Saturday, November 12, 2005
A time for every purpose under heaven
One way and another, Ecclesiastes is looming large on my radar at the moment. It all began with a CME day last weekend “Ecclesiastes, a peculiarly post modern piece”. Never having read the book from cover to cover ( see what a dodgy relationship I have with Scripture!), I tried it the night before in NRSV and then again the following morning via The Message, and was struck by the latter’s rendering of the famous “vanity, vanity…” as “It’s all smoke, and spitting in the wind”.
The day (with the author of the Grove booklet linked above) was enjoyable, reawakening my dormant lit crit faculties (it seems to me that both Tennyson [specially Tithonus, with its opening threnody “the woods decay, the woods decay and fall”] and Beckett must have had prolonged exposure to Ecclesiastes), and I liked the idea that Ecclesiastes creates exactly the sort of ambiguity that it describes…Is the book a depressing commentary on the futility of life, or an uplifting assurance of God’s presence in good and bad times? Like the optical puzzle , it's all a question of perspective. There is, it appears, no single "right" answer, and certainly our group were unable to reach a concensus (and nor, it transpired, are the scholars). Initial reactions went from “an extended suicide note” to “a really comforting presentation of the way things are, with the reassurance that everything falls within God’s plan”,- and the progress of the day didn’t materially alter our confusion. The question is still open....thoroughly pomo indeed!
On Tuesday, though, I joined Mark and a good few others at this training day,- and bless my soul, there was Ecclesiastes again! After excellent input from the whole team in the morning, I opted for a workshop on Times and Seasons, during which Yvonne Richmond presented the famous “There is a time for everything…” passage from Eccles 3 as an expression of God’s constant presence within the highs and lows of our tidal lives. Her suggestion was that the church should should reflect this by being more proactive in responding to the rhythms of secular life. Certainly, it was notable how few of the current popular “holidays” we listed as a group existed as “holy days”, marked by the Church. When reading the amazing Voices of Morebath a year or two back I was struck by the rich variety of saints' days and festivals which pre-Reformation society marked, with each month having it’s particular celebrations, feasts and rituals. We’ve lost all that as a Church, so it’s not surprising that alternatives have filled the gaps…but I’m still struggling with the idea of some sort of Christian adoption of Guy Fawkes night. Really can’t see it! Bonfires and rockets, yes,- a wonderful part of the Easter Vigil…but to celebrate the execution of one man??
Still, I was heartened to realise that we’re already doing some of what was advocated. Journey On brings in a different group of people from the handful who gather for a traditional Requiem for All Souls,- and we’re thinking of other ways to develop relationships with those we meet through the Occasional Offices…Renewing marriage vows around Valentine’s Day, and inviting baptism families to an annual teddy bear’s picnic feed into this, and next week I’m leading a special “Godmother adoption service” for a little girl whose original godmother has died….(I've yet to construct this, so may blog more later...)
Meanwhile, the message of the afternoon was to make the most of any and every opportunity to proclaim that the Church exists as a spiritual resource, and not the irrelvant institution that it's widely assumed to be.