There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Patience and Surrender
Indeed, there is a time for everything. A right time, a due time, for everything. But that time is not for us to decide. As v. 11 says: “we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Things may not make sense now, but there is a divine plan at work.
Believing in this divine plan requires two very difficult virtues, some I’ll readily admit I’m not great at: Patience and Surrender. While related, I see them as two distinct practices. Patience means we wait. Surrender means we trust. Putting those two virtues into practice means we must wait for the right time, trusting that God will bring that right time about – even trusting it to happen beyond our lifetime, if need be.
But patience and surrender do not mean we sit idly by. There are many beautiful passages in this short chapter, but the one that had the most impact on me was vv. 12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil — this is the gift of God.” Emphasis my own, because I want to make sure you see the inclusive nature of this language, the action that it calls us to: we are to do good so that everyone may find satisfaction.
Qohelet does not shrink from acknowledging the evil and indifference in the world. “In the place of judgement — wickedness was there, in the place of justice — wickedness was there,” reads v. 16. He also acknowledges our base natures in vv. 18-19: “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals, the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath, man has no advantage over the animal.”
But even with these allowances to the harsh natural world, Qohelet realizes this: “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” Even believing in universal reconciliation as I do, I’d rather be lumped in with the righteous. In order to be so lumped, it is our God-given duty to not only find enjoyment for ourselves, but to make sure we help others find that enjoyment, too. I read this passage as a ringing endorsement of global human rights. Everyone deserves the right to eat, drink, and find fulfillment in their work (which implies a safe working and home environment – otherwise enjoyment would be hard to come by).
A time to act
“Nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” This is a verse from chapter eight that I’ve already quoted once and will probably quote again, because I think it is the best summation of the vision Qohelet has for peaceful and prosperous living. It is a goal that we should all be working towards, for ourselves and everyone living. The time to act on that goal is now and always, until it is attained. The time for different tactics may change, but the time for action does not.
So what does that action look like right now? Now is an excellent time to call your representatives to say you want to see benefits like Medicaid and SNAP extended, small business loans un-fucked, and decarceration explored further. It’s also an excellent time to buy giftcards from small businesses that may not be open right now but still have bills (or small businesses that are open, like my own Sylvanaqua Farms! Sorry, had to plug), support creative entreprenuers (like my awesome cousin Abby who went from teaching Pilates classes in NYC to streaming Pilates classes from her childhood home in Connecticut), and make donations to food banks and other social safety net organizations.
But mainly, I think action means staying at home as much as you are able. I do not begrudge (or envy) anyone who can’t abide by stay-at-home orders due to their jobs, or who may need to hire babysitters to come into their home, or send their kids to the daycares that are starting to re-open because they can’t miss any more work. I don’t begrudge you patronizing restaurants with curbside pickup because you just can’t make one more meal, or going to Target for your groceries because then you can also pick out some clothes (I know I need to figure out getting my girls new shoes sometime soon) and maybe a little pick-me-up present for yourself. Because sometimes what is classified as non-essential does, in some cases, actually become essential. That rather long qualification aside, I’ll add my plea to the millions of others you’ve probably heard: if you can, please stay home. Those with cancer, the elderly, the newborns, the chronically ill – not to mention the families and loved ones of all the aforementioned people – are relying upon all of us to abide by social distancing and vigilant hand washing so that they can live. As Qohelet has made clear, we all have the right to eat, drink, and be glad; and we all have the responsibility to make sure everyone has that right, as well.
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[…] get me wrong: there is a time for anger, a time for sadness (as Qohelet so elegantly reminds us in Chapter Three), and I’m not trying to tone-police anyone here. But even this hard work is work we can do […]