The summer before I headed off to college my family went on a road trip and turned off the highway to make a visit to Crystal Cave in Pennsylvania. It’s surprising how you can leave July by heading down a few sets of stairs into a cathedral tomb where sky and grass are as foreign as Mandarin is to me. The tour guide circled a twelve foot long stalactite with her flashlight and said it was growing at a pace of roughly four inches every thousand years Then she turned off the light to demonstrate the cave’s natural darkness.
The blackness that closed over us was on the scale of the second verse of Genesis: Now the earth was formless and empty. Only ten seconds of it was more instructive than Frederick Nietzsche about the immateriality of anything I’d ever learn, do or love.
Millennia before The Byrds’, “To everything there is a season” was the first line of a poem embedded in chapter three of Ecclesiastes. Far from celebrating the seasons, the teacher, Qoheleth wants us to look at human experience without the throw pillows and vanilla scented candles.
How’s this for an Ecclesiastes flavored meditation? You were born, you will die, you will be forgotten and so will everything and everyone you have ever known and loved. Amen.
Over the centuries rabbis have talked about calling the cops and escorting this Ecclesiastes out of the Biblical canon but it’s still here, leaning back on its chair, cracking peanuts in the far corner of the church while we do our best to ignore it.
Speaking of rabbis, a long time ago I asked one if there is free will or if everything is part of God’s plan, from the Big Bang through the apocalypse.
“Yes.” He said
“Yes what?” I asked.
“Yes to both.”
The farther one walks into a life with God the greater the contradictions. When you see your child for the first time Psalm 139 sings that she is fearfully and wonderfully made and there’s no clearer evidence that God, like a Father, has numbered the hairs of her head. (Luke 12:7) And when you wake up one morning wondering where the last twenty years went or how you could have possibly thought building a career was important, Qoheleth shouts “Vanity, vanity! All is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b)
The truth, no matter how frightening, is always holy.
“Don’t be afraid,” say Jesus and Qoheleth, “Take my hand.”