“Vanity of vanities says the Teacher! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Ecc. 2:1)
Is it not true that misery and suffering are universal? Misery and suffering are no respecters of persons, classes, races or countries. The search for a universal peace is constant. We yearn for longer periods of tranquility. We ache for a lasting stability but on a deep visceral level, we sense somehow this isn’t possible! As the ancient teacher of Ecclesiastes said, it’s all vanity, vanity of vanities!
“What do people gain from all the toil which they toil under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.” (Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, 11)
Last Sunday we gathered at my daughter’s home in Orchard Park to celebrate my wife Naomi’s 70th birthday. Many of our family and friends gathered with us including our eight grandchildren and children. But of course at a 70th birthday party many of the guests were older, well like us! Sitting with one of the older gentleman I’ve known for years, who recently turned 75, he said, “You know Dave, we are nothing more than ants, aren’t we?” He then shared recent ponderings how we came into this life, shorter than a breath compared to eternity, yet thinking of ourselves as having some importance. Then we die and are remembered anymore!
So it is we live mostly in denial, do we not, of the misery and purposelessness which surrounds us. A common quote in the popular 12-step programs is, “Denial is not a river in Egypt!” But just as an addict denies an addiction so we live denying life has any real meaning. And we too use various drugs helping us escape the sense that all is vanity; legal drugs, buying endless lists of things we really don’t need or use, traveling to exotic places, surrounding ourselves with people, or staying away from them, finding another new job, another place to live. It’s all vanity of vanities without purpose or reason. Yes, in one respect, nothing but ants.
Last May 2, Tara Parker-Pope published an article in the New York Times outlining the rapid rise of suicide rates in the U.S. The biggest increase came in “baby boomers”, those now entering retirement in record rates. All the computers, smart phones, and American citizenships don’t count when it comes for having meaningful hope and lasting perspective. Meanwhile endless wars continue without end in sight, meaningless political bickering continues, and everywhere we look we see the Teacher’s words seemed fulfilled, “Vanity of Vanities!”
People continue turning increasingly away from organized religions. For every new member the Roman Catholics took in last year, four left. More priests are aged 80 and above than 40 and below. Protestants fare no better as record numbers leave while churches slowly crumble back into earthen rubble. Large “mega churches” with state-of-art electronics and Hollywood trained preachers have declined over the past five years. The “Top Ten mega churches” of 20 years ago now are among the smallest as turnover attendance rates remain high. Staff members need business and law degrees to keep things moving! Roman Catholic “mega churches” create major consolidations hoping to fill a few surviving large buildings with extremely limited priests. Meanwhile hundreds of other once bustling structures now rest in the crumbling to dust status. It can be pretty discouraging. Hopeless. Is there any way out?
The answer, as the 1962 Bob Dylan hit song went, “….is blowing in the wind!” “Spirit”! The answer is reality not in physical bodies or form but Spirit. It is understanding Spirit as our true essence, not our bodies. It is returning to the metaphorical Garden of Eden where we sense and live with awareness of our Oneness in the Ocean of Eternal spirit.
Years ago when the large Buffalo Central Presbyterian Church still thrived among Presbyterians, I heard Elder Bill Schulz give his opening Moderator sermon. The church was then on one of its last searches for a new pastor, and no longer able to afford two pastors, Bill accepted a request that he teach the newest Confirmands. Using material handed to him, he told of a great “aha moment”. He read he came into this world not as a body which later found a Spirit, but as Eternal Spirit who then took on the form of the body! I thought his story gave an important key to our ability to overcome hopelessness.
In the ancient Garden of Eden myth, we existed in a paradise of oneness with our Creator. But we fell to the temptation of thinking we could be like the Creator rather than the Created and participate in our own tree of Knowledge. Thus came the great separation, the “tiny, mad idea,” as A Course in Miracles calls it, lost in the sea of form, time, space and body. The Bible says man went to sleep at that moment but nowhere says how he awoke. Many theologians teach man and woman later awoke with the realization of their original and eternal state being one in Spirit with their Creator.
The Gospel of John 1:12 says, “… as many as received the Son of God,” represented by Jesus, “He gives power to become the Sons of God.” In a simple but profound awakening we come to the realization we are one with Divinity, God, Spirit, the Buddha or whatever Name you call it. The essence is we are not mortal bodies but Spirit, one with God our Father or Creator. This is the secret to overcoming hopelessness on earth, or any planet; to identify ourselves as One in this Spirit and to live in remembrance.
Speaking here last month, I reminded you the “Proof of God” lies in our ideas of who and what this God is and how we practice it as our True Selves. If we remember God defined as joy, unchangeable, perfect love and endless peace, whose essence is spirit, we can be on our way to overcome hopelessness with its sense of vanity of purpose.
We enter into this awareness by understanding and forgiveness, forgiving ourselves for our egocentric blindness of purpose, our forgetfulness of our deepest essence. We become able to let go our multitude of attachments to form and structure and mortality. We use time to grow in looking upon others, as ourselves, with forgiveness. And when we forget, as we all will and do, we remember again, “Father forgive them, and us, for we remembered not who we are.”
In this awareness we return home to our Paradise. We are as the Prodigal Son, leaving behind our wasted efforts to find fulfillment, returning again home to find a forgiving father so happy we are together again. Until then, we are all like wayward children who are lost and need to make their way back to Home. Until then,
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (William Shakespeare)
Remembering then our essence as Eternal Spirit, we like, the Apostle Paul, remember to keep our eyes fixed on the world of the unseen spirit rather than on the material sensory world. (2 Corinthians 4:16) We live with the attitude of the Bhagavad-Gita which says,
“Contacts with matter make us feel cold and heat, pleasure and pain. You must learn to endure fleeting things— they come and they go!”
So remember, remember and each day practice letting go. Remember if you defend yourself with anger and bitterness, your True Self has been attacked! You’ve lost it! You forgot once again becoming attached to some thing, suffering now in sorrow, disappointment, returning to the constant search through the catalog of vanities. For
“Our bodies are known to end, but the embodied Self is enduring, indestructible, and in measurable!” (The Gita)
Remembering this forgive yourself for a life of chasing illusions and vanities. Learn to wait and to hear the Voice. Quit making useless decisions that lead to endless despair. Let it all go and have it All!
“A lifetime of decisions and what is there to show
A few years come and gone, and a few years left to go.
Well there is a difference between living and learning the truth;
I’ve done too much of the former, it’s been a quite protracted youth.
But when it comes down to the latter, I’m an infant nothing more;
I’ m finding it’s a matter for my soul not mind or body to explore.” “
Don’t decide, the Voice says; don’t decide, make no choices; don’t decide, and you will finally get it right!
– Words by Daniel Nahmod