When I was a little girl growing up in Oklahoma, there was a lovely tradition that we took part in on the first day of May. We would make little paper baskets, and put paper or real flowers in them, and then hang them on neighbors’ doorknobs. Our art teacher, Mr. Montee, taught us a couple of simple designs for the construction paper baskets that would nonetheless be able to hold up under the weight of the flowers. The flowers themselves were simple: wildflowers, lilac blooms, dutch iris, spiderwort, zinnia, or phlox. There were blue and purple bearded iris that originated in my grandmother’s garden from the oil fields on the prairie, a riot of vibrant color on stocky stems, resilient. There were columbine on their delicate, slender little necks that bobbed in the breeze as we gathered them. They were all humble plants, plucked from around mailboxes or from gardens grateful for spring rains—the same spring rains for which WE were grateful for not bringing tornadoes.
We would make out little baskets, decorated with smiley faces, hearts, smiling suns (a specialty of mine), with messages like “Happy Spring!” or “Someone loves you!” Giggling as quietly as we could, we would sneak up to a doorknob and pray the dog inside didn’t give us away. Behind those doors were often places we would never see and struggles we might never understand. We would then knock on the door and run, hiding somewhere to see what happened. Our little tradition, unlike in other places, had no romantic component—it was usually done to neighbors we liked, to give them a little surprise.
I remember once, we left a basket shaped like an ice-cream cone on the doorknob of an elderly couple whom we hardly ever saw due to health problems, except to scatter us from our games of baseball, frowning at the noise of our play in the cul-de-sac on our street, as they slowly backed their Buick out to doctors’ appointments. Although it took many minutes, the look on Mrs. Lamb’s face when she saw the irises and johnny-jump-ups (that’s a violet, to those who like more proper names) was one that drew tears to our eyes. For once, the kids of the neighborhood surprised her, I think.
But for us, the whole point of this tradition was to do something loving for someone who might not otherwise expect it, to show kindness and appreciation for people who might otherwise get overlooked. One year, we even were bold enough to leave a small basket on the door of the grumpiest neighbors on the block, in the hope that perhaps there would not be so much shrill scolding of our basketball thumping and kite-flying and bicycle rodeos. This did not work—it would take many more years to soften her heart toward us. Nonetheless, this tradition reminded us to look at others through loving, appreciative eyes, treasuring their presence in our lives, and allowing us to confess in a jumble of wilting blossoms what we could never say out loud.
I was reminded of that tradition as I looked at today’s lectionary readings. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The first letter of John speaks a lot of love. Last week, we were reminded that love should not just be pretty words or speeches, but be embedded within our actions so that it is the very truth of our being. This week’s lesson reminds us of the same. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”
We are often reminded to love our neighbors. Here in America, our neighborhoods are all too often filled with people who are remarkably similar to each other and yet, at the same time strangers. For a moment, there was a flash of a young girl in the wizened features of that elderly neighbor of ours on that May Day so long ago. “Somebody loves you,” written on construction paper in a childish scrawl, a rosy-cheeked sun beaming benevolently in crayon. We live in a society that is starved for love, real love, where we let go of our brambly fears and allow compassion to take root, especially for those who we think are not just like us, but who are rooted next to us in Christ. We can start in loving each other just in this moment, and let them intertwine into each other. That’s enough to start.
We can so easily be turned from seeing the face of Christ in those around us. Anyone can love those who are exactly like us. The call is to see the divine spark even in those different from us, who are easily overlooked. That’s love in action in this moment right here. Love that holds up each one of us as being beloved of God. And then realize that we are not so different. At all.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image by: Leslie Scoopmire