OWAAT February 25: The Blessings of Ecclesiastes: Finding Everyday, Limited Joy

We are now very thoroughly into Lent and have begun reading Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible I’ve never really explored or honestly, felt one way or the other about. One thing I love about reading the Bible in three years, though, is that it gives us plenty of time to learn about and consider each book, particularly those receiving short shrift even from those structures that are built embed biblical literacy into congregational life. W. Sibley Towner notes, “On the whole … believers have found [Ecclesiastes] at least baffling and at most wrongheaded. From the beginning serious efforts were made to exclude it from the list of sacred books, and even now in liturgical practice it enjoys only a very small place. The Revised Common Lectionary would have us read Eccl 3:1-13 every New Year’s Day – not a day for much pious observance, except when it falls on Sunday – and offers Eccl 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 as the Old Testament alternative to Hos 11:1-11 on Proper 13 in cycle C. That’s it!” (p. 947) It’s not seen as the most exciting book of the Bible, nor does it offer the kind of unreserved hope many of us seek out in the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a book by someone who has SEEN THINGS, lived through them to tell us about them, and  in doing so, helps us consider our response to when life doesn’t go the way we’ve envisioned.

Also, as March begins we begin a new prayer practice. Do you know that giving up something for Lent and other forms of fasting are just one of many ways to observe Lent?  What my church (Compton Heights Christian Church, a wonderfully awesome congregation in south St. Louis that you should visit if you’re in the area and looking for Christian community and support in your life journey) is engaging in a daily spiritual practice based on The Cup of Our Life: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. I would invite you all to obtain a copy of this book and participate in this practice for the remainder of Lent.

What has your Lent been like so far?

Daily Bible readings and readings from The Cup of Our Life:

February 25 – Ecclesiastes 3; Week 2, Day 5
February 26  – Ecclesiastes 4; Week 2, Day 6
February 27 – Ecclesiastes 5; Week 2, Day 7
February 28 – Ecclesiastes 6; Week 3, Day 1
March 1 – Ecclesiastes 7; Week 3, Day 2
March 2 – Ecclesiastes 8; Week 3, Day 3
March 3 – Ecclesiastes 9; Week 3, Day 4

Think:

Ecclesiastes is a great book to read during Lent in terms of both its tone and overall message. Alyce M. McKenzie addresses this in the most excellent resource, The New Interpreter’s Handbook of Preaching: “Many preachers skip over Ecclesiastes, assuming it to be a depressing, pessimistic book. In reality, it is the work of a wise teacher whose insights can strengthen us to face both the tedium of everyday life and the sting of sudden tragedy. Though often characterized as dismal and dark, Ecclesiastes contains a realistic message of gratitude to God and joy in the gift of life.” (p. 231) She continues: “Ecclesiastes challenges us to face the facts of life that we would prefer to ignore. Life is unpredictable, God is inscrutable, and death is inevitable. Once we face these facts, this wise teacher advises us to live each moment aware of our human limitations and appreciative of the precious, if precarious, joy that God has granted us as our portion in this unpredictable life.” (p. 232)

What I’ve been learning about Ecclesiastes so far reminds me of certain books that I had a hard time reading when I was younger, before I, too, had seen some things and experienced enough heartbreak to no longer fall apart at the first sign of catastrophe. Sometimes we may not be ready to experience pain as someone else expresses it in writing until we have felt our own deep pain and need to be with someone – in person or in print – who has experienced similar pain. I wasn’t ready to read about harsh life realities until I had lived through a few of my own.

Pray: 

To get the most out of our March/Lent 2018 daily prayer practice you will need to either buy or borrow The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp. In it Rupp recommends a daily practice involving the elements of intention, breathprayer, reflection, scripture, journaling, connecting, and integrating, then finishing off with an evening review that is much like the Examen of Ignatius of Loyola: reviewing the day for noticing God’s presence and the receiving and giving of nourishment, what we need to let go, and what we need to thank God for. As with all our prayer practices, try it out, do what works for you and what is helpful for you in spending time with God, and feel free to leave or modify what doesn’t.

The book is structured as a six-week study (excellent for Lent), and we have begun each week on Wednesday (beginning with Ash Wednesday) so today (Sunday) we begin with Week 2, Day 5.

Act:

As the New Handbook of the Christian Year puts it, “Lent is a time for evangelism and for true conversion – a time for growing through repentance, fellowship, prayer, fasting, and concentration upon our baptismal covenant.” (p. 107) It’s interesting to consider this from the perspective of FBCO and how the community around us can, with love and care, agitate us to turn from who and where we currently are to live up to our best version of ourselves. Dennis Jacobsen considers this perspective in Doing Justice: “At its best, agitation touches on the matter of vocation. A ‘divine call within a call’ is issued for each person, whether we hear or heed it or not. The fact that I have been called to be a baptized Christian does not resolve the matter of my call within a call. Where is my life leading? What is the purpose of my life? What are God’s dreams for me? Agitation claims that more is yet to come to my life, to my potential, to my divine call within a call. Agitation confronts, urges, probes, explores the question of vocation.” (p. 120) Agitation helps us, when life as we understand it has led us down an unnecessary path, to get back to the path of God’s dream for us.

What are God’s dreams for you? Where have you accepted less than God’s best for you? Who is your agitator who lovingly and impolitely helps you to remember God’s dreams for you?

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working to live out their dreams of a more just world!

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

Resources:
Jacobsen, Dennis A. Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, 2nd Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017.

Hickman, Hoyt L. The New Handbook of the Christian Year, Based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992.

McKenzie, Alyce M. “Bible Genres: Ecclesiastes.” Pages 231–33 in The New Interpreter’s Handbook of Preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010.

Rupp, Joyce. The Cup of Our Life: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. Revised edition. Notre Dame, Ind: Ave Maria Press, 2012.

Towner, W. Sibley. “The Book of Ecclesiastes: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” Pages 947–1020 in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Vol. III of. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015.

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