Unique service used flowers to help people blossom through positive changes




The service, “Risk to Blossom,” engaged participants in contemplation. The risk was in evaluation of how choices influenced the past and how the future decisions could blossom with potential.

And participants got to gaze at lovely and colorful floral images.

Gina DeAngelo and Karen O’Malia were lay leaders for a eecent service at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1105 Elm St.

A passage written by Anais Nin, a French poet and author, summed up the effort — “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”

O’Malia said the original idea for such a service came from a Creativity and Madness Conference sponsored by the American Institute for Medical Education that she attended. One session she attended used flower photos to reveal feelings. “That’s how it evolved,” O’Malia said.

About three years ago, she and a member of Congregation Rodef Sholom used the idea for a Yom Kippur service. That observance focuses on atonement of the past year’s missteps and the idea of starting anew.

“The focus is on potential,” O’Malia said. “It’s connected to the human potential movement ... it’s not tied to a dogma,” DeAngelo said.

The “flower exercise” allows people to look back and then move ahead, O’Malia said. The past is the catalyst for the future. “We can use our past to move forward,” DeAngelo said.

As for the service, “people found it uplifting,” O’Malia said. “People had a revelation ... about where they had been and where they wanted to go,” DeAngelo added.

A telling factor of the success of the service was the animated discussion that followed the service.

DeAngelo and O’Malia said the basis of the service was showing a series of 10 flower images in brilliant color. The images were desert daisy, exotic maroon daisy, fuscia, hanging snowdrops, lily with a monarch butterfly, pink orchid, white daisies, red passion flower, white orchid and pansies.

Those at the worship service, who had handouts with photos of the flowers, were asked to write a few words to describe their feelings about the flower. “We wanted personal reactions,” O’Malia said.

The desert daisies, yellow flowers against a red, stark background, elicited two opposite ideas. Some people said it made them feel desolate while others voiced feelings of hope and resilence.

Related readings were interspersed with the flower exercise.

For most participants, the lily with the monarch butterfly personified a symbiotic relationship. “Most saw that as a mutually beneficial relationship,” O’Malia said.

The hanging snowdrop, with a downward appearance, prompted reflections of being shy and introspective, the women said.

These flowers were the three that prompted the most responses from people. DeAngelo and O’Malia said participants were then asked to select the flower that “most resembles how you would like to change in the future and how the changes might enhance your spiritual growth.”

The lily with the monarch butterfly was the most popular choice. The importance of relationships, improving that aspect with another individual, one’s partner, family and friends, was the gist.

“It’s a deeper sense of identity ... spiritually and in relationships,” O’Malia said.

DeAngelis said she thought the exercise was a “powerful one” that teaches people “how deep they are.”

“We’re caught up in the pedestrian aspects of everyday life,” she said.

“An exercise like this shows you what a remarkable creature you are.”

The women said the unique effort reflects the Unitarian Universalist appreciation of alternative services with spiritual components. DeAngelo pointed out the flower exercise, like many services, employed various spiritual, sacred and secular texts but is not tied to any one.

“The Unitarian Universalist church is about inclusiveness,” DeAngelo said.

“We respect and value the diversity of age, ethnic background, race and sexual prefrence,” O’Malia said. “We’re a welcoming congregation.”

She noted a chalice lighting and extinguishing is an element of services. Closing words by Elizabeth Selle Jones, a Unitarian Universalist minister, reflect Unitarian beliefs ... “We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth, the warmth of community or the fire of commitment. These we keep in our hearts and share with all the world.”

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