ISSUES OF FAITH: To save our lives, we must spend them with abandon

HENRY DAVID THOREAU wrote in his journal March 17, 1857: “No mortal is alert enough to be present at the first dawn of spring.”

How right he was, given the many distractions in our lives.

Spring officially arrived at the equinox on March 20, but for the observant, its beginnings were evident far sooner.

The smallest and most tender shoots began pushing their way to the surface in late January — growth thwarted when Mother Nature dumped all that snow — not once, but twice.

As the snow slowly melted and the earth began warming, those persistent little shoots returned to their task, pressing up through ground that weeks prior looked as if nothing could possibly ever grow.

Then, the crocus and snowdrops arrived; their mere appearance, however brief, becoming a harbinger of hope.

Soon came the sweet aroma of cherry blossoms, the flashy iridescence of the Rufous hummingbird’s throat and the joyous chorus of the year’s first tree frogs.

From these small beginnings, our hope grows.

The days get longer, the breezes get warmer and the world grows greener.

Realists tell us that nature’s extravagance has the practical function of increasing the odds of survival, and of course they are right.

But ever since reading Annie Dillard on the immoderation of trees, I’ve been convinced that practicality is not the whole story.

Dillard begins with an exercise to help us understand how unnecessarily complex the structure of a tree is.

If you doubt that claim, she wrote, first try making a detailed scale model of the next tree you see.

Then, taunting the realists, she writes, “You are God. You want to make a forest, something to hold the soil, lock up solar energy, and give off oxygen.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to just rough in a slab of chemicals, a green acre of goo?”

From autumn’s profligate seeding to the great spring giveaway, nature teaches a steady lesson: If we want to save our lives, we must spend them with abandon.

When we’re obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with the rational relation of means and ends, it’s unlikely we will ever know the fullness of spring in our own lives.

Thoreau again, in Chapter 17 of his book “Walden”: “One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in.”

Let us not miss out on this experience that Thoreau understood as sacred.

Seasons may come and go, but our pleasure in greeting spring remains unchanged across the years.

Open your doors and windows, dear readers, and step outside.

Spring has arrived.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]

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