How should I exercise the cure of souls (literally, the care of people’s life-breath) when my own life-breath is caught, listless, in the doldrums of Covid on the hottest, breezeless, day in the UK since records began?
Qohelet, the great Teacher of ancient Israel, explores the recurring theme of chasing after the wind. It is a phrase he employs nine times (plus one additional labouring for the wind) and in seven of those nine times pairs with the statement that all is vanity.
The word translated vanity conveys the idea of something fleeting, ephemeral, insubstantial, as breath, which is all these things, and yet essential to life.
The word wind can also be translated spirit or breath.
The root of the word to chase after is to pasture, or shepherd: to lead a flock from place to place, in search of grass and water, in times of drought as well as times of abundance.
Essentially, everything Qohelet turns his hands to is both fleeting, and a pasturing of the breath—his own, and that of others, those he teaches and those he speaks up for. A participation in the gift of life, given and sustained by God.
There is potential frustration to this (the more common description of what I do is herding cats) but also a potential freedom. In the end, I believe, Qohelet comes down on the side of hope, not despair, and the maturity to value all life.
Though my breath is slight today, I can still point to the One from whom the life-breath comes. I can look up at the wispy clouds that do not move overhead, and offer no shade, but, rainless, scatter the heat across the sky, and say: this too is fleeting, and in a dry and barren land pasture is sought out for my soul by the Good Shepherd. Trust with me.