I'm often amazed when the Daily Office seems to coincide with my daily life!
Recently, one of my friends on Facebook tragically lost his 20 year-old son in a motorcycle accident. His posts on the social networking site were heart-breaking. After being up all night, he wrote about a time when he went to an interfaith event hosted at the Railroad Square Art Park. A Christian, a pagan and atheist were on a panel (no, this is not a joke. It's apparently real.). The inevitable question came up: Why do bad things happen to good people?
The Christian said: it's God's will (more on THAT in a moment).
The Pagan said: it's karma.
The Atheist said: shit happens.
In that moment of deep pain, the friend remarked that he could buy into what the atheist said. And not even being in that same place of pain, but feeling enormous empathy for this man's sorrow, I could also accept an explanation of "shit happens."
I'm not exactly sure who this Christian was that tried to assert that God "wills" bad things to happen to good people. I suppose if we were to take the book of Job from the Hebrew Bible, and believe it to have literally been true that God and Satan had a bet on just how much the righteous Job could take before he threw in the towel and denounced God, then-- yeah-- God may actually enjoy playing puppet master of the Universe. But I don't believe that Love is the great manipulator pulling the strings of our lives or intentionally pulling the rug out from under us. A belief that God has preordained someone to be miserable would also seem to negate our free will to either choose life or choose death, which I believe is the constant choice put before us.
Here enter a good dose of that Hebrew wisdom literature!
This week, we've been reading from Ecclesiastes during the morning daily office. And I have found myself taking in the words of this part of Scripture as if it were a tall cool drink served on a summer afternoon. I was curious by the use of the term "vanity" as in "all was vanity and a chasing after wind..." Interestingly, it means not only something "meaningless", it also suggests "breath" or "vapor" or, in Hebrew, hevel, which is an essential part of life. Such understanding makes a difference when looking at something like this;
"The wise have eyes in their head,
but fools walk in darkness.
Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. Then I said to myself, ‘What happens to the fool
will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said
to myself that this also is vanity."--Eccl. 2:14-15
If "vanity" is essential, and doesn't just mean something that is wasteful, I started thinking that the author of this book isn't necessarily bashing 'vanity.' Instead, what I think this Scripture wants us to know is that while we all live and die the same whether we are "wise" or "fools", what matters is how we lived in the present time. Are we living in Love, or are we toiling away and not getting fed in any way by anything but the product of our own hands and minds? And are we spending all our time fretting over whether we're doing that, or are we simply living into that Love? And that's when we can cue up the CD player to words known to all fans of 60s music: To every thing... turn turn turn... there is a season... turn turn turn.
There are times when we will die; there are times when we will live. And it all happens according to whatever season it is. And all of those are matters under heaven, but not matters in which God is moving us around like chess pieces. It isn't God's will that bad things happen to good people. Bad things will happen. Good people will die before what we believe is their time. And yet we will remember that goodness they shared with us because we will have felt the Love that they shared with us when they were here.
In Christianity, there is a sense that even in bodily death, we have life. That life-after-death is a complete and total unknown for us who aren't in that transition of crossing-over. But for those left behind, the life of the one who has shuffled off their mortal coil lives on in the hearts, minds and memories of their friends and loved ones. And that's how the deceased continue to live. No wonder the Jews say, "May "xx"'s memory always be a blessing."
Death happens, and there is a time to mourn. And that mourning will give way to dancing again when we re-enter that season of life. And don't be afraid to dance while we're alive!