Flower Communion

This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of what is known today as the Religious Society of Czech Unitarians. Its first minister, the Rev. Dr. Norbert Fabián Čapek, created a ritual that is celebrated by Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists all over the world, Flower Communion. Čapek described the ceremony in a 1923 letter to Samuel Atkins Eliot II, president of the American Unitarian Association:

We have made a new experiment in symbolizing our Liberty and Brotherhood in a service which was so powerful and impressive that I never experienced anything like it… On that very Sunday…everybody was supposed to bring with him a flower. In the middle of the big hall was a suitable table with a big vase where everybody put his flower…in my sermon I put emphasis on the individual character of each “member-flower,” on our liberty as a foundation of our fellowship. Then I emphasized our common cause, our belonging together as one spiritual community… And when they go home, each is to take one flower just as it comes without making any distinction where it came from and whom it represents, to confess that we accept each other as brothers and sisters without regard to class, race, or other distinction, acknowledging everybody as our friend who is a human and wants to be good.

The marvelous natural beauty of the flowers that are brought to these ceremonies is certainly inspiring, but it is of the utmost importance that we continue to learn the broader and deeper lesson this rite teaches. The idea that we should accept one another, with all our differences, and that we should even celebrate one another’s uniqueness, is a radical notion in any age, but in Europe in the 1920s it was downright dangerous; it became ever more so, of course, in the decades that followed, especially as Czechoslovakia found itself among the first nations to succumb to the opportunistic infection that was Nazism. The Nazis, of course, represent the polar opposite of Čapek’s ideals. Flower Communion is a defiant No! in the face of the brutal racism of Hitler and of the fascists’ craving to erect towering, horrific empires upon pediments of subjugation and terror, and it is a joyous Yes! to diversity, equality, and liberty.

As Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists all over the world celebrate Flower Communion, as so many of us to at this season of the year, we do well to consider what it is that we are saying No! to, and where our joyous Yes! is. Do we continue to defy the forces of intolerance that would seek to deny same-sex couples their civil right to marriage under the illusion of “defending” heterosexual marriages (like mine)? Do we stand together clutching bouquets of righteousness and justice in our hearts as we persevere in demanding compassion for immigrants, for laborers, and for the poor? Do we say Yes! to a future for our planet in which we will coexist with all life harmoniously?

Arrested by the Nazis for the “crime” of listening to foreign radio broadcasts, Čapek spent fourteen weeks at Dachau before being martyred in October of 1942 in the Nazi gas chamber at Schloss Hartheim. He is remembered around the world for how he died, but more so for what died for — and what he lived for.

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