Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your YouthPosted: August 16, 2015
Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth
SLIDE 3: ECCLESIASTES
One of the more pessimistic and depressing books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes or the Hebrew title, Koheleth, traditionally translated “preacher” or “teacher.” The author purports to be the son of David in Jerusalem, but was not written until the late 3rd century BCE. The author sets as his goal to reflect upon the “meaning of life.” But after reviewing the pursuits of wealth, pleasure, religious piety, philosophy, and wisdom, the author concludes that there is no meaning to life except to enjoy the simple daily pleasures of eating, drinking, earning a living and enjoying one’s partner as one is able. But there is a decidedly pessimistic tone to the narrative: “God has also set eternity in the hearts of humans; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Vanity of vanities all is vanity.”
SLIDE 4: PERENNIAL WISDOM
Indeed, when the early Rabbis were deciding what literature to include in the Hebrew cannon Ecclesiastes almost didn’t make it. I believe the author of Ecclesiastes is more in line with a more modern perspective on Judaism and religious faith in general as expressed in Rabbi Rami’s book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. This morning I would like to call attention to our scripture from Chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes, a beautiful and imaginative poem about aging.
SLIDE 5: AGING
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim. . . .” The “preacher” is offering an imaginative description of the disabilities that accompany aging – loss of eye sight, hearing loss, weakness in the legs and back, difficulty chewing with the loss of teeth, sleep and digestive disorders, urinary tract difficulties and the tapering off of sexual desire. Indeed as we age we are subject to a number of physical changes that can reduce our mobility, and our enjoyment of life.
SLIDE 6: CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WHEN YOUNG
And so perhaps the best advice the preacher offers us is “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. . .” When we are young and full of life we can be so full of ourselves we have no time or attention left to consider our Creator. Our culture seems to almost require an atheistic phase in our youth a time when prayer, worship, contemplation, meditation have little or no time on our agendas. We have so much to do: school, dates, texting, sexting, extra-curricular activities, athletic events, time with friends, time in the gym to stay trim, taking care of pets, then children with all of their appointments and activities. There is just a lot to do and so little time left for spiritual concerns. No time to remember our Creator in the days of our youth.
SLIDE 7: WE BECOME SET IN OUR WAYS
The problem with postponing time to remember our Creator is that as we get older, we become more set in our ways — habit and routine take over. We may have the best of intentions to set aside time for study, prayer and meditation, and other spiritual disciplines, but the longer we wait to start the more likely we will never get around to it. Also our minds can become less flexible as we age, and cultivating a relationship with God can beckon us into new and uncharted waters, where we need all of the mental agility at our command. So for those in the congregation who are on the lighter side of 50 my advice is to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”
SLIDE 8: OVER THE HILL AND PICKING UP SPEED
Now for those of us who have gone over the hill and are picking up speed on our way down let me suggest that all is not lost. As we age there are some natural consequences of growing older that can contribute to a deepening of our spiritual lives – aging, illness and death. As I have discovered in the past year pain is an important teacher. When we are young we can convince ourselves that we are going to live forever, but when the physician begins to say, “Well at your age,” that should be a wake-up call to pay attention. The truth is that all that we think or feel or do is written in our bodies. Or as Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the years it’s the mileage.” None of us is perfect.
SLIDE 9: WE GRIEVE WITH OUR WHOLE BODIES
We carry in our bodies the memories of injuries from the past, our angers, our disappointments and our griefs. Especially as we grow older we are more likely to experience grief as first parents, then siblings and friends, partners and sometimes even children die. We do not just grieve in our heads, we grieve with our whole selves, and all of our losses are written somewhere in our bodies. As we age injuries that used to heal within hours or days take weeks and months to recover.
SLIDE 10: WITH DISABILITY CAN COME HUMILITY
All of us are mortal and vulnerable and if we can acknowledge that reality we can learn to be more kind and compassionate to others. A member of the congregation this past week was sharing with me some of the pains she is attempting to cope with, and then she added, “But it has made me more mindful of the problems of others.” As we learn to live with disability we can even be humbled to the point we can ask for help. Humility is difficult until we know we cannot keep up any more.
SLIDE 11: TIME IS PRECIOUS
Another gift of aging is the realization that we will not live forever. Time is precious. I can no longer imagine just sitting and watching television or playing solitaire or any other activities intended just to pass the time. As the hours become fewer, they become more precious. Young people often complain they are bored. But after sixty life is no longer ever boring. Time is just too precious and we have too many projects and activities left to do. A key is to allow spiritual development to be one of those projects we remember to pursue.
SLIDE 12: HOPE
Another gift that is offered to us as we grow older is the contemplation of what might lie beyond death. Now I recognize that we do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time on such speculation. We cannot know before we get there. But the prospect that God does not abandon us in death can offer hope that empowers the final years of our lives. According to the preacher, “God has also set eternity in the hearts of human beings; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Do not underestimate the power of hope in human life. Hope can sustain our spirits, when all else seems lost.
SLIDE 13: REMEMBERED FOREVER IN THE SILENT MEMORY OF GOD
Now I know some people who believe that to deny any form of life after death is somehow a more noble or honest way to live. After all there is no hard scientific evidence of life after death. But I would point out to them that just as I cannot prove there is a life after death, they cannot prove there is no life after death any more than they can prove there is no God. It is all a matter of faith. And as long as we are free to choose what we want to believe, why not choose to believe something that imparts hope that can empower the final years of our lives. Not silly pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye kind of hope. Not a hope that if we just believe the right things, or say the right prayers, or go to church often enough, or perform enough good deeds we will earn our way into heaven. No instead a deep and abiding faith that the universe is a friendly place, and our creator loves us – loves us so much that we will be remembered forever in the silent memory of God.
SLIDE 14: THE ROPE AND THE KNOT
Remember the experiment with the rope and the knot. If we take a rope and we tie a knot really tight, and we leave it there for a long time, when we untie the knot, the rope still retains a memory of the knot that was in it. In the same way, when we die, the knot representing our life is untied, relaxed, but there is still a memory of our life.
And so I offer you my poem to celebrate the hope of the possibility of life beyond this life.
SLIDE 15: THIS IS THE ROAD HOMEWARD
“The hair runs grey now time has streaked
With winter white,
The brow relaxed from tempest,
And storm subsides all energy released—for nothing.
The world turns ever; the grasses sway
For breeze of tempest lost.
The sun wanes and rises, wanes again
No rage can halt the revolution of the light.
No waters can wash the soil of age.
But nothing never ceases; fear of loss
Is child’s embrace, that wrinkles ease
And years decrease.
Steps bring journey always closer to the end.
A path I do not fear, for all I know
This is the road—homeward.”