The Celestial Thoreau: From Walden Pond to the Sun


I find it fitting to pair this NASA video of the sun with this passage from Thoreau’s Walden. His line about Olympus, in this case, applies to the universe entire. I don’t think he would mind…

When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and window casings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.

Thoreau and Pride

H. D. Thoreau

This past Sunday afternoon, I had the honor of preaching at the interfaith worship service for PrideFest in Utica.  My chosen text was a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s famous book, Walden:

We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles! What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! — I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.

I love Thoreau’s question, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”  For me, that question sheds light on our culture’s assumption that “truth” is primarily propositional.  We think it can be found in books.

As a book-lover, I fall particularly prone to this assumption!

Because of this, many folks who are active in working for LGBT equality tend to focus their efforts on establishing adequate education and legislation for equal rights in our public institutions.  To be sure, these are important.  We need to be putting time and effort into education and legislation.  Equality will not come without them.

However, I don’t see either education or legislation as the primary catalyst for social change.  For me, the deciding factor is relationships.  It was my close and personal encounters with LGBT friends, roommates, pastors, and colleagues that opened my mind and heart for the first time.  Only after that did I go back and reread the pages of the Bible with a new set of eyes.  Only then did I make phone calls, write letters, speak out to the media, and march with a sign outside my senator’s office.  Before education and legislation, there was relationship.

It began with people who cared about me enough to talk, listen, wait, forgive, and ultimately love me into a new way of thinking.  It was these relationships that led me to experience the miracle of “look[ing] through [an]other’s eyes for an instant”.

These relationships have carried me thus far and I believe they have the power to carry us all forward.  Let’s make every effort to “look through each other’s eyes for an instant”.  Let’s find a friend there.  Ultimately, let’s find the face of God there.