As I listened to the sermon on Sunday I saw amid the altar flowers nearest me one perfect pink zinnia. It stood out from the pearly gladiolas, a little mandala, golden at the center. Blades of exquisite light and shadow, its petals stretched boldly into the world, first the big outer ones, then the small inner ones, then, like fireworks, the little yellow flowers-within-the-flower circling the center of the blossom.
Our priest was talking about the Cosmic Christ, an image that raises a joyous “yes” in my heart. When we think about Jesus we think about an incarnation that has a particular beginning and ending in space and time, marked by the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of the Son of Man. But it is also true that from the beginning of the worlds the nature of God incorporates the Incarnated One. Christ is in everything, imbues everything. God’s very essence has always included him – always.
The part of us that lives day to day in the world, making decisions and plans, setting goals that we either meet or fail to reach, walking the road between birth and death – that part of us has difficulty with this. On the one hand we think, “How can this be?” And on the other hand we mutter, “So what if this mumbo-jumbo cosmic stuff is right! What does it have to do with me and my life?”
After church our apprentice flower-arranger, a girl of around ten or twelve, handed me the zinnia bunched with some of the glads in a vase. She looked like a gladiola herself, lanky and dressed in a billowy dress of summer white. “For you,” she said. “Happy birthday!” And she seemed to glow slightly with her joy in creating from the no-longer-needed altar flowers bouquets for parishioners celebrating special occasions. I was delighted, first that she had made me a bouquet, and second that this one particular flower had found its way into it.
I’ve had a chance to sit with the zinnia and the memory of the girl who gave it to me now for several days. Both bring me such pleasure. From its mossy flower center to the exuberant explosion of uniquely articulate petals, the zinnia occupies a space in the world that was meant exactly for it. In the moment of her gift, the girl was also exactly and deeply who she is.
How do I find the Incarnated One, the Christ? I need look no further than the hot pink petal of the flower on my desk, remember the face of the person who gave it to me. Christ is in that, of that. At the level of our greatest authenticity, there he is.
When I kill the sniper, I kill him. When I belittle the misfit, I scorn him. When I ignore the marginalized, I shun him. When I step out of relationship with God at my core, I wound him. Paul says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
We are the Lord’s. We are of the Lord. The Christ always dwells with us and also dwells in us – always.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
—- St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.