Posts Tagged ‘Ecclesiastes’

Morning Coffee with Dave & Qohelet

September 13, 2018

qohelet

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:11

Yesterday, I graded essays from the course on Classical Judaism that I teach online. The students were to contrast the tone and genre of biblical texts from Exodus (where Moses gave the Law) and Ecclesiastes (where the Preacher assessed that life was meaningless). The responses from many of the students induced me to return to Ecclesiastes for awhile this morning. This book has held my attention since I first was directed to it when approaching the New Year back in 1973. Since then, I have always read from the text in winter time as the New Year drew close. And it has been a comfort to me in ways I have difficulty explaining. This a meditation from an aged sage who appears dissatisfied with all his worldly accomplishments. As he draws near to the end, he sees all this acts as empty, or meaningless. “Qohelet” is the Hebrew word that titles this Book, and has often been translated “Preacher”.

I’ll go ahead and drop the other shoe–though the author throughout the meditation calls life on earth “vanity”, he nevertheless concludes on a more positive note. No doubt many will insert the opinion that the conclusion was written by another hand, to take the sting out of the text, but that is another issue. Throughout the book, the author’s refrain is translated “vanity” in the King James Version. “Empty” is the author’s thrust. And in his concluding words, he urges the reader to fear God and keep his commandments, for that is what makes a person “whole.” This is why I like to read to the end. For the duration of the Book, the aged author hammers home that life has been empty, but concludes with a solution to what can make life whole.

The college-age students still assume that there is much life lying ahead of them, and I enjoy their perspectives when they grapple with readings such as this. With my own perspective drawn from a considerable distance down the road, I find myself looking both ways, in the fashion of Janus, the Roman god looking backward and forward simultaneously. Throughout yesterday and this morning, I have thought about this Odyssey I have experienced over sixty years, and have also looked ahead, resolving not to live with regrets. It goes without saying that I have encountered things that have created memories I would rather not have. But I cannot change that. On the positive side, life has overflowed with abundant gifts, providing memories that make me feel positive.

Gratitude flows from the depth of my being for the years I have been given, and I am even happier that it is not over yet. Today I meet yet another college class within the hour, and I am still glowing with warm sentiments over the encounter we had just two days ago. In fact, I have been anticipating for forty-eight hours the next time I get to see them and wrestle with these issues in Logic. Who would ever have thought that a professor and students could enjoy a period, studying Logic? Life at this age is still filled with the unanticipated, and I appreciate that as well.

Two days ago, I began work on new Christmas cards for the season approaching. Here is a photo of how two of them are coming along (they will be cut apart, making two 5 x 7″ cards). For three days in a row, I have relished time in the studio to experiment in watercolor, and that has been a gift as well.

qohelet 2

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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New Years Eve Contemplation

December 31, 2016

new-year

Reading from The Book of Ecclesiastes

The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Ecclesiastes 1:8

We spend so much time on the hunt. But nothing ever quite does it for us. And we get so wrapped up in the hunt that it makes us miserable.

Dan Harris, author, 10% Happier

For two days, I have been covered in New Year musings, and it’s all good. Yesterday, searching out documentaries to hear while working on my painting, I came across a film that my artist friends have been praising for months: “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” Dan Harris is one of the featured speakers throughout the presentation. Halfway through the film I laid down my brush, took a seat, and watched the remainder, and felt tears welling up as it concluded.

The message of the documentary is not new for me; I’ve been hearing these ideas since about 1972, just finishing high school. But I never grow weary of the discussion, and never stop hurting for all the lost souls caught up in the maelstrom of possession fever that can never feel satisfaction.

My personal ritual, since 1973, is to read from The Book of Ecclesiastes during New Years Eve. I just finished doing this a short while ago, and feel moved to post something. The treatise was written by an aged king who had concluded near the end of his life that “there is nothing new under the sun.” One of his most quoted summations is “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”  This author had gained it all–political power, wealth, physical pleasure, knowledge. He held back on none of his pursuits and apparently never failed.  Yet, at the end of his life, he sounds deeply unhappy.

The New Year invites us to be retrospective and prospective. I like that.  And, looking back over my past, I acknowledge the many times I have shot for the moon, fell short, and suffered deep dissatisfaction.  But that is not what is on my mind this evening, pausing before the New Era arrives.  My focus now is on the beauty experienced during this earthly odyssey.  Two orbits have never left me impoverished: the pursuit of knowledge and practice of the arts.  In those two realms I have been blessed beyond measure. And during this recent holiday, my library and my studio have offered genuine solace. In these two areas I have drawn strength, and am still happy in the pursuits.

After months of soul-searching, I have made the decision to retire at the end of this school year. The five months before me, I am sure, will race by more quickly than the twenty-eight years behind me.  I anticipate the closing chapter with gladness.  Even more so, I anticipate with gladness the new chapter waiting to be written.  Retirement is the reason I’m pursuing a series of paintings now titled “Portals.”  There is so much waiting to be explored with any series focusing on the open door.

new-year-2

door-friday

Thanks for reading, and I wish all of you the very best in life as you prepare to write your next chapter, as you pass through the next portal.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Musing Over New Year’s Resolutions and Starting a New Painting

December 29, 2013
Bait Shop

Bait Shop

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:11

This day has had more than a fair share of rewards.  I’m pleased that I rose early from a good night’s sleep, enjoyed a good breakfast, and devoted some serious “chair time” to reading Ecclesiastes in its entirety, taking my time, letting the message seep in.  The words of the Preacher have lingered with me throughout the day, and put me in the mood to begin a new watercolor.

This is an 8 x 10″ sketch I’ve begun on a bait shop I photographed a few months ago when I was on the coast.  The details are slowing me down considerably, so it’s not shaping up as quickly as I had imagined.  But there is no deadline here; I hope to begin a larger, more serious watercolor of the same subject once I get more comfortable with it.

I am haunted by the words of the Preacher posted above.  As I move toward the New Year and contemplate the things that matter, I find myself saddened deeply by the sentiments of one who feels that the final assessment of his life’s accomplishments was empty.  I have always felt sorry for anyone who hated his/her job.  I have not known that misfortune.  But sadder still is this writer’s broader assessment of his life’s accomplishments.  How could one regard the overall value of a life’s endeavors as worthless?

Personally, I have enjoyed life as an educator, and I’ve pursued this nonstop since 1985, full time since 1988.  Besides teaching a handful of my favorite subjects, I have also tried to pursue a life in the arts.  In my later years, art has become more my center.  The line from Hippocrates resonates profoundly with me:

Life is short,

and art long,

opportunity fleeting,

experience perilous,

and decision difficult.

I don’t fret over Malcolm Gladwell’s dictum that 10,000 hours are required for one to master his/her field.  I think I have put in my 10,000 hours, paid my dues.  But as I grow older, my awareness increases that art technique requires long and sustained study and practice, and life is comparatively short.  I understand better at my current age why Leonardo and Michelangelo felt a pang of discontent that they would not live long enough to figure it all out.  I’m just glad that I haven’t gotten so old that this reality bothers me.  I know I’ll never “get there”, but that’s not the point–I love the process, love the search, love the endeavor.  I’m still enchanted when I see paintings emerge beneath my brush.  I cannot describe the emotion I feel as that happens, and I can never express how grateful I am that I was given this chance while on earth to engage in this task.

And sometimes, others join in on that bliss.  Tonight, I received two emails, fifteen minutes apart, from two patrons that commissioned work from me for Christmas.  They wanted me to know that they loved the paintings, and so did the ones who received them as gifts.  Patrons will probably never know just how deeply I am stirred to hear that someone else has been touched by something I  made.  Those two emails in themselves were genuine Christmas gifts to me, tonight.

Art still has truth, take refuge there!

Matthew Arnold, “Memorial Verses April 1850”

This has been a most satisfying day.  Meaningful reading and reflection, another chance to pursue watercolor, and gracious words from good friends.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

In the Studio Tonight

In the Studio Tonight

No Slant of Light, but an Excellent Beginning to the Day

December 29, 2013
Breaking the Fast

Breaking the Fast

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

Ecclesiastes 2:24

I retired to bed around 10:30 last night, after watching the St. Louis Blues prevail over the Chicago Blackhawks in an epic come-from-behind-three-times battle (I am a hockey fanatic).  I was surprised to wake up at 7:14 this morning, and further surprised that there was no slant of light coming through my bedroom window.  In fact, as I write this now at 11:47, there has been no sunlight at all in my space throughout the morning, just cold, overcast winter light.  We have a cold front approaching Arlington, Texas and temperatures are supposed to hit a hard-freeze tonight.

After breakfast, my thoughts shifted toward this New Year, and I began to scribble out resolutions in my journal (always a sacred moment for me).  And then, I settled in to read the Book of Ecclesiastes in its entirety.  I want to do this every year at this time, but seldom get it done.  But this morning, I read the entire text and am profoundly moved by the message.

Reading fron Ecclesiastes

Reading fron Ecclesiastes

Throughout the years, I have rarely found another who has read this great book, and the few who have read it seem to write it off as “too depressing.”  The book has never struck me that way.  In the text, I hear the tired voice of an aged ruler who had been successful in administration and the acquisition of wisdom and wealth.  In his closing years, he concludes that “all is vanity.”  In his tone, I hear that constant refrain: “What is the point?”  I am not depressed in hearing that. I am intrigued.  I love that honest question that cuts to the core of our souls.  If we’re going to die, then why do the things that we do matter?

I’ll probably pick this up again in the blog, but it is nearly noon, and I knew at bedtime last night what I wanted to paint today.  As Qohelet (the Preacher in Ecclesiastes) observed, we should experience good in our labor.  This is a gift.  I am grateful for that gift.  I love life.  It is too short.  Art is long.  And now, I wish to give myself back to making art.  The morning read has been very satisfying, my heart is lifted, and I have found a sense of calm and contentment, even without that slant of light.

More later.  Thanks so much for being there to read me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Starting the New Year with Positive Steps

January 2, 2012

Wyeth Sketch Finished

On January 2, I managed to complete my first watercolor sketch of the New Year.  I used an Andrew Wyeth study of Helga as my model (choosing to omit Helga from the foreground) and found many fascinating details in the background forest that I wanted to try a hand at imitating.  The Sixth Canon of Xie He (from around the 6th century) focuses on “transmitting and conveying earlier models through copying and transcribing.”  As an art major a long time ago, I fretted over my professor’s demands of doing exactly this.  Now, in my later years, I see its value and hope to pursue it more this year (Ah! another Resolution).

I awoke at 6:00 this morning, hoping to re-establish my daily school routine, which resumes Thursday (my God, sleeping in has been wonderful over the Holidays!).  And I chose to follow one of the resolutions I love from Alyson B. Stanfield’s blog: “RESOLVE to stop fiddle-farting around on the Internet or with the TV remote control and start dedicating myself 100% to my life’s work.”

As I sat in my darkened study this morning, enjoying the quiet and my coffee, the words from Qoheleth in the Book of Ecclesiastes boiled to the surface of my thoughts: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I first read those words from this great book in January 1973, and have been since haunted by that sentiment.  I resolved then, and still have to remind myself, never to settle into that kind of a life philosophy.  Granted life has revealed patterns that seem to sharpen over the passing of the years, but God forbid that I ever reach the point where I believe there is nothing left to discover.

Ecclesiastes is classified as Hebrew wisdom literature, and is confined to the words of those who have lived long lives.  Only with the passing of many years emerges wisdom.  And I realize that I have had to fight harder to avoid that trap of believing that there is nothing new under the sun.  Emerson and Thoreau fought that too–I recall Thoreau writing that he regretted that he wasn’t as wise as he had been as a child.  Both of those thinkers loathed the idea of becoming old, set and predictable in their thinking and their daily manner.

As an antidote to Qoheleth and Ecclesiastes, I turned to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and read his testimony of gratitude for the traits he had managed to nurture under the influence of a number of worthy seniors.  I particularly liked what he said he learned from Rusticus: “to read with minute care and not to be content with a superficial bird’s-eye view.”  That was my Oracle for the day.  I realize that one of the hazards of being a public school teacher for over two decades was the habit of boiling down, distilling and simplifying ideas from scholarly writings in order to make them transmittable in the classroom.  I am not knocking that practice.  What I am knocking is the reality that I have drifted away from scholarly reading, reflection and writing for my own personal growth and intellectual health.  So, this morning I found a sweet communion with Marcus Aurelius, Qoheleth, and Paul Tillich.  After a couple of hours passed in their warmth, I then found the resolve needed to return to the drafting table and finish this sketch begun yesterday.

The only noticeable differences added were the splash of burgundy and salt in the lower left corner to finish out some kind of overall composition.  Aside from that, I added many, many branches and small leaves to the atmospheric background, and enriched the texture of the tree bark further.  I believe I have done all I can with this one, and am now ready for another.

So, let’s close this blog and begin another sketch.  Thanks for reading.