Wisdom for the Way Part 3: Ecclesiastes

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Clothed with the wisdom of Job and journeying with the prayer book of the Psalmist we pilgrims venture on. That is until the seemingly endless wilderness roads get the better of us and in desperation and weariness we collapse and wonder why we are doing this. Why are we out here again? What is the point of all this?

In the beginning of The Way the father encounters a French Police Captain who will lead him through the process of identification and the claiming of his son’s items. In this process the father learns that the Police Captain has not only been on the Camino de Santiago he has completed it 3 times and he has also lost a child. These experiences allow his words of advice to carry significant weight with the father.

In much the same way Solomon came alongside me, someone who has often stopped along the trail wondering what is the point of all this. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he takenth under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).  It often seems like all is vanity; an impossible effort much like herding cats or like ‘shepherding the wind’ which according to Peter Leithart is more likely what Solomon meant by “vanities of vanities” (Leithart, 2008, p. 68). With divinely practical wisdom the Preacher’s words in Ecclesiastes seem to flow from one who has, been there and done that. Someone who can relate; someone who has also asked the questions of: why and what is the point?

Solomon is not simply another speculating pilgrim on the way; he is one of our guides who has walked this same trail many times, and endured the same losses we have. Ecclesiastes interacts with the Preachers (and my) wonderings about existence, meaning, and happiness. Where are these things located? Are these so-called self-evident truths our inalienable rights and if so how are we to apprehend them? The wisdom of the Preacher’s words are found in that these things are not apprehended just as vapor is not something we can shepherd rather, these are experienced as we journey. In other words, we do not locate them at the destination but stumble upon them on the trail and in doing so find that somehow they are transformed from questions of existence, meaning and happiness into declarations of ‘faith, joy and worship’ (Leithart, p. 165).

The trail of the pilgrim is a walk into the disorienting unknown and by nature is meant to be walked upon by faith. The experiences, friendships, laughter, food and beauty experienced on the trial are meant to inspire joy (Eccl. 2:24-25; 3:12-14; 5:18) and the summation of the entire pilgrimage experience is meant to inspire worship (Ecc. 12:13-14). With the Preacher as our guide we discover that disorientation and mystery are not our enemies but loving and faithful friends who can lead us into deep places we would not otherwise have gone.

Conclusion

At the very end of The Way, the father and his group of fellow pilgrims arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago. They enter into their destination and very quickly realize that while their destination is wonderful, without the journey of their pilgrimage it would not be as significant. Very similarly, the wisdom offered to us in the wisdom literature declares that our pilgrimage is meant to be experienced and enjoyed because the destination is not primarily a place but a person who has walked with us along the way. Heaven will be unimaginably wonderful and eternally captivating not because of the rest it offers weary pilgrims but because the Triune God is uniquely present.

When the pilgrim finally crosses that river of death, they will immediately know the face of their Savior because they have seen glimpses of him all along their path. He was in the laughter of a friend, the adventure of an unknown trail, the emptiness of a lonely night, the balm upon wounded and weary feet, the beauty of a sunrise and in someone’s final sunset. Heaven for the pilgrim will be more of a reunion with a known Savior than an introduction to one we have not yet met.

If you have not experienced the wisdom of Job, the Psalms or Ecclesiastes in a while I encourage you to do so. However do so with new eyes – pilgrim’s eyes. Don’t read it from a comfortable chair but live it in the wilderness; on the pilgrims trail.

Leithart, P. J. (2008). Solomon Among the Postmoderns, Grand Rapids, MI; Brazos Press