One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.
Because I am somewhat melancholic, I've always enjoyed the Book of Ecclesiastes and its author, Qoheleth. He provides an antidote to the roseate cheerleaders who see life as gloriously happy and invariably beautiful. The Professor and I prefer the darker hues of life. We invariably notice the scuro in chiaroscuro.
In this first chapter of Ecclesiasticus the author considers the endless cycles of the world around us: day and night; drought and flood, ebb and flow; summer, fall, winter, spring. Nature begins with the round Earth circling the spherical Sun, tilted at such an angle as to produce in its temperate zones the seasons and in its polar zones, long days and nights. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full.
Because of the cyclic seasons, life appears and inevitably must reflect the cycles. Deciduous trees sprout leaves in the spring and drop them in the autumn. Flowers blossom to morph into seed-bearing fruit; bugs lay eggs to produce larva and more bugs; frogs beget tadpoles. The lungs breathe in and out; the heart pumps systolic and diastolic; we ingest food and excrete waste. The cycles are as invariable as the rivers rushing to the sea, and yet never does the sea become full.
Most of these living creatures -- the animals and plants and fungi -- pay close attention to the seasons but never notice them. They cannot ask, "Why?" Only the human creature can notice these things and ask, "What if...?"
Oddly, the human creature can work in the day and the night. An omnivore, it can eat almost anything organic. It likes to reproduce at any time of year, without regard to the seasons. The human creature has far more choice than any other animal or plant, and bewildering sets of choices.
Aware of time past, present and future and that the seasons are not always alike, the human realizes choice makes a difference. We cannot change the past but in every present moment we make the future. That power is a blessing and a curse; it is opportunity and a grave responsibility.
Qoheleth felt the burden and the isolation of that freedom. The winds that ceaselessly blow in every direction don't mind what he decides; they neither support nor resist his choice. The sun shines on his wicked acts as well as his virtuous; it doesn't care what he does. But, neither caring nor opposing, they might nonetheless wash away his every effort. Even the Egyptian pyramids must be swallowed up by the surrounding desert. The universe simply ignores us.
Only the Word of God endures forever. That is our faith. If anything in this old, endlessly changing world which seems to go nowhere persists into eternity, it will do so by clinging to the Word of God. That is why we call it new.