Friday, June 15, 2012

Remember now thy Creator

Ecclesiastes 11:9-12-4 (KJV)

   Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
   Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
   Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
   While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
   In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
   And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low;
   Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
   Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
   Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
   Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
Much like the 23rd Psalm, I find myself falling into this passage from Ecclesiastes for its poetic value — though perhaps to a fault, because I’m not sure I’m actually deriving any meaning from the words. Just hit me with the “Remember now thy Creator...” and I’m somewhat mesmerized. Several secular poems have the same somewhat hypnotic effect on me (two that immediately come to mind are “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost), though neither is layered with the kind of deep meaning of Scripture.

Like many other writers and English majors I am fascinated by words and the way they are put together. Certain beautiful turns of phrase sing to me like great symphonies — of course, I have a strong affinity for beautiful music as well. And masterful photographs, especially dramatic work by experienced photojournalists, are absolutely riveting. Again, I am not unique in this regard, but nonetheless I feel it important to share my appreciation of the creative arts and the way they enhance life.
“In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble...”
When encountering the Frost poem, I appreciate its elegant simplicity. It is masterful word work. But I don’t get too wrapped up in considering the meaning. Ditto “Rhapsody In Blue,” which I think is my favorite musical composition of any genre. The music is indescribably beautiful. But a deep meaning? Honestly, a large part of the reason I like the piece is how well it was used in all those United Airlines commercials over the year, specifically those that were as much commercials for Chicago as anything.

And yeah, I wasted a solid ten minutes on YouTube looking for the precise commercial I had in mind. No dice.
“...and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low...”
Whenever one of my absolute favorite hymns comes up in a worship service, or if I just happen upon it while thumbing through the hymnal, I think about the reason the song means so much to me — and I also make a mental list that I want the hymn sung at my funeral. I’ve never actually compiled the list, though, for fear the service might require two or three organists and an intermission. But I’ve never quite had the same thoughts about Scripture. Until tonight. I need to make a special note of this one, at least a few small parts.

(For what it’s worth, this passage did not come up on either the Beliefnet Suggested Scripture for a Protestant Funeral list or a liturgical guide from the Church of England, but then I stopped Googling because enough already...)

So what is being said here, right at the end of Ecclesiastes? I certainly can’t add any elegance to the verses above. And I have had a hard time understanding a lot of what is going on with Ecclesiastes based on the selections I’ve looked at over the last few weeks. (The next book in this lectionary slot is Numbers, so that’ll be a trip.) And while this exercise has prompted me to take a deeper look at Ecclesiastes at some point, I find the last two verses of the book to be as complete a summary as I may ever need, and a fitting sentiment no matter what part of the Bible it springs from:
Now all has been heard;
   here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
   for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
   including every hidden thing,
   whether it is good or evil.
This speaks directly and beautifully, another lesson I want to teach my children and also must apply to my own life. They may not care for words the way I do, or share my appreciation for music or ever pay attention to the power of a dramatic photograph spread over four or five columns of newsprint. But they can learn the power of God’s Word. I can help them along the way by sharing with them the way Scripture affects me, and then living that example. I hope I’ve already started.

A prayer for June 15:

Lord, I want to remove sorrow from my heart. I want to put away evil from my flesh. I want to keep your commandments. I thank you for the beautiful gift of Scripture and the way it teaches, inspires and grounds me. Please help me share this gift with my children, and to let them see how it affects me that they, too, might seek your Word as a guiding influence. Amen.

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