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Thursdays with Thoreau

alec vanderboom

(From Henry David Thoreau's essay "Economy" in his book Walden, first published in 1854).

"A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much!"

I can't even describe why this quote moves me so much. It talks about the deepest essence of the heart. It reminds me not to fall into dreary "check a box" Christianity. I'm not a "good woman" because I cook a meal at the homeless shelter or donate lightly used winter coats to Goodwill. Thoreau could find a Newfoundland dog who could rescue stranded motorists during our recent Polar Vortex blizzard. Thoreau challenges me--don't be content to be a drooling dog. Press on! Go deeper in the interior life. Became a real human "be"-ing.

Thoreau, as a transcendentalist, is not a guy I could ever have an easy conversation with on matters of Faith. Sometimes he has these throw away lines in Walden where he says "not like that stupid Jesus Christ stuff!" I cringe and think, "Wait, I really believe in Jesus." But if I ignore the personal slights to the guy who I think actually most carried out both the transcendental idea of "God within us" and the virtue of poverty, I find a lot of common ground in Thoreau.

Thoreau is the only guy who writes about poverty in a way that makes sense to me. Even my bff St. Teresa of Avila and her buddy St. John of the Cross write about poverty that seems so far ahead of me, I can barely glimpse them. But Thoreau is my friend in the woods. He and I are taking the path "less traveled" as Mr. Robert Frost likes to put it. Even hermits need friends. Thank you, Mr. Thoreau, for being mine!