Tag Archives: Ecclesiastes

196 A Time for Everything (Scripture 12)

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There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

 

photo © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

Veil of Tears 100: Aging

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in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed,” Ecclesiastes 12:3

It seems appropriate to pause on our hundredth day of looking at human misery and hope and wish ourselves a happy “century” by looking at old age. Here we have dear Eccles again, with a humorous metaphor of the aging body as a house or mill that is slowly coming to a frail halt. The limbs begin to shake, the back bows, the teeth are few, and the eyesight is not what it used to be. No it is not much fun getting older.

And yet… the Bible also tells us that there are compensations:

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness,” (Proverbs 16:31 NIV) How different from the world’s insistence that we dye away every sign of grey and trim every unruly hair! The worldly, fleshly view places all the value and glory on the young, the good-looking, the fit and healthy, but it misses the treasure as always, of wisdom and insight and experience. We are forever asking questions about how to “do” church better, what vision to follow, how to be better disciples of Christ. Do we stop and ask the advice of those who have seen far more than we have, who have watched trends come and go and who have settled into a deeper place untouched by the ungodly ways of shifting culture?

Not all older people have chosen the path of wisdom of course, and one can find many who are entrenched in bitterness or so set in their ways that there is little good advice to be gleaned from their conversation. But so many have wonderful stories, almost whole lives to share with us, if we will just take the time to listen, to really listen, to watch the gleam in the eye and see the years fall to one side as they speak their histories and tales.

Another advantage to getting older is that we start to care less about the opinion of the world and of others, we hear the critical voices far less, and this can set us free to hear the deeper, more affirming word of God in our lives. It really can feel like a liberation to realise that we are no longer beholden to this temporal kingdom and can look further into an eternity that begins now and is all about love and encouragement. And sometimes, just sometimes, we meet an elderly person so close to that newness burgeoning within them, that their skin is translucent, not with age or frailty, but with becoming. And that is a signpost to heaven.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

99: Trying too Hard

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What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22 NIV

It is good to work. If you are blessed with having found work, especially the work you feel God prepared in advance for you to do, as Paul expresses it in Ephesians, then you are a fortunate person indeed. The writer of the book of Eccles (as you know by now I call it) is not keen on the idea of work, labour or storing things up for oneself. He rightly tells us that we can’t take any of it with us when we die, that life is short and that most of it seems pretty pointless.

He’s not the cheeriest of chaps, really, old Eccles. I am not sure I’d want to spend a great deal of time with him. I don’t think he’d be one of my choices in that game of fantasy dinner guests. And yet, when I am feeling low, I agree with him. If I am down and exhausted, the thing I’m most likely asking myself is “What’s the point?” It can feel like all the pain and effort, all the trying, all the striving, is all for nothing. Even the things that I enjoy doing, like writing and art, seem like just so much chaff blowing away on the wind.

Perhaps the best thing we can do with this realisation is to embrace it. There really is no point storing up earthly wealth, so that ambition can be let go. Being poor is not a lot of fun though, and debt leads to a great many problems as well as terrible stress, and perhaps this wasn’t something that preoccupied the writer of Eccles that much as he is widely believed to be King Solomon, who wasn’t exactly short of a bob or two. So, once needs are met, we might say, there is not much point chasing after wealth or status for its own sake.

So what is worth striving for? What is worth going after? Fame? Wisdom? Pleasure? No, our advisor doesn’t find these things worth the trouble either. So what then? What is that pearl of great price that Jesus mentions? That treasure that is so great that we should immediately go and sell all we have to procure?

When I think about this, I think of Moses. He lived to the ripe old age of 120 with none of his faculties diminished, after having spent 40 years maturing, another 40 regretting a crime and becoming humble, and finally 40 years serving the Lord faithfully. And yet at the end of all that, he did not get to enter the Promised Land with his people.

We might well say his reward was to come later. That he was to enter a different Promised Land and walk with his God. Yes, that’s true. But for Moses, that eternity had already begun. He was already walking with God, and more intimately than with anyone else who had come before, it seems.

he said, “Listen to my words:

“When there is a prophet among you,

I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,

I speak to them in dreams.

But this is not true of my servant Moses;

he is faithful in all my house.

With him I speak face to face,

clearly and not in riddles;

he sees the form of the Lord.” Numbers 12: 6-8 NIV

Likewise, when Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sits at the feet of Jesus to adore him and learn from him, Jesus calls this “the one necessary (or needful) thing.” Relationship with the Lord, then is the key to the meaning of life. This is where we begin our eternity and how we are led deeper into it. In gazing more and more at the Lord of all things, into the heart of love itself, the more the peripery, the other fields, the lesser pearls, all fade into nothingness and we can be sure that we have found something meaningful under the sun, something worth pursuing, worth going after. And the best thing is that it is not something we need to strive for, but something that we simply choose.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

42: Meaningless

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So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17 NIV

Dear old cheerful book of Eccles, how I love your honesty! It seems appropriate today, on day 42 of the Veil of Tears, to talk about the meaning of life. However you calculate it, as I sit here playing solitaire on my laptop because my brain is too tired to do much else, life seems pretty meaningless. But these sayings, often attributed to Solomon, are talking mainly about the pointlessness of striving or working for material goods, and the lack of purpose to a life lived solely for earthly rewards.

Indeed, we might say that making riches or fame your goal, since we all die anyway, is pointless. Ecclesiastes goes to great lengths to remind us that we cannot take it with us. In my case, there’s very little to take, and so it is not hard for me to think that meaning must have its seat somewhere else. If our final result is the grave or the ceramic jar, then there really is no point and we may as well live how we like and throw all cares to the wind the writer of the book says we are chasing.

We can all feel from time to time, that our lives are purposeless, pointless, meaningless. Even if we help others, we’re all going to die, so what does it matter? But within an eternal universe, every action and thought matter, however small, because everything is forming us for a different kind of existence. Sometimes the work is onerous and the things we go through seem too hard and of little import. But the Lord sees it all, and even the tiniest effort, made from, through and with love, matters.

But whilst we know this and we can talk forever about the wonders of love and how it makes meaning out of everything in life, the seeming good and bad, there are still those times of feeling utterly bereft and forsaken. When it’s all so tough and we just say within ourselves, what’s the point? I am having one of those moments as I write this. And I have to hold onto my mustard seed of faith and tell myself that this writing does mean something. That my life does matter. That I am making a difference. That my art, however little and unskilled it is, improves the world. Because everything that makes life better, everything that calls out the bright and the beautiful, the true and the good, is meaningful, even as it praises the maker of all things and as it brings more and more of his kingdom into ours, preparing our weary hearts and souls for a new way of being.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

photo from Pixabay

4: Dust to Dust

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“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

Ecclesiastes 3:20

 

Since our theme for this year is misery and brokenness, I suspect we shall be revisiting Ecclesiastes (known in our house as the Book of Eccles) quite often. Seen as quite a depressing collection of wisdom sayings, I grow fonder of it as I grow older, for the sight here is plain and free of ego, and all is laid bare. This facing of facts is refreshing in a Christian culture that seeks to put a positive spin on everything.

Because sometimes, there isn’t a silver lining, only more cloud. Some people never get to see their potential fulfilled (in fact, I’d argue that most don’t). Some people don’t even get to be born, or they leave us far too early because of a drunk driver, or because they were a drunk driver. Or they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Reminding us that the main certainty in life is that we are all headed for death, is actually quite comforting to me, and it can be so not from a nihilistic point of view, that such thinking makes life devoid of all meaning, but because it reinforces the transient and temporal nature of this earthly life and our often weary or slowly disintegrating bodies.

We are all, like it or not, falling to bits, and the real questions are not about how we avoid that, or stay fit or try to look younger, or find our God-given health and prosperity (and yacht, don’t forget the yacht), but rather, what do we believe that makes this life bearable? What is actually the meaning that transcends the dust? Can we live with the faith that eternity with our Lord is the real prize? That there is a part of us that returns home to him at the end of our days and is free?

If we cannot see beyond our three score and ten, we are blind indeed, and whilst God is intimately interested in all we do, and does have plans for us, loving us in our flesh so much that he chose to live out a life within it too, it is our immortal spirit that truly needs to find its way. And we begin that journey here and now, for the Kingdom of God, the realm of the eternal, is indeed near at hand, close as our own breath.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com