Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me -- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Margaret gave me another reminder of another of those "fun things I learned when I started playing with the Hebrew lexicon." I had learned this some time back but had promptly forgotten it until her post reminded me of it.

Havel havalim is the Hebrew for "vanity of vanities." Its literal translation is "vapor of vapors," and its slang translation in Hebrew is literally a very airy load of intestinal gas.

That knowledge of Hebrew certainly adds new meaning to the line, "all is vanity and a chasing after wind," doesn't it?

As I studied this text as part of my preparation for this past Sunday, I thought of one of those earthy rural NE Missouri phrases my grandparents used to use when they were pretty sure someone was expending a lot of effort for nothing. "Well, that was about as noticeable as a fart in a whirlwind."

I thought about how we sure exert a lot of time and effort into two things that ultimately, don't really matter--things that make us feel more prestigious about ourselves, and things I call "legacy-building."

I have never been lucky enough to travel to where ancient ruins exist, but I have seen a few ghost towns. On a more local level, I think about the little bergs in rural northeast Missouri that have dwindled down to a few dozen residents, when 50 years ago, there were a few hundred residents.

What's interesting about those little towns is most of them would have a grocery, a handful of stores (mostly of the feed and seed variety, with a clothing or general merchandise store here and there), a couple of restaurants, a drugstore, a gas station and a tavern. If they were on the railroad, there might be a small old-fashioned hotel. But more importantly, they had a SCHOOL.

Life in these little towns revolved around the events of the school--ball games, band concerts, academic contests, science fairs. As much as we decry the "big box" stores for killing the small towns, my gut feeling is the big box stores only dealt the sucker punch--the punch that drew blood, the one that put the cut over the eye of the small towns, was when the schools consolidated.

Don't get me wrong--we did a lot of this consolidation for the right reasons--but the end effect was when we moved learning down the road, and an interest of learning down the road, we dealt a mortal blow to small communities. The end result is what were once small, fragile but thriving communities in their own way became vapors.

Herein lies the danger of being true to the notion of "following God." As God becomes more real to us, other things in our life WILL become vapors. Maybe it will be refusing to leave town for more money because you realize "your mission is here." Maybe it will be spending more time helping the poor and feeding the hungry instead of hanging out with your buddies, who won't really understand why you'd rather do THAT instead of being with THEM. Maybe it will mean your spouse or significant other says, "You are a different person. I am not sure I signed on for THIS," and there are going to be some hard talks about survival of relationships. Conversely, maybe it means not being as "ambitious" at work because you feel God is calling you to be a bigger presence in your family, and stress with your boss.

We don't know going into it which things will be the stressors, as they move from "real" to "vapors," either.

The bottom line is, we don't move from darkness to light without having to light a few fires and soiling the air--bet on it.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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