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In 1964, Johanna and I bought our first home in Aurora, then a sleepy small town north of Toronto. Built (probably) in around 1830 (yes!), our home on a hill next to a creek came with an acre of land. A huge playpen for our children, with plenty of space for growing vegetables and flowers. Given modest income and a growing family, garden crops were a welcome budget supplement. For eight years I happily dug, sowed and harvested.

All that time Johanna cultivated beauty in flowers. She knows far more about those than I do. If I enter a flower shop, I look for what strikes me as colourful and varied, never mind the names. Even so, I have a visceral connection with two flowers, marigolds and dandelions.

I love marigolds, orange, yellow, mixed.  Johanna dislikes their smell, and wouldn’t buy them for herself for planting when we still had a small flower bed. She would buy a few plants each year, only to please me. For I love them. I do not really know why. When I see them, I stop and look. When a marigold bloom gives out, I pick its residue and inhale its smell. I ask myself—why this devotion? Did I grow them when in the Spring of 1946 I tended my small plot in a school project community garden? Could be. Did the houses my parents rented have flower gardens? Not really. Yet I am partial to marigolds. I stop at gardens where owners have planted many more than Johanna let me. Watch buds appear, open, and flowers droop all through summer. But, and this I have also known forever: marigolds are useful alternatives to poisonous pest control powders. A recent article in a Dutch newspaper told the tale of a strawberry grower who judiciously plants marigolds in between his crop plants. Claims that marigolds scare away worms that gnaw roots, and thus lessen the needs for pesticides. He claims, and his eager customers agree, his strawberries have prime flavour, taste like they should taste. Yeah, marigolds!

My second favourite flower is the dandelion, that ubiquitous flower despised by many. I like its bright yellow colour, and its delicate dome of parachuted seeds just before the wind disperses the offspring. I admire its tenacity. Dandelions grow everywhere each spring and early summer. Some are low to the ground, some high among tall grasses and low shrubs. In dry spots, the leaves tend to be spindly, in more dampish areas, the leaves are broad. Drought shows their tenacity, as they thrive where other flora withers. I know of folks who pick early spring dandelion leaves and use them in salads. Others collect the flowers and make dandelion wine. Yet most people hate them, and spend big money death-spraying them or digging out the stubborn roots one by one.[1]

Why do I love dandelions when almost no one else does? I don’t know that either. But as I brooded on possibilities on one of my walks, two thoughts hit me, and both made me smile.

Is the dandelion a metaphor for the ever-presence of sin? Behold that possibility. Growing everywhere, often in unwanted places. If you dig up a root, make sure you get all of it, for even the smallest residue will produce as plant next year. Dousing that flower poison with spray or powder poison will work, it is true. But little dandelion parachute seeds produced elsewhere will descend on the patch you cleared, and cheerfully take possession. We all know: we can’t get rid of them for good. Like dandelion, sin crops up all the time. Gets deeply rooted in our person. Sometimes in areas of our lives we consider holy. Like church. Within families. Among friends of longstanding. Spoiling marriages. Blemishing our careers. Is that why we hate dandelions so much?

But ... we could also, and with the same dandelion facts in mind, consider dandelion a metaphor for God’s grace. For God’s grace, too, is everywhere. Given that conviction, dandelion yellow can be a sign of God’s presence. As is its persistence. Nothing can really kill that grace. Mind you, that thought would make a cultivated dandelion-free lawn a sign of not wanting to have God’s grace present in the lawn’s owner!

I remember a woods walk. Dandelions everywhere. On the left of my path reigned the shortcomings and holiness gaps of my own life. On the right, God’s grace - forgiveness, and what the old Hebrews used to call hesed, the term we know as loving-kindness.

Behold the common dandelion. Nothing common about it, what?  

[1] ”Dandelion” is a corruption of dent-de lion, lion’s tooth, its leaves being shaped like one of those. The Dutch name is paardebloem, or “horse’s flower.”