All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams
there they continue to flow.
Our Wednesday Bible Study group recently finished a careful reading of Ecclesiastes. We spent about five weeks on a book that takes up all of ten pages in my New Oxford Annotated Bible. The thoughts about life and God that a teacher named Koholeth wrote down about 2,240 years ago sink into your bones if you let them. But the same is true for all of Holy Scripture. That’s why we call the book holy; it’s just how the bible rolls. The more familiar you are with the Wisdom buried in its pages the more that Wisdom sneaks up on you, taking you by surprise when you see the Word, literally, come to life. The bible is a book that will take your breath away one minute and then give it back the next. Because life is hevel. Life is like a breath, says the teacher.
On Saturday afternoon a friend and I descended from a hike in the White Mountains. When we got close to the camp at the bottom we came upon a stream. The picture above doesn’t quite capture the force of the water descending from the peak 1800 ft above. I stood with my friend and neither of us could express anything but awe (Koholeth would call it fear). It hadn’t rained for days and yet… Oh, my, God. Oh, our, God! “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow (Ecclesiastes 1.7).”
Many years ago when I was a college chaplain I spent Holy Week hiking a fifty-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail with a dozen college students. It was a pretty intense journey. The weather wasn’t favorable. We read all of the appointed readings for Holy Week and observed all of the appointed liturgies. One morning we stood in the freezing cold by a fledgling fire. As we stood in a circle reading a verse from the Psalter describing smoke passing in the midst of the people the wind changed direction and we were bathed in the thick dark smoke of our morning fire.
Holy Scripture comes to life when read aloud and in community. Maybe because the bible is a book written by people dependent on story, on community and upon liberation from empires that care little for individuals and even less about creation.
Holy Scripture comes to life when we are in the elements. Maybe because the bible is a book written by people who reaped, sowed and even suffered from greater exposure to them than most of us ever experience.
Holy Scripture comes to life when we embark on mission. Maybe because the bible is book written by people on one too; people searching for God in this world.
Boy, I could go on today. Let’s end with a poem (it’s a little out of season but one that Koholeth would no doubt love):
The Summer Day
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Take a walk. Take and read, together…