By WALTER ALBRITTON
Since the heinous Russian invasion of Ukraine, much has been written about sunflowers. That’s because the “soniashnyk” is the beloved flower of the Ukrainian people. It is the national flower of the country. And the beautiful flag of Ukraine contains yellow for the sunflower and blue for the sky. The sunflower is the proud symbol of Ukraine’s national identity.
That’s why demonstrators across the world have lifted up sunflowers as they denounced the wicked Russian effort to destroy Ukraine. One reporter observed that sunflowers have become “a global symbol of resistance, unity and hope.” This “sunflower movement” began on the first day of the invasion (Feb. 24), with a video that shows a Ukrainian woman in Henychesk giving sunflower seeds to armed Russian soldiers while saying, “Take these seeds so sunflowers may grow here when you die.”
My interest in sunflowers emerged when my longtime friend in Pensacola, Warren Thompson, sent me a gorgeous photograph of sunflowers he has grown this summer. I learned from Warren that sunflowers are native to America, having been cultivated here for thousands of years, being used for food, medicine, dye and oil.
My friend made me aware of the profound significance of sunflowers for the Ukrainian people. Having been brought back from America to Europe by Spanish explorers, sunflowers were introduced to Ukrainian soil in the 17th century. The people ate the seeds as snacks or crushed them into oil used in cooking. By 2017, Ukraine had become the top global producer of sunflower seeds. Today the export of sunflower oil is a major component of Ukraine’s economy.
A remarkable characteristic of the sunflower is that the head tracks the sun across the sky. Because it follows the sun, it has been called “a satellite dish for sunshine.” Scientists explain that the flower’s sun-tracking (called heliotropism) is caused by circadian rhythms, behavioral changes linked to an internal clock that people also have, which follow a 24-hour cycle. Facing east at dawn, the young flower greets the sun, then turns slowly west as the sun moves. During the night, the flower slowly turns back east to begin the cycle again. After reaching maturity, sunflowers stop following the sun and only face east. Interestingly, the light of the moon, as well as the sun, provides fuel for the growth of the flower.
My friend Warren and his wife, Patti, are enjoying a sunflower prayer garden in their backyard. As they walk in the garden, they pray by name for family and friends, and especially homebound persons. They also send them frequent pictures of flowers with a cheerful greeting “as a source of inspiration, motivation and thanksgiving.” The beautiful picture they sent me was indeed a blessing.
So what is the lesson of the sunflowers? Sunflowers receive life-giving energy by following the sun. By doing so they become beautiful and useful. The Son of God, who created all things, created sunflowers that we might enjoy their beauty but even more to remind us that when we follow the Son, He provides us the spiritual fuel needed to make us beautiful and useful in a world of violence and hatred. Dare I say it? Yes, I will. Following the Son enables us to bloom where we are planted — for the glory of God!