Wednesday, February 24, 2010

He Hath Not Another to Help Him Up

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11)

Ecclesiastes is attributed, like the Proverbs, to King Solomon. Some have argued, based on linguistic cues in the text, for a later provenance, perhaps as late as the third century B.C. "Son of David" (Eccl. 1:1) may simply refer to any later ruler in Jerusalem who was a descendant of David. But the attribution itself is interesting. For while the Proverbs elevate a personified Wisdom to god-like status, seen to exist with God in the beginning, before the foundation of all God's creations (Proverbs 8: 22-31), Ecclesiastes offers a less elevated view, suggesting that the end of the wise man and the fool is the same, all ending in "vanity and vexation of spirit" (see, for instance, Ecclesiastes 2). If King Solomon was the author of both, one imagines a younger, more idealistic Solomon compiling the Proverbs, and an older, more tired, more cynical Solomon writing Ecclesiastes toward the end of his life. If Proverbs is the book of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes is the book of anti-Wisdom. According to Ecclesiastes, if a more elevated meaning in life is to be found, it is to be found somewhere else than in the earthly realms "under the sun."

But Ecclesiastes, while seemingly resigned to the injustices and ironies of life "under the sun," does not take a negative view of life. In fact, Ecclesiastes is very life-affirming. The message seems to be to enjoy the good things of life as much as possible, for life is a gift from God. We should recognize the inherent limits that are built into life, and be aware of its cyclical nature. Everything is born, matures, ages and eventually dies, only to have new life take its place in the cycle of things. We may be foolish or we may be wise, but no matter how wise we are, we will die and fools will always come to take our place. This truth, Ecclesiastes suggests, may be discouraging, but life is still a gift.

A number of years back, Göran had this brilliant idea that for our thirteenth anniversary, he wanted us to jump out of a plane. When he proposed his mad scheme to me, our anniversary was still months away, and perhaps hoping he'd forget the fool idea long before it actually came to it, I foolishly said yes. But months later, I found myself on a tiny Cessna, next to a plexiglass door that was rattling in the wind 10,000 feet or so above the ground, the door being the only thing between me and nothing but thin air. When they opened the door and then instructed me to move toward it with the purpose of jumping out, every single molecule in my body wanted to do the opposite -- move away from the door as far as I could. I was terrified. I continued to be terrified, right up until the very moment that I was out the door and hurtling downward with nothing between me and the earth but wispy clouds. For the moment I was out of the plane, something clicked inside of me. I realized that, whether I survived this or not, it was now officially too late. I was no longer afraid, because there was no longer anything for me to do but enjoy the ride, one way or the other. So enjoy it I did. (And I survived just fine. The parachute opened and the landing was very happy.)

I have sometimes wondered if my decision to leave the security of my Heavenly Parents' presence and enter mortality wasn't something like that moment of sheer terror I felt on the threshold of the plane door. Göran swears he wasn't afraid at all. He could hardly wait to make the jump. KOWABUNGA! I guess that's one difference between him and me. But here we are in mortality. So we might as well make the best of things and enjoy the ride. I think that is a core message of Ecclesiastes.

So I appreciate the pragmatism of "the Preacher." Enjoy the simple things of life. Tend the little patch of earth around you. Take care of each other, lift each other up. Be kind. Enjoy the fruits of your labors. It is all a gift of God. There might be aspects of the ride that are scary, but it's also exhilarating and beautiful and incredible, isn't it? Once I jumped out of that plane, and could look around me without fear, the view was spectacular. Never anything like it at all. And I wasn't sick or anything. I thought it would feel like a roller-coaster ride -- nauseating. But uninterrupted freefall is different from that. It doesn't feel like falling at all. You're just suspended in the air, seeing things that, well, you just don't see every day.

And it is in this context that I read what is probably the best Biblical argument in favor of same-sex marriage one is likely to find, the text I quoted above (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11). Companionship is a gift of God. It is good to go through life with someone who shares your labors, who lifts you up when you fall (and whom you lift up when he stumbles), and who keeps you warm at night when you both lie down. Life is hard enough as it is, without at least that.


Anonymous said...

I put this passage into calligraphy, framed it and gave it to my grandparents decades ago. I think they thought it was a little strange, but I have always liked its recognition of the essence of marriage: not kids, not property, not sex, but pure companionship.

My wife was involved in a 4 car freeway accident recently. The car behind didn't see a slowdown and had to swerve to avoid smashing into her, which would probably have killed both of them. He sideswiped her and ricocheted off two other cars. Almost died--gives one pause to wonder. Forget cleaning the basement, Ecclesiastes would say, carpe diem.

Anonymous said...

I did not know you, too, had gone sky-diving. Me, too!

Here is my post about it, if you would like to read it:

And, this scripture you cited in today's post is also one of my favorite. I have also written about it on my blog. :)

We do share a lot in common. :)

Love and respect, always. slp

Quiet Song said...

I, too, love Ecclesiastes, and find his writing incredibly modern, and, even EMO. He has helped me so much in dealing with my internal conflicts especially over Proposition 8 and the other rather unique places I find myself in.

Love him, love him, love him. SLP you went skydiving? Gotta go read that post.