Ecclesiastes is my newest favorite book in the library that is the Bible. It’s the one I’ve read most over the past several months. It began while reading either With Open Hands by Henry Nouwen or Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. Reading either, I find it easy to feel in touch with the sacred. I read mostly at night and will read for a while in one book and then for a while in another, ending with the Bible. Shifting from the plain, straightforward, inspiring spiritual nuggets to the dogma, violence, and judgement found interwoven throughout much of the holy text was startling, and a bit disturbing.
This led me to read Ecclesiastes. In contrast to the loud voices which shout God’s judgement on behalf of Christ, Qohelet (the author) writes with humility about what we can know:
“[Humans and animals] all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?” 3.19c-22
“When I applied my mind to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how one’s eyes see sleep neither day nor night, then I saw all the work of God, that no one can find out what is happening under the sun. However much they may toil in seeking, they will not find it out; even though those who are wise claim to know, they cannot find it out.” 8.16-17
After hearing and reading the days news of the continuing dysfunction of our government, I am comforted to read of the folly of power structures:
“This thing too I observed under the sun about wisdom, and it affected me profoundly. There was a little city, with few men in it; and to it came a great king, who invested it and built mighty siege works against it. Present in the city was a poor wise man who might have saved it with his wisdom, but nobody thought of that poor man. So I observed: Wisdom is better than valor; but A poor man’s wisdom is scorned, and his words are not heeded.” 9.13-16 (JPS)
Seeing the effects of decreased funding for preventative mental health care and food programs which provide almost enough for the Least of These, I join Qohelet in lament:
“Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed– with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power– with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” 4.1-3
Some things never change. It still is a mystery, as much as we try to find concrete answers, what lies beyond this life. The wisdom of the poor is still not heeded by those in power. The Least of These are still at the mercy of the rest of us. Some things never change; there are still people who can recognize these truths. In this time and place, it can seem only the mighty gain and the foolish rise to power, Ecclesiastes offers a dose of sanity.