Here today and gone tomorrow… That pretty well describes some of my favorite spring wildflowers, including marsh marigold, trout lily, trillium, and Jack-in-the-pulpits. They actually last a bit longer than a day, but are called ephemerals because they complete their annual life cycle in a very short period of time. Spring ephemerals are plants that grow their leaves, bloom, pollinate, produce seeds, and then die back so there is nothing to be seen above ground, all between the time the snow melts and when the forest canopy leafs out, shading the ground from the sun. The ephemerals disappear from sight, but aren’t dead; their root systems are alive underground, biding their time until the following spring, when they will once again appear to briefly share their beauty, proclaiming the retreat of cold and the renewal of life that comes with turn of the seasons.
As I thought about spring ephemerals and their brief appearance, the phrase “Here today and gone tomorrow” came to mind, and I looked it up to see who had said it. It turns out that it was first recorded in John Calvin’s Life and Conversion of a Christian Man (1549): “This proverb that man is here today and gone tomorrow.”
I also found a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Both of these statements struck a chord with me, the first about the brevity of our lives when viewed against the backdrop of the timeline of the universe and all creation, and the second about God’s eternal existence compared with the transitory things we tend to devote ourselves to.
In recent months Psalm 90:12 has been coming to mind, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I’ve been pondering the brevity of life and the fact that I don’t know when the number of my days will be up, and these ephemeral plants speak to me of doing just that, not with a gloomy, morbid outlook, but with vibrancy, joy, and wholehearted living. Two more verses from Psalm 90 express that perspective: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days… May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90: 14, 17
As with spring ephemerals, now, the Now of every day, is the time for me to grow in wisdom, to bloom as I share whatever beauty I can, and to produce fruit for God like Martin Luther King, Jr, as I give myself to something eternal and absolute. When I remind myself that, like a spring ephemeral that lives with zest under the open sky before leaves obscure the sun, I am only here for a time, I am motivated to keep my perspective on the joy to be found in living for God, while I grow and bloom in this life he has given me, rooted in the ground of his unfailing love.
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