THE SUNFLOWER DILEMMA | by Cathy Reynolds
Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers. Whenever I see a field of them, or even just a bunch that is being sold in the grocery store, I think about how wonderfully bright and beautiful they are. This year, I decided that I would try to grow some in my yard. My husband and I have a large vegetable garden, which is mostly the pride of his hard work and dedication to tilling, planting, weeding, and nurturing so that we can enjoy and share an abundance of food throughout the summer. My green thumb is with the flowers. I plant, weed, and replant annuals and perennials every year.
Upon entering the garden store to buy sunflower seeds, I didn’t realize there were so many varieties of sunflowers. I decided upon “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers” – mostly due to the fact that we recently visited a museum filled with Van Gogh’s paintings and I truly admired the art. I found the best spot (I thought) in the yard and proceeded to prepare the soil and plant the seeds. How exciting it was to see the plants emerge in just a little over a week. They began to grow and reached about a foot tall within days. Perhaps it was the rain we had or perhaps it was the prepared soil, but they looked healthy and strong. I left them alone thinking that they would continue to grow and bloom with help from the rain and sunny days. However, a few days later, they were gone! Gone! Cut from the bottom of the plant with the buds of flowers beginning to emerge. Of course I was surprised and frustrated that this occurred and wondered what would have caused this. My neighbor said it might be cut-worms and my husband said it was the rabbits that frequented our yard. Nevertheless, I took the stalks that were lying on the ground and attempted to re-root them in water. Over a few weeks, the stalks had roots and I transplanted these where the others had been.
Once again the plants thrived and started to grow, only to meet their doom again. I thought I would give this one more try. This time, I thought I would plant seeds in a pot and keep them on my patio. Lo and behold the seeds germinated and the growth of the sunflowers looked promising. Success … until the rabbits found them and stretching their little bodies tall began eating them – all of them! I gave up in defeat and realized that the best way to enjoy sunflowers is to buy them in bunches and enjoy them on my kitchen table.
In my own prayer life, I find that it needs to be continually cultivated and nourished. The more I age, the more I am aware that there are many ways to develop my own spiritual growth. One of those ways is through the use of a daily prayer guide. While that is helpful, it limits me to the written word of others. The idea that prayer can occur anywhere and at any time leads me to see that it doesn’t take a prayer book or a set time of day to pray, but that it takes insight and acknowledgement that prayer is a combination of contemplation and action. I have enjoyed the opportunity to combine contemplation and action through gardening. There are times when I am in deep prayer as I remove the weeds surrounding the plants. Symbolically, these weeds are the things that choke my spirit and block my relationship with God and others. I pray for those people whom I have hurt or neglected. I pray for those in the world who need prayerfor peace, for hope. Once the weeds are gone, the beauty of the plant is more pronounced, and it now has the ability to receive the warmth of the sun to grow and develop into a more beautiful plant. I think about the people in our world who volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals, and prisons. As I dirty my hands in the soil, I think about the hard work and sweat they put into their service.
The story of the sunflower dilemma reminds me of the way in which one’s spirituality might exist. There are moments in life where we see or experience something beautiful and hope that we can replicate that in our own lives.
“Cultivate a sincere friendship and warm affection for your sisters and brothers for it is in the manifestation and honest concern and love for each other you and they will show you are daughters and sons of Ryken and disciples of Jesus.” (Fundamental Principles)
The beauty of the sunflower is not only its color, but the way the flower moves toward the sun. We can cultivate our own spiritual growth, our relationship with God and the church, our relationship with others, however we feel comfortable. Maybe it’s finding the right spot – or parish – or prayer – or small Christian community – or bible study group. Maybe it’s being surprised by something that separates us from our faith – or prayer – or community. Maybe it’s in our weakness and lowest moments when we feel defeated or let down by others. Maybe it’s not giving up and rather re-rooting ourselves in a place that makes us feel more welcomed or enriched. Maybe it’s in the times of contemplation where we listen to God’s voice and not the disturbing noises around us. Maybe it’s in the activity of prayer or serving others that helps us to see Christ in a new way. Maybe it’s realizing that sometimes we just need to stop working so hard at finding the perfect way to grow in our faith and just realize the beauty of the gift of faith that was given to us at Baptism and relishing in the fact that God’s love is all we need.
Growing sunflowers is a lot like growing our faith. It takes time to cultivate the soil of our hearts. It takes the warmth of the sun (Christ) and the water in the rain (our Baptism call) to nourish our spirit. It takes trial and error (Reconciliation) to find the right path to love. It might mean allowing someone else’s inspiration and love to guide us in faith. As sunflowers turn toward the sun, we too, should turn toward the “Son” of God in a way that can enlighten our hearts, nourish our spirits, and in our own humility, fill our lives with faith, hope, and love.
“And Christ is a Sun of righteousness and also of mercy, Who stands in the highest part of the firmament, that is, on the right hand of the Father, and from thence He shines into the bottom of the humble heart; for Christ is always moved by helplessness, whenever a man complains of it and lays it before Him with humility.” John Ruusbroec on Humility
~ Catherine Reynolds, Saint Xavier High School, Louisville, KY
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