Smoke and Dust: a commentary on Ecclesiastes
[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_wp_text text=”Been there, done that?
Feel like everything that you could ever possibly do would just be more of the same old tired mess.
Because I have.
There are days I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes into one 30year stretch. I’ve traveled the globe seen the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg gate, the Altar of Pergamon, Stone Henge, the Alps + Rockies + Shield Range + Coastal Mountains + Appalachians, the Mayan Riviera, the Mediterranean, the Aztec ruins in Mexico and the Mayan ruins in Belize, and so much more. I’ve experienced sacramental liturgies, demonstrations of power, intense study with respected scholars and theologians, Cedar Point, communion in a Catholic seminary, an evening meal in a Sikh temple, prayer in a Mosque, vespers on a clear, midnight mountaintop. I’ve had great loves–my wife Carmel, my two beautiful children, my wonderful parents and siblings, fantastic coworkers, peers, and teammates–and once-in-a-lifetime adventures–safaris, snorkeling expeditions, swimming with sharks and stingrays, hiking through glacier passes and mountain ridge-chains, and sharing an office bathroom with Jvo. I’ve even had the good fortune to list off all the cool things I’ve been able to do and have my hilarious wife tell me to shut up because it sounds like I’m bragging.
Maybe I am – though, I don’t feel like I am; honestly, I feel like I’m just saying thanks to God for everything He’s blessed me with…especially swimming with sharks – we’ll do more of that in Heaven, I’m sure.
Anyways – my point in listing all of this is to demonstrate how truly difficult it is for me (or any of us) to feel like anything we do is special. We’re all able to have such fantastic experiences (even if they’re nothing like the ones I’ve listed above) that anytime anyone promises to give us something unique we get a little suspicious.
I mean, after you’ve done a bunch of cool stuff people’s claims about the specialness of Christian spirituality seem a little naïve.
Instead of the Bible being a ‘strange new world,’ it seems like a somewhat familiar, even boring one.
Enter Koheles. The Preacher – author of Ecclesiastes.
Growing up as a Pastor’s kid this book fascinated me like the other two most dangerous books of the Bible.
(Ecclesiastes + Song of Solomon + Revelation = spiritual puberty)
This is a book written by a burn out, a malcontent, a sage with soul in a soulless world given over to the corruptions of its lust.
Prior to the 1600s most people thought that this book was written by King Solomon. Since then, however, we’ve learned that it was written much later – sometime between 250-350 BCE – which changes our perspective on the book quite a bit. We used to think the book was written by Solomon at the end of his life, villifying wealth and pleasure and trying desperately to reconcile his heart to God before he died but finding it hard.
Now we know it’s the writing of a priest living in conquered Israel, wicked mad over the way his people have adopted the values and ethics of their conquerors. They have adopted material concerns and abandoned spiritual ones. Those few who have clung to spirituality have grasped only the most useless, outward version of fundamentalism and blind, make-believe clichés.
The entire book faithfully reflects the groaning and travailing of an exceptional mind: one which scorns to present a case which leaves out anything that would threaten it. The Preacher is tormented by each evidence of futility and tragedy, yet cannot in honesty renounce his faith.
Despite his conquered life, he believes.
Despite the way his people have counterfeited their national identity, he believes.
This book is a collection of his thoughts – like a notebook or a blog, a cahier into which he’s jotted down his frustrations and reflections. When he finally spits them out he does so invoking the personage of Solomon, essentially saying: “If Solomon were alive today, this is what he’d think of our country.” Hence the opening line of the book: these are the words of the Preacher, David’s son in Jerusalem.
The Preacher = Koheles
David’s son = Solomon
If this seems strange, then take some comfort that the ancient world had different literary genres than our modern world. These kinds of books were written by many other people in many other cultures and Ecclesiastes fits well into that genre. More important than authorship, though, is how the Preacher goes about criticizing his world – using guerilla tactics rather than a full frontal assault. Rather than systematically cataloguing all the objections of our world to faith and neatly responding to them, he darts back and forth – noting the random nature of life and the instability it offers to us all.
He doesn’t iron out all the wrinkles, he lets them stand and looks for God in their shadows.
Ultimately, he finds every pursuit meaningless except one and can therefore be relentless in facing that final emptiness about life in this world…
…for there is more to live than living.
The Preacher shocks us into seeing life and death from ground level. He disturbs us by flaunting the only honest conclusions that life will allow. He pokes. He prods. He asks the question to which the rest of the Bible is the answer.
But in the meantime, before an answer even begins to formulate, he supplies a rich metaphor for us to understand life.
Care to know what it is?
Then go buy yourself a cigarette. Light it. Smoke it. And if you can reach out and collect that smoke with your hands and put it back in your pockets you will have the answer to everything.
If not – then you’ll have to keep questing like the Preacher.”][/vc_column][/vc_row]