One of my all-time favorite teaching moves was when my theology teacher used the movie Contact to help us seminary novices get a handle on the idea that our talk about God has a story to it (in particular, Contact was a springboard for us to talk about the doctrine of revelation – that point of numinous connection human beings sometimes make with that which is Bigger Than Us). In case you haven’t seen it (you should – really.), in Contact we meet Ellie Arroway. Ellie is a brilliant SETI scientist, listening to the universe for signs of intelligent life. As we get more of her backstory, we learn that part of the reason she wants to connect so badly is to some make sense out of the sad parts of her own life. Her experience initiates a search.
What stands out to me about Ellie is the fierceness of her search. Her commitment and passion are unrelenting – which is probably why I thought of her story this week when reading Qohelet’s search in Ecclesiastes. Heads up: the text this week is one of the hardest in the Hebrew Bible, in my opinion. It’s not the sadness of the story – it’s the tone of pain and despair the author takes. His search has taken him far and wide, and everything still seems like “shepherding the wind.” All is hebel – this word gets badly translated as vanity or meaninglessness, but literally means “breath.” He laments that nothing lasts, that nothing in life is sure. Everything he tries is like “shepherding the wind. Let’s just say that Ecclesiastes 2 isn’t exactly a pet text for most pastors…
At yet this text profoundly affirms the range of human experience. Qohelet rejects conventional wisdom and easy platitudes in favor of raw honesty. “This doesn’t make sense. And it hurts.” would be an apt section title for this passage. This search doesn’t lead him to give up on life because he can’t solve the mysteries of the universe – instead, it sends him running to share his experiences with his friends and fellow searchers.
I hope you’ll join us on Sunday – I really do. There are so many questions this text brings up (Why is this seemingly heretical text even here? What does it say about the quality of relationship we’re invited to have with God? How do we find meaning, hope, and joy in the middle of our little human lives?), and I know that’s just my limited perspective. Questions like these ones need the wider perspective of a shared journey. Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.
Looking forward to the conversation.