By the Venerable Calhoun Walpole,
Archdeacon of the Diocese of South Carolina
Every year at this time in the South, the gardenia blooms and brightens the world with its beauty and sweet fragrance wafting through the air, reminding us of the transitory, yet eternal, gift of the flower. The gardenia was named for Dr. Alexander Garden, a Scottish physician and naturalist, the son of a clergyman by the same name and cousin of the Reverend Alexander Garden, who served in South Carolina as Commissary to the Bishop of London during the colonial era. His colorful tales of the growing colony enticed Alexander, the physician and naturalist, to venture to South Carolina.
I always find myself doing a delicate dance with the gardenia in an attempt to bring some of its blooms and fragrance inside, yet knowing that if my skin touches the flower, the flower will turn brown and die. I asked a lifelong friend about this. While we were still school-aged children, my friend Peter Madsen began to operate his own nursery called “Pete’s Plants,” which is now “Sea Island Savory Herbs.” Peter explained to me that the gardenia’s flower (like that of the camellia) is so delicate and sensitive that contact with human skin bruises the cell walls of the petals. The oil in the skin closes off the pores of the petals. The gardenia is also an evergreen, meaning it never loses its leaves. It craves water and thrives in swampy settings.
In the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John, the Risen Jesus says to Mary, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus is saying that after his ascension he will be with us in new ways. The 19th century bishop and biblical scholar, B.F. Westcott, noted, “Then you will be able to enjoy the communion which is as yet impossible.”
When the pandemic is past, as in any major life or world event, we hope to be changed—for the better. In your own life, what will deep fellowship and communion with others look like?
Perhaps it will be as exquisite and delightful as the gift and grace of the gardenia.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.