The Princess and the Tulip!

Who has not heard it said in commercials by florists, 'Say it with flowers.' The language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. The nuances of the language are now mostly forgotten, but some of the symbolism is still operative. For example, red roses still imply passionate or romantic love and pink roses a lesser affection; white roses suggest virtue and chastity and yellow roses still stand for friendship or devotion.

Those of you who know me know that I have a deep love and appreciation for flowers. We were blessed to have a beautiful garden with lots of different kinds of flowers at home. I love looking at them, smelling them, arranging them and even eating them! Recently I found rose-flavoured ice-cream in our local ice-cream parlour! At the moment I am somewhat spoiled because the world’s largest tulip festival which runs over 18 days is currently taking place here in Ottawa.
When strolling through the parks watching all the children run around and tourists taking pictures of the blooming flowers, it is hard to remember that the Tulip Festival was born out of one of Europe's darkest chapters -- World War II. It was established in 1953 to preserve the heritage of Canada’s role in liberating the Dutch during the Second World War. The symbolic tulip, Ottawa’s official flower was given as a gift in perpetuity to the Canadian people for having provided safe harbour to the Dutch Royal family during the time of the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans. The tulip remains a valuable symbol of friendship and of spring, with special meaning to the people of Canada and particularly of Ottawa.

The extent of the goodwill between Ottawa (and Canada as a whole, of course) and the Dutch royal family had much to do with a simple formula: 'Say it with flowers!' Had Juliana donated bouquets of flowers, the gesture in all likelihood would have been forgotten after a while. But once she was home again in the Netherlands, she expressed her gratitude to Ottawa and its citizenry by sending the city 100,000 tulip bulbs. The bulbs were a mixed blessing of sorts, since they need to be planted and tended and require a significant waiting period before producing a single flower. To put it another way, it was a gift that required effort, nurturing and patience!

Tulip Festival, Ottawa
(photo: LOR)
Some of us here had commented on the timing of the tulip festival. The Book of Genesis, with its Creation story, reminds us that ‘the Lord made all things and saw that they were good”. As thousands of people poured into Ottawa to admire and appreciate the beauty of the tulips last week, thousands more gathered to remind the world that the conception of a child is a gift of the Lord and it IS good! The opening ceremonies, testimonies and concluding prayer took place on Parliament Hill against a colourful backdrop of tulips. To add to the irony, one cannot help but notice that the festival was born to celebrate the birth of a child. A child that was worth one million tulips! As the counter protest to the March for Life showed us, there are people out there who believe that a child in the womb is not even worth a breath of air, such are the efforts to cut off their lives before they come into the world. Who decides how many flowers we should have? Who decides how many children should be in the world? Apparently, many believe that they have the right to play with nature on both counts. Upon the birth of Princess Margriet, the Canadian government led by example and even flew the Dutch tricolour on parliament's Peace Tower while its carillon played out Dutch music at the news of Princess Margriet's birth. Last week, it was music of a different kind as loudspeakers echoed the words and pleas of politicians, abortion survivors, mothers who had abortions, all asking the people of Canada and its government to stand up and defend life.

All this talk of flowers got me thinking over these past few days. Did you ever wonder why women appreciate flowers so much and why they matter? Once more, I run the risk of being labelled as being sexist but personally I think flowers are very much a feminine thing. They appeal to the delicateness that is intrinsic to being female. Katrina Zeno, in her book 'Every Woman's Journey', puts it eloquently; "As women, we must not be swallowed up by a culture that tells us there's no real difference between men and women, nor can we succumb to a society that demeans women for their feminine distinctiveness. Rather, let us always keep in mind that every woman's journey is to live her feminine genius in an original and unique way, so as to bring into being that which never existed before—human life, spiritual life, and the fullness of emotional and cultural life."

Obviously that is not saying that men don’t or can't appreciate flowers, they just do it in a different way. Flowers should not be reduced to being a romantic punchline nor are they a symbol of patriarchal dominance. Sure, maybe for many,flowers are literally nothing but a soft bunch of colourful smells. That is the exact reason they matter so much to women: They are nothing but soft, pretty groups of colourful smells. If women are responsive to the sensual, then it is understandable why women react. For many, flowers are often considered luxuries and frivolous, useless and unnecessary. Yet, flowers can be ‘used’ in so many ways. Flowers should not apologize; flowers do not resolve conflicts, nor do they anesthetize. And that's what flowers are, just a simple, easy way of letting someone know they were in your thoughts. That's it. It's not complicated. Flowers announce: out of sight, still in my mind and heart. It is unerringly human to want to know that someone is thinking about you when you are not around.

Tulip Festival, Ottawa
(photo: LOR)
In a way, the Tulip Festival is like that. Every inch of nature sings of the majesty of the Creator God but sometimes our attention span is like that of a goldfish and we don’t appreciate the beauty around us. So, it might take something extravagant like a million tulips for us to sit up and realise that the Lord created each one of them, not to apologise, but to say ‘you are on mind and in my heart every  minute of every day’. Isn’t that amazing!?

At the Mass for the celebration of Life last Thursday in Notre Dame Cathedral, the opening hymn  ‘ O God, Beyond All Praising; lends me these concluding words:

“The flower of earthly splendour in time must surely die, its fragile bloom surrender to you, the Lord most High, but hidden from all nature the eternal seed is sown, though small in mortal stature. To heaven’s garden grown, for Christ the man from heaven from death has set us free, and we through him are given the final victory.”

So as we contemplate the beauty around us, let our hearts raise a silent prayer to the Creator and if you have the opportunity to walk around Ottawa and look at the tulips bed, whisper a prayer for a Princess who was worth a million tulips and for those who work and pray that all life, from the womb to the tomb, may be seen as beautiful!