I heard a powerful sermon on Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I realize that even religious people find parts of the Bible tedious but you have to love a book that proclaims, “Everything is meaningless.” Besides, this book provided the lyrics to one of the best songs ever, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger.
The Byrds later recorded it and it was the number one hit of 1965. The words are taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes. At the time, I didn’t quite understand how there was, “A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” – since it was the era of free love and lots of embracing.
That’s because we have different seasons in our lives, the minister explained, like possibly some lonely ones. He encouraged us to enjoy the season we’re in but to know when it’s time to move on. For example, if we partied through colleges into our 40s and are waking up on our neighbor’s lawn, it might be time to end that season.
The author of Ecclesiastes had been through many seasons. Solomon was the smartest guy of his time. He raised the “pursuit of happiness” to levels we haven’t seen since. He amassed great wealth, assembled the best harem money could buy and drank himself silly. “I refused my heart no pleasure,” he wrote and this was a guy who could afford all of them.
However, no matter how many houses he built, and herds of cattle he owned, he wasn’t happy. I think we often confuse pleasure with happiness – at least I do. Solomon was like one of those burned-out rock stars, who no longer enjoy trashing hotel rooms. That’s why his book describes every human attempt to achieve physical and intellectual satisfaction as meaningless.
Let’s see, wisdom is meaningless, pleasures are meaningless, toil is meaningless, advancement is meaningless and let’s not forget riches. Isn’t that a popular sentiment among the cynics and hipsters in today’s world? Isn’t that the theme of many movies, books and songs? Solomon was way ahead of his time – he taught us, “It’s hip to be square.”
Speaking of square, everyone who goes to church probably got the message that pleasure is somehow wrong. Solomon’s not saying that. He just cautioned us not to use money, sex and booze to fill the void in our hearts. If we can satisfy that ache in a healthy way and keep pleasure in perspective, we’re good to go.
To go onto another season, perhaps. In these uncertain times, I have seen so many people move on. I’ve seen the financial ground disappear beneath their feet and watched them move on to unfamiliar professions. I’ve seen them dissatisfied with their jobs and brave enough to escape the cubicle. Some have finally moved past the habits that have been holding them back.
If we don’t feel the need to change seasons, we need to appreciate the one we’re in. Youth, marriage, singleness, young kids, old kids, empty nest – these can all be satisfying if we embrace them.
After his stirring sermon, the minister turned to the band. They were dressed like 60’s pop stars and tore into “Turn, Turn, Turn.” He invited all of us to join them on stage as back-up singers. I have to admit, it’s been many seasons since I’ve seen women doing the “Swim” in church.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.