The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines are to remind me of the world in which I blog
And remember your creator in the days of your youth, before evil days come and the years approach when you say, ‘These give me no pleasure’, before sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;
the day when those who keep the house tremble
and strong men are bowed;
when the women grind no longer at the mill,
because day is darkening at the windows
and the street doors are shut;
when the sound of the mill is faint,
when the voice of the bird is silenced,
and song notes are stilled,
when to go uphill is an ordeal
and a walk is something to dread.
Yet the almond tree is in flower,
the grasshopper is heavy with food
and the caper bush bears its fruit,
while man goes to his everlasting home. And the mourners are already walking to and fro in the street
before the silver cord has snapped,
or the golden lamp been broken,
or the pitcher shattered at the spring,
or the pulley cracked at the well,
or before the dust returns to the earth as it once came from it, and the breath to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. All is vanity.
This famous passage has many differernt translations, most notably the very beautiful version in the A.V. The clue to the imagery is that most of it refers to the human body: the keepers of the house are arms, the strong men are knees, the women grinding are teeth and so on.
We were made to memorise this passage in Bible Class, where its logic was not understood by our teachers. Basically it says, enjoy your youth, have a good time, giving thanks to the Creator, before you get old and no longer feel thankful for life. The language is fresh (at least to the modern reader) but the message is miserable: old age and death are coming, so snatch what pleasure you can.
Perhaps in developed nations we can now laugh at this advice because many people continue vigorous into their seventies and eighties. And we can look back with mixed feelings at our youth, when we had energy but not wisdom to use it well. This may however mean that our culture has lost its appreciation of youth, of the beauty of young men and women, of their strength and speed of body and their sharpness of mind. Perhaps most of all we are losing our taste for the adventurousness and ambition of the young. If so that’s a pity, because it communicates an elderly cynicism to young people which may not help them to “remember their creator in the days of their youth.”
In this passage “vanity” means “emptiness”, a meaning we retain in the expression “in vain”. The author is convinced that a void underlies even the best of human living; and that it captures us completely in death. People have sometimes said that the concept of resurrection devalues the life we have. In this passage it’s clear that an acceptance of death as final spreads a shadow over all of life.