When I was a kid my mom actually had flowers growing in her garden called "lily of the valley." They were small, white flowers. They grew under the trees . . . I think in the back yard . . . maybe also along the side of the house. And like most beautiful things we knew as children, my mother had a song for it. I'm not sure that I knew it as a round when I was a little girl. But I do know that my mother was the one to sing it to my sister and me, and that we learned to sing it with her.
"Lily of the Valley" is a name that has been passed around and argued over. Some people believe that it is a reference to Jesus. Some people believe that it is a reference to The Church or "the bride of Christ." The name springs up in a poetic book, Song of Solomon 2:1, which says, "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys."
If you look at the plant, lily of the valley, in somebody's garden, you will find it growing in the shade. It will be somewhere close to things like ferns - things that want darkness and moist soil.
Easter lilies, which are different from the small lily of the valley, prefer the sunlight (indirect, though), and most folks grow them indoors before moving them outside. I don't believe I've ever seen a lily of the valley sitting in a pot in someone's living room - just outside, nestled under the trees.
Last year I was asked to write a couple of songs about the crucifixion. There were specific verses to be covered. One of them was the moment of Jesus' death and his removal from the cross . . . his delivery into the tomb. I wrestled with it for several days.
This idea of Christ being "the lily of the valley" came back over and over, but not exactly the way you hear it in old gospel songs. I had a picture in my head of that little, shade growing flower, tucked into my mother's back garden. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4.
The little white flower that grows in the dark parts of the garden . . . Jesus, who exposes the darkness of our politics, our misguided love of religious perfection, and our ability to turn violently on one another . . . Jesus, who walks through the valley of the shadow of death to show us what we're capable of when we become too much engrossed in being "right" and being "powerful."
This is why "Lily of the Valley" makes sense to me as I think about Jesus - He is this lovely thing growing in the dark part of the garden. And didn't we reject the garden in the beginning? Didn't we let darkness into it because we decided to listen to the first one who ever fell down under the weight of pride and jealousy?
So I ended up with this song.
It's just a living room recording, so pardon the rough edges. But you get the idea.
What a strange day.
Don't try to make it normal or acceptable. It's not acceptable. It's not palatable. It's not pleasant.
The only beautiful thing is this small bloom growing in the darkest part of the human garden, reminding us not to fear the valley of the shadow of death - because although the cross is humanity's ugliest invention, Jesus Christ is there reminding us: do not be afraid to walk a different way.
Do not be afraid to stand up FOR those who are weak.
Do not be afraid to stand up TO those who are powerful.
Do not be afraid to YIELD to those who use violence to get their way.
Because when we stand up for the weak, when we stand up to the powerful, and when we yield to those glorifying in violence, we will walk in the footsteps of the lily Himself . . . and we will always expose the ugliness of what is wrong and the beauty of what is truly right.