Recently, while visiting our son, his wife and their children in Portland, the City of Roses, we had occasion to visit the beautiful Rose Garden there. If you’ve been to Portland, you probably know about this Garden near the center of the City.
There is something especially appealing about this floral wonder. Maybe it’s because such an exquisitely beautiful and fragrant flower is supported by a very thorny stem that signifies a philosophical message of beauty in the midst of pain and suffering. To “stop and smell the roses,” as we are often advised, is not only to literally take time to enjoy the colour and sweet smell of this gorgeous flower, but to take time to reflect on the nature of life itself.
The fact that roses are most prolific in the warmer time of the summer season underlines the importance of this kind of activity in this time of year. Fortunately, many of us have the opportunity for more leisure in the summer. Though summer can quickly fill up with all kinds of frenetic activity, we should be careful lest summer’s delights preclude serious seasons of reflection.
I am thankful for how this summer has given me more time than usual to reflect on the nature of life. And since I rather enjoy “philosophising” anyway, I have cherished opportunities for quiet reflection. It’s been a busy summer that has included quite a variety of projects around our home and yard, as well as travel for visits with family and friends. But right now especially, I have some time to think more seriously about the world and its behaviours as well as some of my own interests and motivations.
It was W.H.Davies who in 1911 published the poem called, Leisure, which has become such a classic to the ears of modern humanity. Many of us have probably memorized it in whole or in part.
- What is this life if, full of care,
- We have no time to stand and stare.
- No time to stand beneath the boughs
- And stare as long as sheep or cows.
- No time to see, when woods we pass,
- Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
- No time to see, in broad daylight,
- Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
- No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
- And watch her feet, how they can dance.
- No time to wait till her mouth can
- Enrich that smile her eyes began.
- A poor life this if, full of care,
- We have no time to stand and stare.
The final couplet offers a great summary, not only of the poem, but of life itself. In man’s penchant for ceaseless activity, it is a travesty that he or she doesn’t take time to think deeply about the meaning of life.
It is this kind of thoughtfulness that ultimately leads us to consider questions about origin and destiny, good and evil, death and eternity, as well as God and Satan. True thoughtfulness can’t help but lead us to consider the religious questions about life. So it is not surprising that a recurring theme of the Bible is thinking about life from God’s perspective. Indeed, this is at the very heart of true wisdom as seen in such Scriptures as Proverbs 1:7, or 9:10. And Psalm 90 (attributed to Moses) sums up this focus in these words: Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a hear of wisdom. This too was the essence of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 when He asks why we worry about life — about what to eat, drink, or wear? Life, He says, is so much more than these. In the same passage He calls us to a higher focus of thought and action: namely the Father’s Kingdom and His righteousness — something so contrary to common pagan pursuits.
It’s important to recognize, I think, that reflection on life is quite fruitless outside of a framework for a basic understanding otherwise, of what life is really all about. In other words, contrary to the religious thoughts of some, it is not a matter of emptying our minds about life and its desires. Rather, it is a matter of focusing our hearts on God’s thoughts as they have been handed down to us through His revelation in the Holy Scriptures. Ultimately, we will do our best kind of reflection about life in the context of God’s Word, relating all of our thoughts to what has been written there. This means that we need to test our thoughts in relation to that revelation. The better we are acquainted with the content of the Bible, the more productive our reflections can be.
“To stop and smell the roses,” then, is more than a figure of speech, or the mere ceasing of frenzied activity. It is about taking the time to think deeply about life and about our personal lives in relation to God’s revelation in Scripture. In this way, true reflection on life, I think, brings us back ultimately to a consideration of Jesus — who He is, what He said, and what He did — and then building our lives on the outcome of those thoughts.