Recently I spent an hour with one of my dear friends. The room was quiet as we spoke together. Now in her eighties, she is no longer able to walk about freely and falls are frequent. She told me that her memory is going, making it difficult to carry on a conversation for very long since the topic quickly vanishes from her mind.
Together we gazed out of her large window at the beautiful trees that grew in the front yard. With a sigh we both realized that Jesus was beginning to take her into the wilderness of his Heart, that place of unknowing where we all are eventually invited to restfully trust in him as he leads us to glory.
“But as it is written:
‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE).
Questions about life’s meaninglessness, about the way in which our days pass like vapor, about how all that we do and accomplish seems to vanish without a trace as we age, these burden not just the heart of Qoheleth in today’s first reading, but at certain points in our lives these questions haunt us too. I once heard that the book of Ecclesiastes identifies the question to which the whole of Revelation is the answer. In this quickly changing world, all that our life has been seems to slip through our fingers, and our heart longs for life, true life, life that is a treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy.
“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11).
Both Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Psalmist see life as a great river rushing toward a goal prepared for us by God where we will find joy and delight at his right hand forever. How different is this message from the distressing observations of Ecclesiastes in our First Reading today:
“One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going” (Eccl 1:4-7)
There is something cyclical in this description of continual, unending, “coming and going” of things. In this reading there is no sense of the enduring, of divine gift and guidance and mission, of an end which has been ordained for all things by God. Instead, the more things change, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same, endlessly repeating to seemingly no purpose.
Today many experience life in this way. Not being grounded in the fertile soil of God’s action and love, much of what constitutes activity in our world seems to have no real meaning. I believe that during the pandemic many began to feel this way. The tasks they had been doing in their jobs were now no longer satisfying to them, no longer seemed purposeful, no longer worth devoting their whole life to. They began to seek something more meaningful to do with their careers.
It is ultimately only God who truly defines us and the purpose of our lives, their unending purpose.
This discouraged sigh of Qoheleth whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes may escape also now and then from your heart. However, Saint Paul encourages you not to give in to this sense of futility and hopelessness. Instead, take on Paul’s own strength, faith, and hope when he cries out, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6 NABRE).
Praying with this passage of Scripture
Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ. There are four movements in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).
Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1-11
“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11)
Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time
Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.
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