I witness a beauty in the form or coloring of the clouds which addresses itself to my imagination….It is what it suggests, and is the symbol of, that I care for, and if, by any trick of science, you rob it of its symbolical-ness, you do me no service and explain nothing.

I, standing twenty miles off, see a crimson cloud in the horizon. You tell me it is a mass of vapor which absorbs all other rays and reflects the red, but that is nothing to the purpose, for this red vision excites me, stirs my blood, makes my thoughts flow, and I have new and indescribable fancies, and you have not touched the secret of that influence.

If there is not something mystical in your explanation, something unexplainable to the understanding, some elements of mystery, it is quite insufficient. If there is nothing in it which speaks to my imagination, what boots it? What sort of science is that which enriches the understanding, but robs the imagination? — Henry David Thoreau

In addition to being a mystic, Thoreau was a reader, writer, philosopher, and curmudgeon. The passage above was written in his journal on Christmas Day, 1851. I picture him on an early morning walk in Concord, looking east, watching the sun rise. Maybe traces of childhood memories, of Christmas morning wonder and excitement, stirred from deep in his psyche.

1851 marks the beginning of what biographers call Thoreau’s naturalist phase, a time during which he studied the natural world with a scientific eye, methodically and patiently observing and documenting the life cycles and habits of plants, insects, animals and birds, and the ecology of rivers and marshes.

So he was not opposed to science. He admired Darwin’s Origin of the Species, published just a few years before his death in 1862. He wrote of science that the knowledge “she” produces is good, and that “doubt and danger quail before her eye.” At the same time, he approached the world with an appreciation of “elements of mystery,” and with a sense of wonder.

The holiday season is a time for wonder and awe. A time for miracles and mystery, gently resting alongside rational and matter of fact explanations. A time for yielding to ancient stories of stars and angels and lamps that burn long after the oil should be gone. A time for stepping out and wondering at the beauty of a starlit night, or a sunrise, or candles burning in a darkened room. And a time to be grateful for gifts of love – precious, mysterious, and life-giving.

I am grateful to be your minister.Janets signature