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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Longevity and Transience

Recently biologists were tagging sturgeon in the Detroit River. The procedure was pretty routine. Catch the sturgeon in a basket, weigh, measure, tag, and release. Imagine their amazement when they hauled up a 240 pound sturgeon! She (yes, it was a female) was 6′ 10″ long with a circumference of nearly 4 feet! They estimated she was over 100 years old!

Sturgeon and homo sapiens.

That news item got me to thinking about longevity and transience. What lasts and what passes away quickly? And what effect does longevity and transience have on us in our daily life?

Some things last a long time—like that lady sturgeon. But other animals live even longer. One particular koi fish named Hanako lived to be 226 years old. But that’s nothing compared to Greenland sharks which routinely live for 300-500 years. Their secret? They take life very slowly—swimming only .07 mph (a lesson for us speedaholic humans!) The oldest known clam lived to celebrate its 507th birthday. But the gold medal for longevity in the animal world goes to (drum roll please…) the jellyfish! They are almost immortal. If an adult jellyfish experiences injury or stress, he or she reverts back to its polyp stage and starts his or her life all over again!

Jellyfish (photo by Magda Ehlers)

Other things besides animals last a long time. Take plants. The oldest known tree is the Great Basin Bristlecone pine tree—4,852 years old. And there’s a certain honey mushroom in Oregon that is also thousands of years old. (Maybe its longevity can be attributed to its “sweet” name!) Some inanimate things on earth have lasted a long time too. The Grand Canyon is 70 million years old. Earth itself is 4.543 billion years old. But that’s short compared to the the oldest star in our galaxy, the Milky Way. That star is known as HE 1523-0901 (some astronomer should give it a name!) and it is about 13.2 billion years old.

But what things pass away quickly? In the animal world, a house mouse lives for year, a dragon fly 4 months, a worker bee 5 weeks (they literally work themselves to death—a lesson for workaholic humans), a Luna moth one week (it has no mouth so it can’t eat), and mayflies only 24 hours. Other things pass quickly. Cherry blossoms on a tree last about a week whereas daylilies (as their name implies) bloom for only one day before they begin to fade. And fireworks last for only a few seconds, just long enough to elicit a few “oohs” and “aahs.”

Fleeting but beautiful fireworks. (Photo by Denys Gromov)

What effect does longevity and transience have on us? We could conclude, if it doesn’t last long, it’s not worth much. Sneakers from a discount store that last only one week are pretty worthless. But who can put a dollar value on a sunset that lasts for only a few minutes? We could also conclude, if it doesn’t last long, it’s worth more. The fact that the cherry tree blossoms are so short-lived makes them more precious than if they bloomed all year long.

Today you might want to reflect on how longevity and transience effect your life. Name some things that are transient and pass quickly, but you value very much: time playing with a grandchild… a walk with a friend… a hot cup of morning coffee… a short poem… a vase of cut flowers… a favorite line from scripture… a relaxing glass of wine… a cherished song… Then reflect on the things that have lasted a long time in your life that you value: a certain relationship… your health… a family heirloom… an old tree you pass by on your way to work… an old family photograph.

Let us conclude this reflection with this short prayer:

God of all time and space, I thank you for things that last and for things that pass away quickly. May I never take either of them for granted. Give me the grace to appreciate longevity and endurance. Help me to respect things and people simply because they have been around longer than I have and, therefore, they might have some wisdom to share with me.

At the same time, give me the grace to appreciate the transient, the passing, the fleeting. Help me to notice and treasure the things and people who come into my life for a short time and yet may leave a lasting impression. I ask for these graces through Jesus who appreciated the long lasting and the brief. He frequently hiked up into the age-old hills of Galilee… he admired the fleeting wildflowers bobbing in the fields… he enjoyed a good meal with all kinds of people—those he had known for years and those he had just met… and, the night before he died, he chose to pray in the garden among his long-time friends, the ancient olive trees of Gethsemane. Amen.

For reflection: I invite you to share with us some of the transient and enduring things you value. Just add a comment below.

Happy Memorial Day! Today let us remember and honor all those who died while serving in the Armed Forces. May we never forget the supreme sacrifice they and their loved ones made that we might have the many freedoms we experience today.

PS: A big thank you for your prayers for the virtual retreat last week sponsored by the Heartland Center for Spirituality in Great Bend, KS. And thank you to all the wonderful women who made the retreat! It was a privilege walking with you! I am especially beholding to Renee, Ann, and Brenda for inviting me and helping me out in countless ways!

It is Sunday night as I type this part of my blog. I just saw on the news that singer B. J. Thomas has passed away. He was 78. His most popular song was “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” But he also had some popular Christian albums too. So I decided to play my favorite Christian song of his that he recorded many years ago: “I Need To Be Still.” When we think of prayer, we often think of giving ourselves time to love God. But in this song Thomas reminds us that prayer can be giving God time to love us!

I welcome your responses to the reflection, the pictures, or the song below! We all love hearing from you!

19 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    Happy Memorial Day!

    Another blog that instructs, delights, and nudges us into thought. Thank you!

    In the town where I teach, Milton, there is a beautiful cemetery that captures those ideas of transience and longevity. Both my parents are buried there, and after I pay them a visit, I will often walk the cemetery grounds, a veritable arboretum of oaks, maples, Eastern White Pines, dogwoods, cedars, cypress trees, and a whole lot of others I do not know the name of. Some of these trees must be over a 100 years old, and they are the home to squirrels, birds, and no doubt quite a few insects. Some of the grave stones date back to the 18th century, some just this year. Whatever the case, many of the stones had been cut from granite or marble, but in front of them are geraniums or another type of flower that will not last the year. Carved into all the stones are the dates of the person’s life span, some quite long, some just “one sweet day.” Paradoxically, this time of year especially, the Milton cemetery is brimming with life!

    1. Thank you, John, for these beautiful words and your cemetery reflection. Your thoughts remind me of the serenity that is of all sacred places, but often not associated with the sadness surrounding cemeteries. My childhood home was on a hill five miles or so from our parish church that was located in the valley on low ground. The parish cemetery, however, was adjacent to my backyard, marching its way up the hill higher and higher.. The stone cutter’s loud grinder became the backdrop music of my youth. I rode my bike through the tree lined narrow roads of the hilly sanctuary, passing grottos, statuary, and nodding to rows and rows of family names I passed on the way. This ride through holy ground would eventually reach the summit, where surrounded by a large moat, Calvary’s crucifixion would come into sight. Our dear Jesus hung on a huge black cross, with the summer’s sky so bright, his bent head appeared obscure. However, the grief of Mary and John were palpable. Standing astride my bike, atop of St. Mary’s Cemetery, it seemed to me then…and more so now…that they grieve for and with us all. May our prayers, in sorrow and joy, be united with theirs.

      1. Thank you, Joanne! Right back at ya! When we were children, cemeteries held so much mystery!

  2. Thank you, Sister Melanie. I love this song. I used it as a song to accompany my witness talk at a recent Christ Renews His Parish retreat. I have listened to it several times over the past few weeks. The lyrics are something that we can all draw guidance from!

    Thanks for choosing it. God bless you and all of the blog subscribers.

  3. Sister Melannie, so glad you mentioned B. J. Thomas, whose music was a part of my AM-radio childhood in the early ’70s. My dad, who had a comic streak, would always alter one word of Thomas’s signature song: “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Squash”!

    Maybe I’ll choose a favourite song as both the transient and the enduring thing that delights. It is transient, particularly if it’s a radio pop tune, at most five minutes from start to finish, maybe seven in the case of “American Pie.” But it endures in the memory, like a poem.

    Yes, like a poem. I have known nonagenarians who had difficulty remembering what they had for breakfast, or whether they had breakfast, who could impeccably recite stanzas of Longfellow, Mrs Browning, and Akhmatova. (One fellow I knew, now of blessed memory, could do forty lines of Akhmatova in Russian! — he was an American professor of Slavic languages.)

    RIP to Mr Thomas, to all who have died in the service of their country, and to the singers and poets and artists who bring us delight that is both transient (the time it takes to see or listen to the work in question) and permanent. Or shall we settle on “significant” or “memorable” as the right word?

  4. I thought of you when I heard B.J.Thomas died.
    You’ve used his songs before. So glad you
    played him today. Is life was too short in some
    ways but now he lives through his very varied music.

  5. I’ve been subscribed to your blog now for about a year, and I wanted to tell you, “Thank you very much!” I look forward to it on Mondays.

    You have a beautiful spirit, and thank you for that. Your spirit encourages me in my daily walk.

    Sending lots of blessings your way and again thank you

  6. Happy Memorial Day….in gratitude for all who served….

    Pondering your thoughts on longevity and transience…..grateful for the blessings of a 50 year marriage, and yet far too brief when my spouse passed away. Perhaps the lesson is to enjoy the the “ lengthy” things in life-never knowing when all of a sudden they feel fleeting.

  7. Many thanks for this and all I’ve read in the past few years of your weekly column.
    Once I read Baudelaire’s opinion that we weep while hearing or seeing something beautiful because we despair of holding on to the moment filled with beauty. Could be, but we do have memory, our solace for the loss. And we have the faith that the moment or person is still within our hearts. When this faith is religious/spiritual, I think of Christ’s “I am with you for ever.”

  8. Sr. Melanie, you never fail to set the right tone in your writings each week. While the facts are fascinating, the lesson or truth of your stories always gives me something deeper to ponder. I found this to be especially true for me today.
    BJ Thomas’s song was especially timely for me as life has become much more busy and complicated for me right now. His advice of “Be Still and Let God Love You” will sing me through these difficult days in my life. Thank you Sr. Melanie, and thank you BJ Thomas.

  9. Dear Sr. Melanie,
    What a thought provoking blog. I am grateful for the longevity of my marriage to my husband, Jack, (65 yrs next week) and yet with our age and failing health I am acutely aware of it’s transience.
    I loved the song. We listened twice and I entered it in my journal. It reminds me of the advice I keep hearing both from reading and my spiritual advisor to “Just show up.” It sounds so easy and yet it’s often difficult.
    Happy Memorial Day to everyone!

  10. Hatred and contempt live far too long, and the devil tries to get us to recall sins confessed and forgiven long ago; while the lives of dogs and the loving memories of time spent with our children and grandchildren, pass much to quickly! Thank you for who you are and for inspiring us to grow. Happy Memorial Day. God bless you and our nation.

  11. Thanks, Melannie, for the retreat in Great Bend. When one loves something, like I did your message on HOPE, it feels like a piece of heaven. Reading your blog today reminds me that sometimes a retreat may not last long enough but in memory it is there forever. May your words of wisdom continue to reach the minds and hearts of those people who want to never lose HOPE.

  12. Melanie, I’ve only in the past few months begun to read your Sunflower blog. Now I ask “Why did i wait so long?” Such beautiful and thought-provoking messages! Thanks.

  13. Thank you Melannie for your thoughts this morning and your perspectives. Enjoyed the B.J. Thomas song and played one of his gospel albums. My favorite is You Gave Me Love.

  14. I admit it. I am a tree-toucher. When I see an old tree (the gnarlier the better) I reach out to touch its bark, hoping to tap into its permanence and have some of its wisdom flow into me.
    Conversely, I have started to split time between Ohio and Arizona. In the spring there, there are some varieties of cactus who’s beautiful blooms last just one day.
    As you so eloquently point out – we have something to learn from both transience and permanence.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking piece.

  15. My Mother Martha so loved B.J. Thomas’ songs. I wonder if she has looked him up in Heaven yet.
    Thanks Sister Melannie.

  16. The song you chose to share is just a perfect expression of where God is calling me after a difficult year of teaching High School Science during the COVOD pandemic. I have been listening it to it each night as I end my day.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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