the tulip: a metaphor?

The tulip is my favourite flower.  I’m not all that big on flowers in general, but tulips are incredible. The shapes, the variety of colours I find astonishing.

And so last weekend, with a day to spare and not much time left to explore Tasmania, we loaded the troops and headed north-west to check out the glorious sights of Table Cape tulip farms. It’s a couple of weeks after the famed Wynyard Tulip Festival, but we guessed there would still be plenty of colour around.

There is no arguing that it’s a spectacular scene, row upon row, wild with colour, bright against the rich red soil.

The thing is, as we got up close with the tulips, we noticed all is not as it seems from a distance.

In the neat, uniform rows, gaps appear.  In the blanket of tulips, we notice that the flowers are actually not spread evenly, and not every plant bears the bright petals.

And in this picture of health and vitality, some of the individual flowers are not quite so healthy, the petals damaged by wind and rain, flowers starting to break down as they pass their prime.

There are pockets, of course, where this isn’t the case, where row upon row of late-blooming varieties are perfect.

But for the most part, look closely, and the signs are there that the spring is nearly done, that the cycle of life continues, and the health that is obvious from a distance is in fact starting to fade.

The astute gardener (which I most definitely am not!) will know that there is no point in trying to prolong the life of the flower. Now is not the time for fertiliser to try and get the flower to bloom again. The tulip’s flower is best removed as soon as it starts to fade, allowing the tulip to put all its energy into the bulb, and ensure a healthy tulip in the next growing season.

There’s no avoiding the life-cycle of the tulip, only value in recognising which part of the cycle it is in, working with the seasons, caring for the plant, flower or bulb as fits.

Sometimes that means it’s time to remove the flower from the plant, at another time to remove the bulb from the ground altogether, and later still to replant, to fertilise and water in preparation for a new growing season.

As I wandered among the rows, entranced by the variety, the beauty, and noticing the life-stage of most of the plants, I couldn’t help wondering if sometimes the same is true for our communities and churches.

There are times when we are in our prime, when things look great (and they are), and there are times when we need to recognise the fading light, or the time for renewal, for storing energy, for putting down roots and for rebirth.

Where is your community in its life cycle? What care does it need right now?

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