Oh chapter 3! Each bit feels like arriving at a moment of significant personal truth, but then at the end I also think “what was that?”
Puts you through the wringer and remains enigmatic. It’s quite an experience.
First there is the time for every purpose under heaven. Can’t help but hit play on the Pete Seeger/Byrds song, ‘turn turn turn’ in your mind’s iPod (unless you’ve absolutely never heard it).
I aways thought it was a cheat the way they added “I swear it’s not too late” after “a time for peace”. I thought “it’s not just about peace”.
But now I like that it ties it to a moment, civil rights and the peace movement of the 1960s. This passage is all about being tied to moments.
It’s such an evocative piece of writing.
It’s clearly about time, but also dancing on one spot, not making progress, because the series of opposites balance or cancel each other. A time to gather stones, a time to cast away stones. One day the stones matter, another day, they don’t.
You get its pattern straight away, and that rhythm creates a space in which your mind can wander and personalise the examples.
So it’s different every time you read it. Today I might think a about notre dame cathedral burning down, or how my son is slipping through my fingers and I can’t seem to connect with him, or regret not being more successful in the worlds terms, and mildly resent it.
Read it again tomorrow and your mind will go a bunch of different places.
Today it also reminded me of my mother’s use of the word “philosophical”. As in “I don’t like it, but I’m trying to be philosophical about it”
She wasn’t unique in using it to mean “coming to terms with a less than desirable outcome”. But it was while talking to her that I first wondered “how did the word for all the world’s collected efforts to understand the meaning of life become a word for shrugging your shoulders when things are out of your control?”
And at the same time, that memory gives me a warm sense of maternal comfort from beyond the grave.
Which is typical of the honest and emotional – cathartic I suppose – places this passage always takes me. While also supporting the general argument that life goes in ultimately meaningless circles.
Whew. Then comes the amazing bit!
How we are tortured by eternity. Because we can imagine it, conceive it – God put it there right in our hearts. But we live animal lives that just end one day. We are tied to time. And not.
That’s why “meaningless” is not a good enough translation for the frustration and restlessness the writer feels. If life were genuinely meaningless, it would be easier. He almost envies animals when he asks rhetorically if we aren’t the same? But the original word, Hevel, has the sense of life seeming like it’s going to mean something, but the meaning lying just beyond our grasp. Wisps of smoke.
I love that verse, it describes the human condition so perfectly. It explains almost everything. You can’t write off the Bible if it contains that verse, without telling yourself a lie.
Then the rest of the chapter talks about enjoying what you do have, and living a good life, calling out injustice because what little we know of eternity is the glimpses we have revealed to us of God’s unchanging character. He is just. He will will bring judgement for those wronged.
The writer seems to arrive at “We can’t know for certain what will happen when we die, but we do know what is good”.
And I have to get breakfast. Or should I say “a time for blogging, a time for tea”.
And to pray? Does God get a look in?
Too much! Use of time, relationships, mourning and dancing – connecting to eternity.