For Earth Day 2020
Earlier this week, I braved the grocery store in the midst of the pandemic that rages throughout our planet, this 50th anniversary of Earth Day. My face mask covered me so that at times I couldn’t really see all that was in front of me. I managed with a few adjustments. When I reached the produce section, my favorite part of the store, I stood, enjoying the colors and shapes and surprises that greeted my gaze. Since it is spring, there were baskets full of all kinds of greens. Fresh spinach and lettuce, leeks and spring onions, and one basket that contained something that I never remember seeing in a grocery store before.
It took me a moment or two to identify the greens that were overflowing the basket. I wasn’t sure until I read the tag above it. There was the proof. Right here in my Parkersburg, WV Kroger, there were dandelion greens and I am not ashamed to say that I exclaimed with delight!
I don’t know when my love affair with dandelions began, exactly, nor do I remember when I began to think of them as the real resurrection flower. I just know that for several decades now, when I see the first yellow blossoms of spring, almost hiding in the new shoots of green grass, my heart soars. When I see the first fluffy heads of dandelion seeds—wispy, white, almost a perfect ball—I remember the delight I had as a child, picking them, holding them high above my head, and then whirling around and around until all of the seeds had flown away on the breeze.
Dandelions are the real resurrection flower, you know. It is not the white lily that is forced to bloom, in hothouses around the world, no matter what day in the spring Easter falls. Although they are beautiful, the blooms do not last through the great fifty days of the Easter celebration, as a real symbol of the resurrection would. And, quite frankly, as a pastor, I find that on most Easter Sundays, I have a headache in the afternoon because the smell, though pleasant enough, gets to me as we strive year after year to have a greater showing of these flowers that represent Easter to us.
Don’t get me wrong! I adore lilies! Even the ones that are meant for only Easter, but I adore them best in a lily garden where a vast array of colors complement each other or along the side of a West Virginia country road, orange and vibrant, blooming their hearts out for the sheer pleasure of delighting all nature around them.
Dandelions, hands down, are the flowers to represent the Resurrection!
The yellow blossoms of dandelions are so vibrant that they almost scream that “Christ is Risen!” Most of the time, dandelions form congregations around themselves, again with vibrant blossoms of the brightest spring yellow that respond, “Christ is risen indeed!” Occasionally, a single dandelion can be found popping up through cracks in a wall or the sidewalk or through a piece of wooden fence. These are the bravest dandelions of all proclaiming with one single voice that “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!” Nothing stops these brave voices from their important proclamation, and I am grateful!
The yellow, vibrant color might be enough for these short blossoms to claim such a grand title as resurrection flower, but their very lives are the biggest reason. Dandelions are almost indestructible! That is, no matter how many times dandelions are killed, mowed down, dug up, they return again and again with those same bright yellow faces that loudly proclaim that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
In the spring, summer, and fall, like clockwork on Friday mornings—almost in all kinds of weather—the mowing service arrives at my house, to spend an hour making sure that the grass is cut and the yard is looking its best for the weekend. While I really enjoy mowing, I am happy to provide some business for this family that employs several people. They are an excellent service, but what I like best is that they do not feel the need to treat the yard in any fashion. I know that by Sunday, after the grass is cut on Friday, the dandelions will be back, resurrected, then blooming again by Monday morning, ready to proclaim the joyous news that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” They are incredible symbols of the resurrection, these persistent, beautiful, harbingers of spring.
We know that dandelions have been around for a long time. Dandelion lore goes back as far back as the 10thand 11th centuries. Many healers wrote about the properties for this prolific plant and it is possible that the existence of dandelions extend back to the beginning of the human race. The healing power of these herbs were used in treating upset stomach, swelling, skin problems, heart burn, fever, eye problems, and other ailments. The greens of this plant have often been used as food, emerging in the spring, just as the winter stores were nearing depletion.
One of my favorite saints, Hildegard of Bingen, a German mystic who lived during the 12th century, wrote about dandelions. She indicated that all parts of the dandelion are edible and recommended the flowers for a tea or wine. In her book Physica, St. Hildegard included a recipe for making salad out of dandelion greens. She recommended eating it with a dressing of vinegar and garlic. It is from the French name for this plant, Dent de lion, which means, “tooth of the lion,” and refers to the shape of the green leaves, that we get the name, dandelion. I can just imagine Hildegard, wandering along the banks of the Rhine River in Germany, hunting those jagged, tooth shaped, spring greens, knowing that the leaves and blossoms would bring healing to those who came to her for help.
Despite being so useful and prolific, bright and beautiful, the dandelion is not always considered a blessing. Rather, many believe they are a nuisance and seek to get rid of them. There were times in history when people actually dug up grass to make more room for dandelions, but not anymore. We have forgotten their beauty and usefulness in preference for manicured lawns. We have forgotten the delight of a child bringing a first bouquet of bright blossoms to her mother on a warm spring morning. We have forgotten that dandelions are the first food of the early pollinators, waking up from winter hibernation, ready to help spring burst forth in a myriad of colorful treasures, ready to begin the process of providing the mechanics for nature’s production of food.
In the earliest days of spring, the yellow dandelions begin to bloom, sometimes even through unexpected, late dustings of snow, offering much needed sustenance for those early risers, whose purpose in life is to help produce life giving sustenance for all of us. In our preference for neatly manicured lawns, we have forgotten that these glorious bright blossoms are part of the interconnectedness that binds all of creation together. We need these dandelions and pollinators to help produce our food and they need us to preserve their food. Pollinators have been in crisis for more than a decade. When we kill the dandelions, we are destroying much needed early sustenance that in turn causes crisis for those little creatures that we depend upon.
According to the British Ecological Society website, there are 20,000 bee species worldwide. The decline of the bees brought on by a mite spreading disease in bee populations throughout the world is well documented. There are other dangers to our bees as well. They need all the help they can get. Dandelions, left to grow during the first part of spring, when the pollinators emerge and before other flowers bloom, provide much needed nutrition and energy. Resurrection flowers left alone to proclaim the Resurrection can bring help and life to the dying bees. What a proclamation!
So, on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, when we celebrate the earth and creation, the interconnectedness and the possibilities that we have together, I celebrate with gratitude the presence of the real resurrection flowers—the vibrant, yellow, life-giving dandelion, proclaiming that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”
Shall we join all of creation in singing the praises of God’s gift of life, represented in this gorgeous symbol of the Resurrection? May we indeed!
All photos by: C Alicia Randolph, April 2020