The writer of Ecclesiastes (found after the Psalms and Proverbs in the OT), according to his own words, “[has] seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). He built houses, vineyards, gardens and parks; he sought wealth and wisdom; he bought slaves, built pools, owned flocks and herds, had personal singers—and many concubines “man’s delight”—every possible thing in order to satisfy his desires, only to find that “all was vanity and a striving after wind”. The Hebrew is “hebel”, and means “breath”, “vapor” and also “meaninglessness”, “emptiness”, “futility”, “uselessness”—that is fleeting, quick, over and done with, useless, gone.
Times have not changed in the (literally) thousands of years since this book was written…neither have human inclinations. Everyone is “searching for answers” to use a much quoted phrase from the great film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” We each are seeking to fill a void found deep within each of us. Some turn to alcohol and drugs, some to sexual investigations, many of us simply try to fill this “God-shaped void” (as one writer has described it) with “stuff”—possessions: cars, houses, job, money. We all try to fill it with something, and this something is usually NOT God. We figure that either we will find the answer to “life” by diverting ourselves to death or by simply filling every moment of time and space with things and activities. The trouble is, THERE IS NO LIFE TO BE FOUND IN THESE THINGS! Possessions and activities ARE NOT LIFE. As a matter of fact, although certainly not evil in and of themselves, “things”, “stuff”, “possessions” can easily distract us from what real life truly is—when they are used to replace true life, instead of being used as the tools that they are.
What IS true life, then? What IS the purpose of life? Among the “preacher’s” last words in Ecclesiastes are these: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Jesus puts it this way, “But seek first [the] kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt. 6:33). [The ‘all these things’ are our needs, which God surely knows.] SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD. As Christians, our task—as Fr. Schmemann has so beautifully put it—is to “transform the smallest, seemingly most insignificant detail of the routine drudgery of everyday existence in this fallen world into paradise.” We must ask ourselves at every turn, at the beginning of every action, every event, “Does this draw me closer to God or by doing this do I push myself away from Him?” Besides the words, “Forgive me, Lord!” or “Have mercy upon me, O Lord!” this is the beginning of seeking first the Kingdom of God. God help each one of us to meet Him each morning when we wake, each evening as we lay our heads on our pillows, and at every moment in between so that we may truly seek first HIS KINGDOM and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!