Not so simple

The humble zinnia is still brightening up the garden as it weathers the late season temperature changes. It is only an annual, a flower that completely dies at the end of the growing season and won’t re-grow again from the roots.

Still, there is no need to plant them every year, in spite of their transient nature. The birds, while collecting the prized seeds after the blooms are spent, inadvertently scatter some seeds in their feeding frenzy.

The blooms themselves, in spite of the often vivid coloring, would appear to be the very essence of simplicity due to their plain form. At first glance, they appear to have the classic “petals around a yellow middle” type of shape that we all drew in kindergarten.

In reality, they are what horticulturists call a “composite” flower. Upon close inspection, you would notice that the inner yellow color is actually comprised of little miniature flowers with their own tiny petals, usually five of them. They begin blooming at the edge of their little group inside the main petals and, as the older ones fade, continue their ring of color in their march to the middle.

Mathematically speaking, this repeating pattern of flowers within a flower is known as a fractal. The arrangement of these florets often comprises a “Fermat’s spiral,” an intriguing set of spirals going in two directions yet interlocking one another, which is more than my feeble mind can comprehend. Someone with better math and geometry skills could explain it better, I’m sure; but it amazes me at the beautifully complex design laid out in something that appears so simple and unassuming.

To a casual observer, my lowly zinnias, daisies, and sunflowers may offer a bright splash of color and nothing else. They may charm and delight garden visitors about as much as the aforementioned kindergarten drawings.

Until one really looks intently into the heart of that blossom, one does not appreciate its true complexities.

Whether we are looking at a flower, home renovation project, recipe for chocolate eclairs, or the church of the living God, we seldom appreciate the intricate nature of anything at first. There are steps to be taken that we didn’t see at first, skills or tools needed that we may not possess, and consequences of doing a job – or not doing it – that we find we have to factor in.

This is why a rush to judgment is so unwise. We may not know at first glance all the inner workings of a relationship gone awry, or the complex nature of a problem that needs to be solved. Forces at work may not be easily understood, and the consequences of a “quick fix” may be worse than doing nothing at all.

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5, NASB).

A flippant, easy answer for every situation is unrealistic at best, and dangerous at worst.

In our floral example of Fermat’s spirals, the number of clockwise spirals is not the same as the number of counterclockwise spirals. These (known as parastichy numbers) are almost always consecutive Fibonacci numbers. Scientists have wondered how the plant “knows” how to do this, but God in his wisdom literally “planted clues” in nature so that we would be in awe of him!

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You” (Psalm 139:17, 18).

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