Today’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-2
The book of Ecclesiastes is also attributed to King Solomon and also teaches about wisdom, though in a very different way – by focusing upon the limitations and contradictions of life.
One of the main concepts in the book of Ecclesiastes that Solomon returns to again and again centers around the Hebrew word hebel. It is so central that it is the very first message shared by the Teacher:
“Vanity (hebel) of vanities (hebels)!” says the Teacher, “Vanity (hebel) of vanities (hebels)! All is vanity (hebel).” – NRSV
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” – NIV
“Smoke, nothing but smoke!” says the Teacher. “There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.” – The Message
Hebel can be translated in many ways, but the feeling is generally the same – it speaks of something that is fleeting, like a vapor in the wind. One minute it’s there and you can see it, and the next – poof! – it’s gone, dispersing and disappearing.
In Ecclesiastes, that’s how King Solomon describes life – our moments of happiness and of meaning are fleeting. Everything in this life is impermanent and change is inevitable. Even our very lives are fleeting! We are like vapor, here one minute and gone the next.
I remember reading Ecclesiastes when I was younger and thinking, “Man, Solomon is a real downer!” As I have spent more time reflecting, though, I’ve come to see that there is great beauty in what he’s saying. Because everything is so fleeting, it’s important for us to pay attention, to do our best to be present in each moment, appreciating what is all around us. There is great freedom that comes with that – freedom to invest our time and energy into something life-giving; freedom to not let our ambition and pride get in the way of our relationships; freedom to be joyful and to make gratitude a lifestyle.
Today, I invite you to spend 10 minutes practicing gratitude. As you look back over your life – or even over the last week! – create a gratitude list. Write a list of the people, opportunities, and memories for which you are grateful. How did you experience God’s presence through those people or in those moments?