Carpe Diem: Following Wisdom’s Path
I’ve recently been reading and reflecting upon the ideas offered by Marcus Borg in a book entitled Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Yesterday I read Borg’s discussion of the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s interesting that I named my counseling practice Seasons of Life based on the oft-quoted passage from Ecclesiastes that begins “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Yet Ecclesiastes has never been one of my favorite books of the Bible. Like many readers I have felt a certain despair and hopelessness settle over me as I read sentences such as “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.” Borg invites the reader to explore the question, Was the author of Ecclesiastes, referred to as Qoheleth (meaning “wisdom teacher”), an individual worn down by and burned out on life? Or was he perhaps “among the wisest of the wise?”
You will have to read the book to determine your own answer to the question. However, here are a few ideas from the book for you to contemplate. Borg tells the reader that the Hebrew word for “vanity” in Ecclesiastes is “hebel” suggesting images of: “breath, vapor, mist or fog”…something that we cannot get hold of, something that comes and goes. Tied to this sense of “insubstantiality” is Qoheleth’s frequent and “haunting” emphasis on death. He tells us that death is a certainty, but we know not when nor how it will come. Qoheleth’s position is that conventional wisdom—that which culture and community identify as important for the good life (fame, fortune, success, etc.)—is meaningless when seen within the context of the certainty and unpredictability of death.
Well, so far I’m still feeling despair and hopelessness. What about you? Yet here is the good news. The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that death is the “master teacher who teaches us how to live” … “the teacher of true wisdom”. Death is a teacher, you ask with incredulity? Yet, when we allow ourselves to wrestle with the reality that life is fleeting and that we will die, we ultimately confront the question, “How do I want to live the life that I’ve been given?” “Do I want to remain caught in the demands of conventional wisdom; or do I want something more out of my life?” Wisdom teaches us that life is much more than fame and fortune; that meaning and purpose are found in living fully that which comes into our lives. As Borg puts it, “…in Ecclesiastes, life is not about pursuing the rewards promised by the path of conventional wisdom (religious or secular), but about living in the present. Seeing the futility of grasping and the inevitability and yet unpredictability of death drives us into the present. True wisdom means carpe diem: ‘seize the day.’ Don’t miss it; don’t let it slip by unnoticed; don’t live it in the fog; don’t waste it chasing the wind.”
The spiritual life calls us to do just this: to examine our lives; to discern the movements taking place within them; to listen for God’s still small voice calling to us in the center of the day’s events; to share with God from the depths of our hearts. The wisdom imparted by the spiritual life calls us to “seize the day; don’t miss it; don’t let it slip away unnoticed; don’t live it in the fog; don’t waste it chasing the wind.”
Now when I read the oft-quoted passage from Ecclesiastes I celebrate the author’s emphasis on living every moment…every single moment of every season of our lives…moments of joy and moments of sorrow; moments of peace and moments of brokenness; moments of birth and moments of death…every single moment of every single day is given for us to live, to learn, to grow, to love and to gain wisdom. May you grow in wisdom during this season of your life.