Believe it or not, every now and then I ponder photosynthesis. As you probably recall from a biology class in your past, photosynthesis is the process by which a plant turns sunlight into food—not only its own food, so that it can grow, but also food that humans and other creatures eat. It’s a complicated thing, photosynthesis, involving, among other things, water and carbon dioxide and chlorophyll. (Another benefit: it gives off oxygen as a by-product—but that’s for another day, another blog).
Someone once suggested to me that, thanks to photosynthesis, when we eat plants, we are eating the sun itself—maybe not literally, but not altogether figuratively either. What we consume in, say, a tossed salad or a squash casserole, is the sun’s energy which the vegetables have converted into carbohydrates that can fuel our bodies. Eating one’s veggies may sound mundane to many. But eating the sun? How amazing is that? And how amazing that the sun can have so many wonderful and varied flavors! (If we eat meat, the same is true, just a bit more indirectly, for the animals that give us meat have themselves eaten the sun as their food.)
The other day as I worked in my garden, I was thinking about all this and feeling grateful for the parsley and zucchini, the basil and cherry tomatoes growing there. At nearly 70, I have eaten plenty of sun in my life, but still I need more. And so there I was, weeding and watering, when a sweet fragrance wafted my way. I looked over my shoulder and saw that my neighbor’s Magnolia grandiflora was in full bloom. Aha! Thanks to photosynthesis, we can smell the sun, too—in magnolia, yes, and also in mint, gardenia, pine, honeysuckle, rose…. The list goes on.
Here’s the thing about photosynthesis: It is pure miracle. Look around you. The results of photosynthesis are everywhere. We all eat the sun every day, and we smell it, too. We just sometimes forget that that’s what we’re doing.
Honestly, there are days when I wonder where on earth we humans are headed. Conflicts and injustices scream from the headlines. Corruption and greed threaten to swamp us. But in the midst of it all, there is photosynthesis, calmly and quietly doing what it does, steadfast in giving us little bites of the sun to eat, full of grace in giving us little whiffs of the sun to smell. Photosynthesis is not something we humans invented, and some days it is probably more than we deserve. It is pure gift. Thanks be to God!