Tag Archives: eternity

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

53: Priorities

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But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:22 NIV

This is a puzzling verse, I think most of us would agree. It seems, on the face of it, devoid of compassion. And yet Jesus was often puzzling. He spoke in a figurative way that confuses us just as it sometimes did his disciples, though culturally this frame of thinking was usual to find at that time in a spiritual teacher, as it ought to be now, perhaps! Does Jesus really mean the man should leave all responsibility for his dad’s funeral?

I think this is about priorities. Jewish and Muslim burials need to happen within 24 hours of the person’s death, and so this man’s loss was extremely recent. He’d probably barely taken the news in, was still reeling from it. And Jesus says, no, don’t be concerned about that, following me is more important. Following him is more important, more urgent than the funeral of your nearest and dearest? Yes.

And Jesus also speaks from a place of absolute knowing the difference between life and death. Death in his understanding was not the enormous separation from life that we conceive it to be. For him, it was simply another state of being; several times he refers to the dead as “sleeping,” and of course was capable of raising the dead back to life. When you have come from eternity, perhaps these transitory differences are less fundamental and less tragic than they seem to us. And yet Jesus is not without compassion at other people’s grief throughout the gospels. We see how terribly moved he is by Martha and Mary’s grief even though he knows their brother Lazarus will soon be brought back from the dead.

I can’t help thinking, when I call this verse to mind, of Therese of Lisieux, who followed her calling to enter a convent despite the fact that her father couldn’t cope with losing the company of yet another child and was heartbroken afterwards. His mind broke too and he ended up in the local asylum. Yet still Therese went, there was no question of her returning home, of breaking her vows, and so she went on to become a revered saint and a doctor of the church, influencing and helping millions through her writing, life story, prayers and her “little way”. Likewise, we see Isabella in the bard’s Measure for Measure counting her eternal life more important than her brother’s earthly life, as she refuses to sleep with the Duke in bargain for Angelo’s release. I read this at university with a group of non-Christians, and they simply could not understand her refusal. I could see where she was coming from, but they just thought her selfish.

I am quite certain that Therese loved her father dearly. I am sure that she felt great anguish for him, but I also understand that there was a greater claim on her heart. Her elder sister, Celine supported him and Therese wrote to them and prayed for them. It must have been so hard. But both these women, one real, one fictional, are looking at things from an eternal perspective, seeing life as the smaller part of existence, and making decisions with heaven in mind. I think that is what Jesus is urging us to do, too.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo public domain 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