There is a book in the bible that should be read within sight and sound of falling leaves. It is Ecclesiastes. It is a good book to read as gardeners try to tidy up the year – but never with complete success.
I think of it as a spiritual journal rather like Markings by Dag Hammarskjold. It is serious about God and the search for meaning in our life. It has been left behind by a seriously honest person. His thoughts are not very well organised. He can be repetitive, alarmingly truthful and mournful. He chose to live on the distant edges of belief.
We do not know the name of the author but he was a collector of experiences. He inhabits the times he is living through and gathers them into his rather cheerless search for purpose and meaning. He is the Gatherer …
It is the time of the year to read Ecclesiastes. We are putting away the hopes for a summer and prepare for cooler times. The moon draws our attention whilst the sun hugs the horizon. Lunar Spirituality is in the ascendant as Barbara Bedford Taylor would put it. It is time to explore a spirituality of disconcerting mists and hazy horizons in a season of changing light.
A Feast of Gathering.
For people of Jewish faith autumn coincides with Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a harvest festival and a time of thanksgiving for the God’s care of his wandering people after their flight from Egypt as they lived in temporary shelters in the desert.
Harold Kushner, an American rabbi explains:
“We celebrate Sukkoth by building a small annex to our homes, just a few boards and branches, inviting friends in, and drinking wine and eating fruit in it for the week of the holiday. The little hut will be dismantled at the end of the week. It may well collapse before then and have to be rebuilt. Sukkoth is a celebration of the beauty of things that don’t last”.
He then adds that the scripture that is studied in Sukkoth is Ecclesiastes. It is a reading for autumn when the flimsiness and silliness of what passes for human activity is all too apparent. The Gatherer notices the transitory nature of things and wonders where faith in God may make any difference.
Ground was being cleared for new housing. Everything has to go, including the remains of an old orchard. It was sad to see trees heavy with fruit being ripped out of the ground. They lay there over night and then were crushed and shredded before being taken away. Their last crop was unpicked. It was an abrupt end to a life of continuous fruitfulness. Their last harvest was ignored.
The Gatherer ends his book in a similar way. He believes we reach a point when we are too tired and jaded to ask any more questions about God. It is a young person’s quest. I don’t agree with him but I accept that the more life we have lived, the more we should not and will not be fooled by trite solutions.
This is why he inhabits the times and notices what his contemporaries pursue in order to discover what makes a fulfilled life. He suggests they explore five possible tracks: the pursuit of wealth, the way of self-denial, the way of wisdom, the avoidance of pain and the path of piety. They are no less popular today.
The Gatherer is not fooled. They are all an illusion. Each fails to deliver. They create in turn isolation, unhappiness, anguish, indifference and alienation. They cannot deliver what Kushner suggests is an answer to a question we all face or shun:
Was there something I was supposed to do with my life whilst I was living it?
The Gatherer builds awareness – not only self-awareness but awareness of what is happening – the hinterland in which faith is trying to express itself and God must be found. What he seems to be saying is when things are not working out – start looking for the point.
I’ll be back with more from him soon.