Flourish is a rich and reassuring word. From the Latin stem florere, it relates to flowers.
To flourish is to “develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly congenial environment.” Who wouldn’t want to flourish, then?
The word has recently become a buzz word in self-help and pop psychology circles. Book titles love it: Flourishing: How to Achieve Happiness and a Deeper Sense of Well-being and Purpose in a Crisis. Yes, I’ll have some of that.
Mind you, describing my sense of self during the past two years of pandemic-constrained life, I don’t think I can say I have “developed in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly congenial environment.”
However, if I look at the photographs I have taken while out walking our countryside, it becomes obvious I paid close attention to flowers – those botanical specimens from which we get the semantic seeds of flourishing!
Flowers are fascinating, beautiful and have always been mood shifters for me. Flowers in the fields, the woods, castle gardens, on coastal walks – wherever they grow.
What becomes clear when you walk among flowers, paying attention to their brief flourishing, is the necessary transience of beauty. And the more poignant thought that the flower has to fade before the seeds form, drop and keep the cycle of flourishing going for another year.
There is a profound hopefulness hidden in our expectation of next year’s beauty from this year’s seeds, and renewed life from this year’s dying. Isaiah thought so too: “The desert and the parched land will be glad, the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom” (35:1).
Deserts will flourish, wilderness will bloom, parched land will blossom. That’s a promise, says Isaiah.
The Hebrew word for “blossom” is itself like a seed; “it suggests an image of breaking forth, budding, sprouting, even bursting.” Latent energy conserved and coiled in readiness; stored up vitality waiting its chance to make its play in a dazzling performance of grace, beauty and life celebration.
I’m not sure I know a better image of hopefulness. “The desert shall blossom…”
Wandering about with a camera, on moors and beaches, climbing heather-covered hills, walking alongside the River Dee on Royal Deeside; for me these are an exercise in worship of the Creator.
For example, walking along a path jeweled with spring crocuses, I immediately thought of Isaiah’s flowers, promises of hope and flourishing.
For years, I’ve designed and worked tapestry. From that encounter with crocuses, I worked the Hebrew script for shalom – such a compact and expansive word. I embroidered around it a desert landscape with a meandering river bordered by bursting flowers.
So, whether a zoom lens, or intricate needlework, both are attempts to hold on to beauty, to imagine newness, to nurture the heart with joy, nourish the imagination through wonder, and peer into the mystery of created loveliness.
Such attentive wondering and hopeful imagining, often translates into a message from the Creator through created things.
A few weeks ago, in the early days of the recent eruption of war in Ukraine, I was stopped and summoned by an early Camellia flower. I wrote this long sentence in my journal:
Wandering along the woodside, a cold three degrees under a dazzling sun set in a sky blue sky, inwardly sorrowful at the ugliness, cruelty and culpable intransigence of those bent on stealing someone else’s country, culture and identity, I stopped, or rather was arrested, by the miracle that is the possibility of such astonishing beauty, and its power to argue back against the ugly nihilism of human hubris, simply by announcing its loveliness, without rancour, violence or noise, as a vision of grace, a moment of gift, a coaxing tug towards hope for a heart tempted, however briefly, to despair.
Isaiah’s fascination with flora and flourishing, deserts and wilderness, rivers and nature’s renewal, was intended as a powerful stimulus to new growth, and the recovery of a hopeful imagination.
The desert shall blossom, and life will flourish again. The dry places will have streams in the desert. The parched land will burst into bloom. Wilderness will again become fertile.
Seeds are sown, and the energy of life awaits the spring rains and the coming of God. That’s a promise from Creator to creature.
The world in which we live is a precious and unique environment. Christians, of all people, have reason to love, care for, curate and enjoy God’s masterpiece.
Throughout the Bible, we are urged to look to the hills, stare at the stars, consider the lilies of the field, notice the swallow and sparrow nesting in the rafters of God’s temple, and to live into the rhythms of day and night, season after season.
Why? Because we flourish best when we love our environment, and its Creator.
I finish with words from one of Isaiah’s best interpreters, George Adam Smith:
“When psalmist or prophet calls Israel to lift their eyes to the hills, or to behold how the heavens declare the glory of God, or to listen to that unbroken tradition which day passes to day and night to night, of the knowledge of the Creator, it is not proofs to doubting minds which he offers; it is spiritual nourishment to hungry souls. These are not arguments; they are sacraments.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to Earth Day 2022 (April 22). The previous article in the series is:
Climate Report Notes Emissions Rise, Highlights Key Contributors | Maddie Grimes
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.