A little over nine centuries before the birth of Christ, King Solomon is said by tradition to have written the Book of Ecclesiastes. It took Pete Seeger almost three millennia to compose a song out of a snippet of the third chapter. A decade later, after The Byrds covered it, King Solomon could be credited for a hit song ringing from the hippie subculture (or just Forest Gump enthusiasts) and now able to be stuck in the heads of all. The song is mind-numbing at this point, and I’m ashamed to say it, but when I was an altar boy at various funerals I couldn’t help but hearing Turn! Turn! Turn! in my ears as the lector got up.
There’s certainly a difference in the intent of the era that composed this tune and the intent of King Solomon. The former proposed an idea that the entirety of existence is under a giant pendulum, that all events, joyful and sorrowful alike, come to equilibrium in relative haste. This idea gave us phrases like “what goes around comes around,” “everything is circular,” or whatever other faux-far-eastern wisdom a long haired blond living in his grandmother’s basement can conjure up in a given afternoon.
The hippie trend is long gone, of course, but certain ideas have evolved from it. Let’s think, for a moment, about the generally accepted practice of moving along with the times. Whatever is fashionable to practice (or ‘tolerate’ others who practice it), we’re pressured to submit to, as if choosing a lifestyle is equivalent to choosing which pair of jeans you’ll wear today. As certain fads go in and out, society wants all to join the general motion of the times, and Dawkins-forbid that the ‘intolerant’ do anything to stifle or condemn this beloved current.
Man desires to have a balance in life. Whether pagan or Christian, we all want to know that the bad times will get better, the mourners will rejoice, and the down-hearted will find consolation. This is no significant discovery, of course, as Our Lord gives us many similar promises in St. Matthew 5. This does not mean, however, that the joyous day will come immediately after the sorrowful, or that we will be comfortable immediately after any rough time in life. St. Paul had a terrible track record of living the ‘good old days.’ He was jailed, scorned, flogged, stripped, starved, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, snake-bitten, tortured, chased out of town, and ultimately beheaded. Mother Teresa, famous during her life for the love she had for God’s children, is now famous after her death for the almost constant spiritual darkness that enveloped her during her ministry! This gives us the striking notion that, as the prophet Isaiah says, his ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8). What did these two saints, so separated by time, have in common? They had a firm faith in Christ, and abandoned themselves to the Lord’s will in their lives.
Looking over the famous passage from Ecclesiastes again, we can see that these ‘times’ mentioned are between references to God’s appointed times. Abandonment to God’s providence is nothing like abandonment to secular culture’s influence. Abandoning our own wills to his will allows us to see all events in our lives for his ultimate purpose, even when we don’t understand it. We do not rely on consolations, feelings, our personal understanding, or — perhaps most importantly — on ourselves. If ever there is a lesson learned by a Christian attempting to live a holy life by his own efforts, it’s that he can’t do it. It’s only by coming to the point when we break and say “Lord, I can’t…” that he says, “I know,” and begins to live in us.