The Year of the Onion Flower

My roommates unearthed it, so to speak, from the back of the vegetable crisper. The carrots had started to liquefy—that’s a thing that carrots do—but the onion had developed roots.

In Tanzania at the World Council of Churches, a young woman stands center stage and tells us, “Since I am fifteen, I have a call to be a pastor. But they say to me, you cannot be a minister because you are a woman. I find another church. They say, what can she tell us, she is so young? Because I am a woman, because I am young, I fight twice.” 

This comes two days after another young woman—this one in my Bible study group—is nearly kidnapped and dragged into a van. But she shows up at Bible study the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

 On the last day of the conference, I sit on the steps and talk about women in ministry with an Egyptian Orthodox priest in full vestments. He thanks me for my faithfulness, and I thank him for his.

We placed the onion in a wine carafe and left it on the bookshelf. In a couple of weeks, it sprouted a stem. Attracted by the evidence of life, we moved it to the windowsill…sunshine, right?

At Ramallah Friends School, I meet a little boy with developmental delays and a passionate love for classical music. We listen together to Beethoven, Bach, and Pachelbel, and we practice speaking in English about each. Then, just for something new, I play him “I Got Rhythm” sung by Judy Garland. Laboriously, he writes in my notebook:

IT’s very very very GooD music becauze It is my favorate.

A couple weeks later, I sprawled on the floor reading aloud from a Wikipedia article about onion reproduction while Roommate A washed dishes and Roommate B roasted a chicken.

I read the Bible and the Harvard Business Review, Lloyd Lee Wilson and Malcolm Gladwell and old minutes from yearly meeting sessions. I study systems analysis, sociology, marketing, fundraising, economics and more. I experiment with social media and analyze survey data and consider how discoveries in neuroscience might shed light on community building and culture change. And then, sometimes, I listen to showtunes—in fact, Fiddler on the Roof’s “Anatevka” inspired The Grief and the Promised Land.

Turns out you can force an onion to bloom if you stick it in a refrigerator and then let it out in the warmth of a kitchen. The onion thinks—yup, it “thinks”—that winter’s over and spring has come, so of course it’s time to make vegetable babies.

In Samburu, I hear the story of Loko, where Kenyan Friends built a meetinghouse, a health facility, and a school in 2002. But following tribal clashes in 2006, the structures were destroyed and the building materials carried away.

Three years ago, Friends returned to Loko and started a nursery school there. They’re also using that nursery school as a worship place. The Samburu people are slowly returning.

The day I arrive to visit, twelve children dance to the beat of a drum and teach me to count to five in their language. The community honors me with a warm can of soda. This is living the resurrection.

Within the month, the onion blossomed. No water, no soil, just sunshine and stored-up energy. The stem burst open with a hundred tiny flowers.

I’m in Notre Dame mostly because a flight home from Palestine is cheaper if I spend twenty hours in Paris. It’s December, and a brilliant Christmas star hovers above us all inside the cathedral. I take some time to sit and consider in silence the glorious non-specificity of God’s invitation: “Come and see,” He says. “Follow the Light I’m showing you. Just—come and see.”

That onion flower stayed with us for weeks. Eventually, it wilted, and it’s long since gone. But I can almost see it even now, right there on the windowsill, across the table as I write.

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