which the exiles draw breath
Noah built an altar to the LORD and he took from every clean cattle and every
clean fowl and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled the
fragrant odor and the LORD said in His heart, “I will not again damn the soil
on humankind’s score. For the devisings of the human heart are evil from youth.
And I will not again strike down all living things as I did. As long as all the
days of the earth—seedtime and harvest and cold and heat and summer and winter
and day and night shall not cease.”
1:1-6, 14, 15
words of Qohelet son of David, king in Jerusalem.
breath, said Qohelet, merest breath. All is mere breath. What gain is there for
man in all his toil that he toils under the sun. A generation goes and a
generation comes, but the earth endures forever. The sun rises and the sun
sets, and to its place it glides, there it rises. It goes to the south and
swings round to the north, round and round goes the wind, and on its rounds the
have seen all the deeds that are done under the sun, and, look, all is mere
breath, and herding the wind. The crooked cannot turn straight nor can the lack
be made good.
Flood that sweeps away the civilisations of the Ancient Near East—perhaps the swift
rise of Alexander the Great’s empire—does not deal with the desire of humankind
to capture the soil that gave birth to other peoples; but God does reaffirm the
order set out in Genesis 1, an order of seasons—the waxing and waning of
rulers, the times set them—established in order that the earth itself is not worn
thin. The rise and fall of empires, the breath of life and the dying breath, is
not for us to overthrow; attempts to control such things, to prevent men from
rising or to hold on to power, are like trying to herd the wind. In all this,
the vocation of God’s people is to intercede, to raise prayer to heaven: how
long, O Lord? Even when the rebuilt Temple is desecrated by Alexander’s
successors, it will be fought for and reconsecrated to this role. And Advent is
a season of rededication, of consecrating ourselves, committing our breath as
prayer for the world.
we hear the news, which these days seems to come at us 24/7 without ever
pausing for breath, rather than be discouraged, let us turn the unfolding
events of humankind and the soil to prayer.
texts: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary