The Gatherer: Was there something I was supposed to do?

Untitled1A time comes when life is no longer about what we will achieve but what have done with our achievements.

Harold Kushner wrote a series of reflections on the experience of the Gatherer. He compares them to a point in our life when we move from asking: ‘what is the meaning of my life’ to ‘what will my life have meant’?

We might call this mid-life or the Second Journey but it comes with a haunting question:

Was there something else I was meant to do with my life whilst I was living it?

Richard Rohr suggests that the first part of life is about acquiring experiences, making decisions, buying necessities, making mistakes and marking up our successes. Then a point comes when all this no longer seems to attract the same energy. We begin to wonder whether all this is so important. It is as if the first part of our life is spent building a container in which we put all our stuff and the second part is needed to reflect on why we have it all.

Not all of us have the motivation to start this second journey but there are disconcerting moments that force us to face its possibility. It might be the early death of our life partner or a period of ill-health, a sudden redundancy or it hides in the complex experience of retirement. And the question returns:

Was there something else I was meant to do with my life whilst I was living it?

The Gatherer knew nothing of redundancy but Kushner suggests that he does know the anxiety of a person who has had it all and feels the passage of time. He has come to realise that this life is no dress rehearsal no matter how wonderful the costumes. So what will be left of him when he is gone and would God have anything to do with it?

He concludes his journal by an evocative picture of a life that is closing down but his almost final word is not a word at all just a punctuation mark. What is translated in “12:13” is in fact a single mark. A dot. A final mark on the page.

Nothing more can be said. “I have finished. Period”.

So what has he finished? Not a definitive piece of systematic theology. Not a self-conscious prelude to a greater revelation. But a raw, frank, statement of faith.

As Roland Murphy says

The great doubter? No! Qoheleth is the great believer.

He believed when there was no evidence for believing!

The Gatherer was once described as the believer who pitched his tent at the far edges of the faith camp. He takes belief in God seriously. Such a faith however, cannot be one that is captured by any form of words or spirituality. For the very nature of the God who calls out such faith out of us cannot be contained or restrained.

We cannot box God or our faith journey into a framework. We should not try to be more devout or believable than God. God is like a spring that creates thirst rather than a pool that satisfies all thirsts. God creates a thirst that only he can satisfy by making us thirstier.

The Gatherer and his modern equivalents will always command a hearing. But I’m left wondering is there anymore to say? And by whom? Perhaps that is parting gift. Never stop asking. Never stop seeking. Nevertheless stop trusting. That’s all from me for awhile.

I’ll be back shortly before Christmas with a brief series about some of the Nativity characters, wondering what next?

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