Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
I learned recently that prior to the fourteenth century, the word “vanity” did not have the narcissistic and self-conceited overtones we associate with it today. Rather it simply meant “futility,” or “worthlessness.” So, when the writer of Ecclesiastes laments, “vanity of vanities; all things are vanity,” we might guess that he is reflecting on his insignificance set against the power of the Almighty and Eternal Creator. The tyranny of vanity that he wishes to confront is the one that draws a soul into a life filled with pursuit of the nonessential.
It bears reflection: how is my day ordered? Where do I spend my energy? What “futile” or non-eternal activity might I let go of to take up instead prayer, service, love of God and neighbor?
Jesus, let my very existence be ordered toward eternity and building up your kingdom in myself and in those I encounter.
—Liz Kelly is the author of the award-winning Jesus Approaches published by Loyola Press and trained as a director in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Lord, you know the way we spend our time, sometimes well and sometimes poorly. Help us to refocus our energy on those things that draw us deeper into relationship with you and with our neighbor. Give us the wisdom to recognize those things that are futile, and the courage to make changes to orient ourselves toward you. Amen.
—The Jesuit Prayer team
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