I bought a bouquet of peonies from the grocery store last week. They were tight balls of green with a hint of bright pink, about the size of golf balls. I trimmed the stems and put them in a vase of water. My kids called them our “boring ball flowers”, but I told them to just wait for something amazing to happen.
Those peonies did not disappoint. A few days later, the first one burst open. Layers of yellowish pink, soft petals, spread out into a huge bloom, as big as my hand. Pollen covered stamen with rich gold. They were big and bright and so lovely, expansive and outstretched, displaying all their beauty. So different from the tight little balls they began, those enormous peonies became these open, colorful, interesting flowers. This opening isn’t just about beauty – but also is what keeps the flower flourishing.
As I enjoyed those peonies on my dining room table, I realized how much we can learn from them. We, too, spend a lot of our time curled up in a little ball – turned in on ourselves, so wrapped up in our concerns or ideologies or needs. And yet we have within us such beauty, such goodness to share, and so many opportunities to learn and grow.
Peonies needed sunshine, water, and a little time for their petals to open. But for us humans, God gives us other experiences to be opened up to God, to each other, to this world God made.
One of those things is awe and wonder – those moments when we realize we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Maybe it’s in the glory of music in worship, or a sunset when the sky is full of the boldest colors. Maybe it’s in the shade of ancient tree or a tiny baby’s toe. Being caught up in awe has the power to burst us from self-focus and into a deep connection with the world around us.
Another grace God gives us is curiosity. When we open ourselves to learn more, to explore a new thing. It requires a willingness to ask questions and realize we don’t have all the answers, to be a little uncomfortable. But, surely bursting from a bud into a bloom isn’t going to be the coziest experience.
Perhaps, empathy is another way of being that can help us blossom into more openness in this world – a willingness to hear and try to understand another’s experience, to be present with others in their suffering, and to notice our shared humanity.
Jesus said to a man who couldn’t hear, “ephphatha” which means “be opened.” And immediately the man could hear, and he began to speak and praise God. When our lives are too plugged up and we are coiled up in a ball around our own individual selves, Jesus heals us, too. And in this opening we can be a part of God’s healing of this world. Maybe with those practices of seeking wonder, living with curiosity, and deepening empathy can be the ways Jesus says to us, “Ephphatha, be opened. Be like that peony and bloom.”