Ecclesiastes 4

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied Ecclesiastes 4.  It reminded me of a variety of things. 

Its statement that it’s better to have a little with rest than a lot with turmoil called to my mind last Sunday’s Brothers and Sisters, which I re-watched last night.  Kitty’s husband has passed on, and Kitty does not know what to do with her life.  She was offered the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (replacing Michael Steele, I take it), but she hasn’t accepted the job yet.  Her mother, Nora, gave her a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which Nora had crossed out the masculine words and pronouns and substituted feminine ones, for Kitty’s benefit.  The passage Nora had Kitty read was the one in which Thoreau said (with Nora’s substitutions) that, if a woman finds that she can’t keep up with others, then she needs to take time for herself so she can hear her own inner music.  I was glad that I watched this episode a second time around, for I wasn’t paying attention to the quotation of Thoreau the first time that I watched it.

I find that I have difficulty keeping up with others.  I’m in a Ph.D. program, but, unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not a walking encyclopedia.  I haven’t written books or articles, nor do I have a clear idea what I can write that would be published.  I don’t have a clear vision about what or how I can teach religion.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if academia appeals to me, with its ruthlessness, its personality conflicts, and its preoccupation with what strikes me as trivialities.  And I sometimes feel that my areas of interest aren’t really the same as much of academia’s.  It’s like I’m on another planet!

But I’m taking the time to hear my own inner music.  I’m reading books for my comps, looking for things in them that interest me (as well as identifying the parts that I have to know for the tests).  But I’m also reading other scholarly and religious books that intrigue me.  I’m not forsaking academia, but I’m enjoying it in my own way—in a manner that brings me rest rather than turmoil on account of me not “keeping up”.  Maybe productivity will come out of my approach—in the form of articles, books, classes I can teach, etc.  Or perhaps I’ll keep reading books and blogging about them, as I enjoy doing right now.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind working at the Goodwill during the day, and reading and blogging at night!  I’d like to do my work in a state of some rest.

Qoheleth’s statement also calls to my mind a woman whom I heard recently.  She said that she was once a top salesperson in her field, and she made loads of money.  But she has given up the long hours and big money for a simpler life, in which she can cultivate her spirituality.  And she is happier as a result.  Better is a little with rest, than a lot with turmoil.

Qoheleth also talks about the importance of companionship.  For Qoheleth, friends can help us when we have problems, and Qoheleth also mentions friends (perhaps they were travellers) who keep each other warm at night.  I remember attending an Intervarsity Bible study, in which the leader was discussing this passage in Ecclesiastes 4.  He said that we can write our dissertation and neglect building friendships within the Christian community, but, if we follow that path, we’ll basically be left with ourselves—alone.  Someone in the group then said that people like to interpret this passage tritely—“it’s good to have friends”—but they fail to realize that, in the ancient world, a person needed others to keep warm in the cold.  Friendship was a necessity!

Someone else said that two Christians could be bound together by their common love for God, and a young woman then remarked that, if you’re not getting along with Christians, then that’s an indication that you’re not getting along with God.

I hated that Bible study.  I have a hard time making friends.  I feel alone in Christian groups.  I do not feel bound together with other Christians based on our common love for God.  And, quite frankly, I don’t get along with Christians, nor do I know how to do so.  Some of it’s my social awkwardness.  Some of it is because, right now, I’m not on the same page that they are.

But I can see Qoheleth’s point that it’s good to receive help and support from others, and to give it as well.  There have been times when I’ve had problems—with my computer, or my finances, or simply knowing what to do in life (e.g., How can I stay cool in the summer, without increasing my electric bill with the air conditioner?), or in terms of my health.  I’m grateful for my friends and family who have helped me out, and I’m not sure what I’d do without them.  There are plenty of times when I want to be alone, for people are complicated, and I can easily be hurt or offended.  That’s one reason that I’m hesitant to make friendships.  But I can’t make it through life all by myself.

Qoheleth then talks about the rise and fall of the powerful and powerless.  He discusses a poor, wise youth who manages to replace an old, foolish king.  But, in the broad scheme of things, that’s just a blip on the radar screen.  Several people lived before this political upheaval, and many will live after it, without even remembering it.

That’s sobering—how things that are considered important today won’t be deemed as important years from now.  But this reminds me of something I once heard Joyce Meyer say: she remarked that she’s not expecting to be a prominent preacher forever, and so she’s not going to let her fame go to her head.  There will come a time when she must decrease, and God will have a different stage of life for her.  I admired her sense of perspective.  Fame comes, and fame goes.  But what do we do when we’re famous and not famous?  What kind of people are we?  What matters to us in these different situations of life?  These are the important questions.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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