On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday to many, our adult grandson and his lovely partner brought us an armful of long flower stems loaded with giant white lilium buds. I had never seen them such a size before, and even unopened their scent was heady and strong, redolent of the lush tropical foliage that captivated us in North Queensland on holiday. (In fact it was so strong we had to sit the vase on the outside table where we could see it through the kitchen window.) I snipped their ends, set them in water with added sugar to feed them, and put them where we could watch and wait for them to reveal themselves.
In the liturgical year, Holy Saturday is an essential part of the Easter cycle of death and resurrection: it is a quiet time when nothing happens. After the storms of Farewell and Death, there is a nothingness in the air that gradually reveals itself as a sharp still point of loss, of letting go – of hope, of knowing what is happening, of having a clear path forward. The liturgies are meant to take us deep into what it means to be fully human and live the human experience in completeness. The times of turmoil and pain are not to be dismissed or glossed over, as they too contain treasures if we turn them over softly when we ponder them.
This year (and I know some were shocked) I chose not to go to any of the Easter ceremonies in church. I felt very vulnerable and dreaded going so much that I was quite agitated and fearful, and so I trusted in my own wisdom and decided to stay at home in intentional solitude. I knew that this year we have been living the cycle in all its intensity right here in our place of grace, our homely Cheltenham lives.
Inner turmoil has been a theme as we learn to cope with our new life stage, building up enough experience of this illness to know when to worry and when to stay cool, when to speak and when to refrain from speaking, how to be hopeful and also deal with loss of how things were. There have been many challenges and realizations that confront and demand attention, and wisdom sometimes seems too hard to find. It was a matter of trusting that grace would be here to carry us, to give us the way to proceed together.
Jack and Elly’s abundant gift of quiet white closed buds slowly revealed themselves as metaphors for the understanding that we searched for. Gradually, one by one these flowers silently opened out, delighting our hearts and gently instructing us with their perfect beauty. They sat in the heavy clear vase (itself a precious gift from a sister) releasing their perfume and displaying their intricate pollen coated stamens that will initiate the propagation of the next generation. They can only ensure the continuing future of their kind by opening to being totally themselves, flaunting their sexuality and becoming wide open in vulnerability. Each one did it in its own appointed time, and the work was not completed for fourteen days. For us, that was fourteen days of intense pleasure.
In the classical tradition of still life painting, there is always an intimation of mortality – a piece of fruit that is spoilt or blossom that has fallen and withered. Looking at these exquisite flowers as a work of art, sprung from the Source of life itself, at first I thought that disturbing hint was in the fine speckled colour that brushed the creamy petals, but on observing more closely, I saw that this was the pollen caught on the air and falling, cast to the chance of the elements as to whether it would bear fruit, or even in its decay still add its part to the cycle of regeneration.
By the time the last bud was ready to tentatively open, some of the other flowers had brown soft patches on their petals, one stem had spilt and broken in two and been discarded, and one flower had fallen in a wilt of soft green leaves on the table. Yet the lesson that gladdened my heart and spoke hope to me on a very bleak and teary day, was the unfolding and unfurling of the last flower. It still had its work of bringing beauty to accomplish, and it stood tall and clear in its place just above the others and did it perfectly.
Its face open to the light of the sky, it spoke to me of life still to be lived and love still to be loved – and yes, late beauty still to be flaunted. I stand barefoot and grateful.