Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Olympic Opening Ceremony and the Flower Communion: A Place for Ritual

I was deeply moved by the Olympic opening ceremony. It was beautifully constructed by Danny Boyle and his team of thousands of volunteers. I enjoyed they way that it depicted the economic and social history of Britain over the last 200 hundred years; the development of modern Britain in sound and vision. They celebrated our sporting history; they celebrated our cultural history, through music and literature and film; they also celebrated British multi-culturalism and perhaps the greatest creation of our liberal democracy, the “National Health Service”. It was also a celebration of technology, this right at the centre of all that was created was Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the World Wide Web and of course a Unitarian). I also loved they way that they celebrated British humour too. There was just enough tongue in cheek going on and just enough self deprecating humour too, it didn’t take itself too seriously. I laughed out loud at the beginning at the use of Cricket and clips of Rugby Union, both sports that are not included in the Olympics. Was this deliberate? Who knows!

 And yet what stood out for me was one simple human voice, right in the middle of the ceremony. It began in the transitional moment just before the parade of the nations. Emeli Sande, sang beautifully and movingly the classic hymn and great sporting anthem “Abide With Me”, accompanied by a dance troop and under a beautiful orange light. This was a tribute to the victims of the London 7/7 terror attacks, which took place the day after Britain and won the 2012 Olympic bid.

While 21st century Britain appears to be increasingly secular, ritual still has a vital place in all our lives. Also while people have little time for organised religion, there is an increasing interest in spiritual connection. The last few weeks as the torch has been carried around the country and last night brought this powerfully home to me once again.

I see a thirst and hunger there, but I’m not sure how as a minister of religion I can begin feed and water this. It is my duty to seek the answers.

Tomorrow morning at Dunham Road we will be conducting our annual “Flower Communion”. This uniquely Unitarian celebration is conducted by congregations throughout the world.

It originated in Czechoslovakia in 1923 and was the creation of Dr Norbert Capek. On the last Sunday before the summer recess of the Unitarian church in Prague, all the children and adults participated in this colourful ritual, which celebrated the beauty and preciousness of life.

It is said that the ritual was created because Dr Capek had become frustrated by the plainness of the worship that he led. The community that he led was a mixture of people who had grown up in other religious traditions and therefore he felt that he needed to create something that could speak to a diversity of people.

One spring afternoon Dr Capek went for a stroll and was overcome by the natural beauty all around him. Suddenly a beautifully simple idea came to him and the very next Sunday he asked the people of his congregation to bring a flower, or budding branch or just a simple twig with them. The people asked what type they should bring and what colour it ought to be. He simply told them bring whatever spoke to them.

 The next Sunday all the people came and they filled their church with colours of every kind and every shape imaginable. Dr Capek spoke to the people and they listened intently. He told them “These flowers are like ourselves. They are different colours and different shapes, and different sizes, each needs different kinds of care and each is beautiful, each is important and each is special in its own way.”

This beautiful ritual continued until the Nazi occupation of Prague. Like so many others the Nazi’s found that Dr Capek’s gospel of the beauty, worth and dignity of everyone to be “...too dangerous to the Reich for him to be allowed to live.” He was arrested and imprisoned in Dachau where he died along with millions of others.

While this beautiful and gentle man died his message lives on today. His was a message of hope and of the sacredness and beauty of all life. Tomorrow in Altrincham we will be celebrating the worth and dignity of all life and celebrating the sacred beauty within all is eternal it always lives on.

Whenever Dr. Capek conducted his Flower Communion in Prague. he would say these words as he "consecrated" the flowers:

Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, thy messengers of fellowship and love.

May they remind us amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another's talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.

Tomorrow as we celebrate our flower communion and over the next couple of weeks as I watch these amazingly talented young people from all the nations of the world compete in the Olympics I will offer thanks and praise for the gift that is life itself; life is the ultimate free gift, the ultimate grace.

I will recognise the uniqueness of each flower presented and that it says something of the person who presents it. Each flower symbolises the love that is within each of the congregation present, a love that is present within everyone. A love that is sometimes deeply hidden and sadly can at times seemingly be destroyed. Some of us are afraid to let this love show, but it is there within us all...we really should let it have its way.

For what is life without love? It is nothing it is empty. It is without purpose and meaning. Whatever we may think of God, religion spirituality, none of us can deny the power of love; the power of love to transform human lives. It is the one true alchemy because it does indeed transform base metals into gold. It changes us forever, no one can deny this reality. Love is eternal, it lives on. Those people we have loved and who have loved us will always be with us in spirit even if not in body. They will always be with us here in our hearts, in our minds, their souls are imprinted on our souls, held by the one eternal soul.

Love never dies; it is energy, an ever flowing stream that moves throughout life. We have all felt it, we cannot deny its reality.

We must learn to revere one another just as much as we must learn to revere all life, to see the sacred in everything. To see the touch of the divine in all created life. Hindu’s acknowledge this when they greet one another by joining their hands together and bowing, therefore honouring the sacred mystery that they are encountering. In British culture a smile or a nod of the head is a similar acknowledgement.

I am a great believer in what I like to call “The Chaos Theory of Compassion” I firmly believe that one smile or act of love from a person in Altrincham can lead to an avalanche or tidal wave of love in some other part of the world; everything that we do and everything that we don’t do does in fact matter. Who knows what chain reactions we are all setting off with every feeling, thought, word and action; by the way who knows what chain reactions we are setting off by our lack feeling, thought, word and action too. Everything we do or don’t do has an impact on the world we live in. No one is truly passive, even if they are doing nothing.

I’m going to end this little chip of a blog with some words of prayer written by Dr Capek to accompany the flower communion...there words are worth reflecting upon every is a sacred event and every thought, word and deed can be rich in ritual and meaning...let love have its way

In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the tree and in the hearts of men and women the longing for people living in love; in the name of the highest. in whom we move and who makes the mother and father, the brother and sister what they are; in the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives to hasten the coming of peace and justice--let us renew our resolution--sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges one from another. In this holy resolution may we be strengthened, knowing that we are God's family, that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us, and may we endeavour for a more perfect and more joyful life.



  1. I agree the Opening Ceremony was lovely with great flashes of humour - who could forget Rowan Atkinson's contribution. and I was impressed that they achieved so much while spending a lot less than in Beijing.

    Have a great week.

    PS Did you know that your word verification stuff/are you a robot etc is turned on? It would make commenting much easier if you got rid of it.

  2. How do I do that? thanks for your comment by the way...was bloody hilarious at times