Ecclesiastes and John

Wisdom and peace of mind can be closely linked. In a time of my life filled with fear and indecision, I went to Ecclesiastes seeking wisdom. What I found was perspective, a source of freedom and encouragement. I wrote these two poems exploring some of the themes I found there.

Advertisements

“Ecclesiastes” and “John”

This past weekend I participated in an awesome talent show featuring an all-star cast of students from New Saint Andrews. Flight of the Conchords met Nun Fight and Les Miserables played by kazzoo-ists. There were also original piano compositions and some crazy dancing. It was fantastic.

My entry was a pair of poems. Since a few folks have requested written versions, I am putting them up here, together with the introduction I gave that night. Since that part was a little more ad-libbed, it’s not verbatim.

PS. The line breaks are transferring weird. When I get some more time, maybe this weekend, I’ll come by and line them up a little better. (For instance, “field” and “yield” should be pretty much directly over one another, and stuff like that.)

Preface:

Contrary to the way it may seem, if you know me, despite some of the incredibly stupid things I’ve done, my besetting sin in life is often over-thinking things. I like to come up with plans and schemes, ways of getting around whatever it is in life that terrifies me. And all too often I fail miserably.

Realizing this, I spent a little bit of time in the Gospel of John, and a whole lot more in the book of Ecclesiastes, searching for wisdom. In these two poems tonight, I hope to share with you what I think I’ve found there.

Solomon

Listen up!

Once there was a preacher,

                                A true soul-teacher,

A man with a plan and the world in his hand,

A king of divine anointing,

A lord of Wisdom’s appointing.

Solomon the wise

                                Began an enterprise

To carefully devise a surefire way

To make this confusing world clear as day.

So listen up all you

Who Lady Wisdom pursue,

For these are the words of the king, and his words are true.

 

All that exist are as mist in the morning and fog on the creek,

They are smoke on the mountain, feeble and weak.

All plans are uncertain, all choices are bets,

                                The sun rises and sets

And every flower will fade,

And light passes to shade.

Every man will die, both you and I,

Who can say who will reach the sky?

 

I saw a man like a king,

                                                Who could nobly sing.

But his generation came and went,

And when his life was spent,

Another took up his song,

But the very chorus was remembered wrong.

 

Dress yourself in silk or cotton,

But one day your frame will rot in

                                                                The field.

Your very kingdom will yield

                                                To the force of time.

No chiseled verse or rhyme

                                                Will commemorate your deeds.

For every king that rises, another king succeeds,

No matter how the old one pleads.

For all mean are men, and every man bleeds.

 

What? Will one of you weep?

Still hear, for wisdom is deep.

No man knows his way through the fog,

We are all trapped in this miry bog,

But there is one who sees it all,

And through the fog you can hear his call.

“Trust me, child of mine,

Like one drunk with wine

                                                You stumble,

But if you will hear me, be humble.

Here in the passing shadows I have given joys,

Faithful friends and wondrous toys,

And if the sorrow is too great to bear,

Remember who has put you there.

You cannot see your way through the fog,

But I have not asked you to.”

 

Hear this wisdom, the words are true:

We are as mist in the morning or fog in the creek,

Like smoke on the mountain, both feeble and weak.

Like grass in the sun, we have our time and fade,

And, like a Father, God cares for every blade.

And so Solomon saw that there was nothing better under the sun

                                                Than for man to eat, drink, seek fun

In the labor God has given him now.

Do justly, love mercy, humbly bow

                                                                     Before God above.

No man can find out the ways of the world,

                                                                                For the only way is love,

And that way cannot be tamed.

 

John

John one, verse fourteen, the Word became flesh.

                                Say it again and make it fresh,

Because until you understand

The firmness of the land

                                                Beneath God’s feet,

How as a child his mom would give him treats,

You have failed to grasp the implication.

 

If you, O thinker, need a point in what I say, it’s this:

Live like God on a summer day—with bliss.

Carve on a chair, rule out a straight line,

Kick back with James, enjoy some wine,

And when you laugh, laugh divine.

Listen, O Scholar, real life is fine,

And it takes more than a mind.

 

Because, you see, a Platonic abstraction

                Don’t understand attraction,

                Can’t be driven to distraction

By a bride to be.

What good is eternity

                                                To a floating mind?

Take away the flesh, and fruit is rind,

The only part of the watermelon I leave behind,

And that’s a shame.

And you should feel no shame.

 

I hope you dance like no one sees,

Take a chance and climb the trees,

Live with your wings out in the breeze,

Run in the wheat,

                                                Smile in the freeze

Name every beast beneath the moon,

Don’t be afraid to rhyme with june,

Or set a poem to a well-known tune,

This is life.

Live it.

 

The sound of a song, a resounding gong,

A well-thrown pass and going long,

Word without flesh is life gone wrong.

Grass between your toes,

When that girl crinkles her nose,

And don’t you suppose

                                                That beneath the sun

God himself ran for fun?

Lose yourself in the music, the moment,

                                                                Get on it,

                                                                                It’s passing

                                                                Like lightning flashing

                                                                                                                In the sky,

                                                                In a flash we live and die.

That’s all we’ve been given, so start livin’

Like God himself on a summer day.

The Word, the truth, and the life,

                                                That’s the way.

Forsake the night; embrace the day.

And now let my chatter cease,

Let all wisdom increase,

And may merry hearts fill this hall.

So much have I said, and that’s all.

The Fog

The world is like an enormous cloud of fog. It’s murky, insubstantial, easily disappearing in the sun or the wind. Friends come and go, the seasons change, nations rise and fall and rise once more. We experience a story for the first time and it will never be new again. We are like grass that sprouts up in the spring and dies in the hot August sun. Fog sitting on a hill.

We sons of Adam don’t like this. We try to find the levers that control the fog. We learn the magic words, buy the fancy machines, try to herd the mist and shape it. We want to manage something that is by its very nature unmanageable. We cling to hopes of making something permanent. But the fog swirls away no matter how many times we try to catch it. It melts in the sunrise, and all our work has accomplished nothing. Fog is fog. It is not ours to control.

But there is a God in the fog. He  is the one who made it. He is the one who directs its path, who decides how long it will last. We strive with all our might and fail to direct the least wisp. He guides it with no effort. He is the Lord of the fog.

The Lord of the Fog loves it. It is his creation, and he delights in its swirls and whirls, the way it thickens and fades. He placed us here in the fog, where we could see it and feel the cold, dank wet on our skin. Water in the air, and passing vapor. He brought us here and asked us to delight in it, as he does.

Why not? The passing fog is beautiful. It is worth walking in. It is worth getting lost in.

“But there is injustice!” we protest. We see things passing away that should not have passed away. They were too beautiful, and the things that supplanted them were dark and ugly. In our great wisdom, we have passed judgment on the fog and decided that it was not well managed.

But there is a Lord of the Fog, and one day he will cause the fog to lift. In the bright sunlight of everlasting day we will have to give an account for everything we did in the fog. And he will, in turn, reveal everything he did.

In that day, I want to say I enjoyed the fog– its every beauty in its proper moment. I want to have done nothing there in the murk of which I would be ashamed in the daylight. I want the Lord of the Fog to judge me and find me righteous. After all, I too have my proper place in the swirl of mists.

Here in the fog, all we can do is eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of our labor, even as it slips from our hands.

Here in the fog, all we can do is fear God and keep his commandments.

For this is man’s all.

And God will bring every work into judgment,
including every secret thing,
whether good or evil.

Under the Sun

The American President used to be leader of the free world. Before that, the sun never set on the British Empire. Nation by nation, by Queen and Emperor, a line of rulers stretches back to Augustus, and beyond to Shutruk Nahunte– king of Anshand and Sussa, Sovereign of the Land of Elam. I woke up today, and Catalonia, Scotland, and Dixie all say they will never die, all claim they will rise again. They have said it before, and they will say it again.

Documentaries are made on the history of rock and roll, and a new top 40 rolls out every week. Summer and winter, blockbuster movies hit the theaters, from the moment we invented the camera until today, without interruption. There are poets and authors in every generation, and once in a while they capture some truth in a story and become the favorite until another comes along to usurp them. Since fallen man first lived in cities, since he envied and coveted and idolized, celebrities have had their fifteen minutes of fame, when all their brothers looked on and worshiped them. And in every generation, the path of the fool ends in destruction.

There are rich men and poor men, wise men and simple men, men skilled with words and men who are slow of speech. Young men rise up, thinking they know what they are talking about. One way or another, they realize they don’t. Old men look on and see the pattern repeated, see themselves in the younger generation. The reins of power and influence in a culture shift hands, but humanity is always what it has been.

“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.”

But there is a God in heaven, the one who made this rhythm, and who made eternity. He has been, he will be, and he is. He came in the form of one more child, was raised in yet another country occupied by yet another empire, and was crucified by the usual religious elite. But he broke out of death, and told us to follow him. That which has been will be, but there is a permanence found in Christ. That which is done is what will be done, but the treasure stored up in his mansions will never rot, will never rust, will never pass away. There is nothing new under the sun, but in his realm there is no sun, only the radiance proceeding from his throne.

Escape the cycle. Get religion.