The ideas were clear in my morning shower. A time to be born, a time to die. As I considered what to write about this statement, the thoughts were so strong and real that I began to cry. Yes, I thought, that is something to write about.
But the ideas that were so ready to be written, the visceral and stirring thoughts that had moved me to tears dried up when I shut off the water. Then, like a dream that fades when waking, they were gone. I could just barely touch them before they slipped away. All that remained was this phrase: a time to be born.
Hours later, groceries are bought, bathrooms cleaned, dog fed and walked, freelance work completed, worries had, arguments begun and ended, strangers encountered, gas tank filled, and the ideas were still elusive. A time to be born. But what came after?
After a long day, just before bed, I looked up the passage in Ecclesiastes. I always remember the parts about planting, about building and breaking down, about everything having a season. I remembered those parts, but did it really say a time to be born? I could not recall.
To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to count as lost,
a time to keep and a time to discard,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
And so, I read each line, out loud but quietly, just a bit above a whisper, so that I didn’t disturb anyone. I let each word ring out a bit and expand into the air of the room, set against background noise of one kid watching television in the other room, a dog barking in the yard next door, the elevated train rushing by in the distance. Outside sounds, inside sounds, life going on around me with no awareness of me, sitting there reading aloud this ancient text, this testimony to time and change. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t grasp again those ideas that were so striking before. I pondered the verses just long enough to be annoyed and then give up.
A time to put away my writing, a time to try again tomorrow.
Over coffee the next morning, I read the passage again and I notice something new. Here is a list. Here is a list of things that move in a cycle, not in a line. This passage is not a laundry list or a set of instructions for putting together an Ikea bookshelf. It does not tell me “First, weep, then laugh. End of story.” It is not first you’ll mourn, then you’ll dance, first tear, then mend, first silence, then speak. We tear and mend and tear again. We speak and find quiet and speak again. We weep and laugh and weep and laugh again. This is a list of cycles, because seasons are like that. There is a time of planting, a time of harvesting and then a time of waiting, a time of watching and a time to plant again. Again, and again and again.
So, what of this part? A time to be born and a time to die.
I admit that I am too inclined to see these as one-time events, the start and the stop points in a list of things that repeat. I was born and now I am faced with dying. I began on September 25th, 1967. When I end will arrive whenever it arrives, I suppose. Perhaps this is why it stuck to me, a time to be born and a time to die. A black and white shoreline for a sea of gray.
So, I ask myself why it is that everything else in the list fits tongue and groove like boards that make the floor in a large room. Board after board is placed until the floor is covered, seamless and strong, protected, beautiful and sturdy. Perhaps, I realize, the time to be born and the time to die are meant to be seen as a life-long cyclical pairing as well, not static pieces like book ends, like doorways, like windows. Here, birth and death are not a one-time beginning and a one-time ending.
What if this passage tells us that we are born into a lifetime of birth? And that we die after many cycles of death? Little births, little deaths, like new jobs and moving house. Catastrophic births, catastrophic deaths, like having children and ending relationships. Each new joy follows moments of grief. Each grief has the beauty of joy ahead. Loss and gain are partners in this process of a lifetime, ideas that come and go, ebb and flow like tides, like weather, like morning and evening, breaking down and building. A time to be born and a time to die. Everything in its season. A time for every purpose under heaven.
Hey, did you miss The Inward Dimension of Fasting?
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