety vests. The amber that hung next to them was the exact shade found on traffic lights, the green was bold and intense, but the blue and the violet were the colors that really grabbed my attention.
The violet, I’ve spent an entire day trying to think of a place where I have seen anything that shade of violet. It was intense, electric, rich, regal, bold and yet, just like the phalenopsis orchid, it defies description that does it justice.

There are things in nature and in our lives that defy description, there are sounds that we hear and cannot replicate, though musicians try and should continue to. There are colors that artists cannot make on their pallet and yet, I think they should continue to stir. There are flavors that can only come from certain foods and yet all too often we mere mortals try to come up with them through some artificial means. (Grate that nutmeg fresh please, it will never taste like the stuff already ground.) I still wince at the smell of artificial vanilla; some things are simply best left to the Creator.

For me, it’s hard to imagine seeing that shade of violet again, even if I sit there for a hundred Sundays more I don’t know that I would catch that moment in winter when the light through those south windows will be that perfect, that intense and that memorable. I know that each time I look at a Kistler Orchid it doesn’t look like the first one I saw, but I do see new things in them sometimes.

Now, I’ll wax philosophical: Are we really supposed to see these things twice? Is it God’s intention that we feel first love twice? Do we appreciate the perfection of the beams of color on the brick wall the next time as much as the first? Have I seen it and walked past it before? Do we look at the floor before us looking for the shiny nickel when we should have our eyes lifted to the heavens where we can see the shiny star instead? Do we often miss the beautiful colors because they are shrouded in the smoke or are the colors more beautiful because of the smoke?
Had I not been watching the fragrant smoke rise I would have most likely missed the colors, I would have missed their message for me, “look for the face of God.” Had I not looked down into that pile of soggy tissue paper 30 years ago I would have missed the face of God in a simple and yet at the same time complex flower. How many times have I missed seeing his face in other places?