The famous words of the poet, Kohelet (also known as Ecclesiastes) are often in my head. No matter who you are, how old you are or what you have experienced in your life, you can find meaning in these most profound eight verses. Though penned over 2,000 years ago, if you read the words carefully, they are relevant even today:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
I have a file, in my “notes” section of my iPhone that I call Blog Ideas. Ever since I started to write my blog, over 3 years ago, this is where I house my quick thoughts and ideas as a I walk through life. Someone cuts me off in traffic, an idea about rude drivers. My husband experiments with eggs one day in the kitchen, and a post about Dads making dinner. Take me out to the ballgame is sung during the 7th inning stretch at the baseball game, and there I go, writing about how much I love baseball.
So many of my blog posts are inspired by a moment, or a person, or even a joke. I see or read something, and it sparks an idea. But sometimes I have thoughts that keep coming back. I write a note to myself, sometimes in the middle of the night (yes, I keep my phone beside me at night, and random thoughts go in there sometimes!), and whatever I wrote just eats at me. I don’t jump onto my computer to write. It has to marinate for a while. The thoughts have to properly form and develop.
That’s the case here. I can’t remember exactly when I scratched the words, “To Every Thing there is a Season” into my blog ideas file. I also wrote “Kohelet – note the words.” I studied this book, which is part of the “Writings,” or “Ketuvim” of the Tanakh (the three books of the bible, which include the Torah, Prophets and Writings), way back in high school. So many of the phrases are ingrained in my head, and not just because they’re part of a well-known song by Pete Seager, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
The ideas have been churning in my head, and I decided earlier this week that finally it was time for my For every thing there is a season post. It was, let’s call it, a tumultuous week in the United States, and it got me thinking. Then on Saturday night, the new US President-Elect, Joe Biden, stole my thunder. Here’s what he said during his victory speech:
“The Bible tells us to every thing there is a season – a time to build, a time to reap and a time to sew and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.” His words were true, and I believe, were from the heart. But this blog post is not about politics, in the US or Canada, or how individuals have conducted themselves over the past four years, four months, four weeks or four days. What President-Elect Biden’s words did (though he pulled phrases from across the verses!) were to remind me of that true relevance of Kohelet’s words to every one of us.
Pick any day in your life. Choose an experience or a story from your recent past or long ago, and I promise you, I can connect it to at least one phrase in these first eight verses of chapter three. Here’s a few that I can think of easily. Take, for example, the current COVID-19 pandemic. How about, “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” How about the many paths and turns I have taken in my career? My first job was in radio, where I began to build my career, and where it came crashing down 16 months later when we were all laid off. Sometimes you build up and then you break down. (note I quickly got another job, but the day I lost my first job I thought my professional life was over).
Some moments are burned into my memory, like the exact second each of my three children were born. And yet the moment each of my grandparents died, including my Poppy’s death in April this year, can never be erased. I think of these often. As Kohelet says, “A time to be born, and a time to die.” Planting a seed doesn’t mean growing vegetables in the backyard (though it can of course). Every action we take must start somewhere, with some small idea in our heads and hearts, that grows and blooms.
“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” is a phrase to which my eyes keep returning when I read these verses. Some may ask, is there ever a time that the better choice is to keep silent? Don’t we live in a society, where we value our freedom to speak? Shouldn’t speak be raised up on a pedestal? I see the choice of one or the other – silent or speak – to be what I value most. Or maybe that’s what Kohelet was telling us. His words are less about the meaning of life and more about the choices we make in life or options laid out before us.
It is less about for every thing there is a season and more about a key word in the next phrase, a time to every purpose under the heaven. Time. There is a time for everything. In one’s lifetime, most of us will face everything Kohelet writes about. Birth and death. Peace and war. Laugh and weep. Get and lose. We may choose all of these. Or they may choose us. There is a time for sure.
2020 has been a rough year. It’s probably why Kohelet’s words keep streaming in my head. This year has been about breaking down, weeping, mourning, and a lot of hate. I hope our future will be a time to plant, heal, peace, love, dance, and laugh. That’s right, dance and laugh. I look forward to that most of all.