a spring hymn

We have purple irises out front—a rich full cluster of them. We watched their green bladed leaves rise proudly from the earth, then the taller, slender stems sprouting tightly wound small conical buds. And we waited—anticipated—until finally, a week ago, the first of those buds ripened and opened into glorious fullness of bloom. They were worth the wait.

They’re important to me. Not only because they’re beautiful, but because they came from my parents’ home in Virginia—the one they have since moved out of, but the garden of which they lovingly cultivated and celebrated for years and years. Late spring/early summer (after the iris bloomed) of the year in which we knew my folks would move in the fall, we dug up a bunch of them and drove a car full of them north to replant in Maryland. Now, each year, purple reminds me of so very much.

We have a pink peony bush out front too. It won’t bloom yet for some time. Its small round buds are still tightly bound up. It’s important to me as well. Peonies are my wife’s favorite flower and we’ve planted a bush the last couple of places we’ve lived. And we’re waiting—anticipating its blooming as well, and its pink has wonderful associations as well with family and with love.

Here’s the thing. We watched and waited, anticipated, and the iris opened. One morning we walked out and there they were: the first row of iris—the ones closest to the sun. And it will happen with the peonies before too long.

Iris and peonies have such beautiful flowers—such beautiful shades of purple and lavender and pink, and the peonies have that wonderfully sweet, heavy scent, but the flowers are so big that in full bloom they weight their stalks down which bend to the ground—especially those stalks with multiple blooms.

Now, you can stake the iris, and you can put a hoop around the peony bush or tie off a circle of floral wire around it. But to make it do what we want it to is to force it to not do what it was created to do. We value an unnatural arrangement that is pleasing to our eye.

Consider the iris and the peony of the front yard, who though in the form of glorious beauty do not regard impressive loveliness as something to be exploited, but rather humble themselves—bending down—bowing down to the ground—press their glorious colors into the dirt—lose their petals—to seed the future. Therefore there will be more of them next year and more the next, and in the process, they make us think of so much more (Philippians 2:5-11).

So, as it turns out, the later blooming iris are doing great—standing straight and tall. Even the ones with multiple blooms. Seems some of the neighborhood children sat in that first row of earliest blooming iris thus bending their stems!

Have to sometimes be careful ascribing too much meaning to what we observe. Oh well, there are still the peonies ….

But I have come to find out that peonies actually have an incredibly long history—that we have pictures of peonies dating back thousands of years, and that in the oldest of pictures from Japan and China, we see peonies depicted as a single flower (a flower with a single set of petals). We can then trace the development of an aesthetically pleasing mutation (multiple petals) carefully cultivated through the millenia until peonies were a double flower (the generic term for flowers with more than a single set of petals that look like flowers within flowers).

The upshot of this horticultural development is that the aesthetically pleasing modern peony is so full of petals that one bloom can hold (within the folds of its many petals) up to a full quart of water! Retaining that much water, the weight of the bloom inevitably bows the flower down. If there’s a dry spell, you would see the flowers spring back up.

Okay. So it was an observation that led to the development of an intriguing Biblical parallel. It was just wrong.

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