Ecclesiastes

When the Fog Rolls Down and the Wind Blows High

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It was a mad dash out to fish camp. I had less than a day to get ready. I was supposed to stay in Kodiak and clean our house for renters. I was supposed to do the shop-till-you-drop at Safeway (remember last year's shopping cart entirely full of tortillas?) But the salmon season opened early----surprise!! About a week sooner than anyone expected. Duncan and I jumped from one plane to another then to a boat and here I am. Again. My other life. My "Crossing the Waters" life. 

 

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But I am not always smiling. Yesterday the fog rolled in. A strange fog that arched and rainbowed over the fishermen as they drove home to our island. It's message? No, you will not die by flood, but you will get very wet. And so it came. We woke this morning to a North East wind, blowing 40 mph, making fishing out of skiffs on the open ocean-----hard. Messy. Very wet. Sometimes impossible. Here, the waters in the channel, where they begin, are the calmest the seas will be for the next three days. They will head out from here into high galloping seas.

 

And here it is. This life on this island, in these waters. Not simple. Not easy. It's war sometimes. I watch them go into the storm, three of them my sons, and two nephews. Some just kids. But not really. Not after a lifetime of doing this. And for me, it's been a lifetime of watching them go, or joining them. Thirty-nine seasons. Yes, nearly a lifetime. Is there anything here I haven't yet seen or done? Is there anything new under this fish camp sun?

 

 

 

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes wonders this too. He opens with a wail and a moan, and both eyes wide open:

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
 What does a man gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
 . . .  All things are wearisome;
man is unable to speak.

 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
 Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
 

Some commentators and readers over the centuries have insisted this “wisdom book” could not be canonical, could not be inspired by God. Where is the cheer, the victory, the triumph of the Christian life? (“The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.”)

No one is spared. Even writers get a dose of reality:

         The more the words,
         the less the meaning,
         and how does that profit anyone?

 

What DOES profit us here in the midst of this furious cycle of life? He answers this question three times in the course of his book. Here, my favorite rendition:

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  . .  and Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
 

 

Soon it will be lunch. Ten men, my sons, nephews, husband and crewmen will lumber through the door soaked in salt water, muscles weary, hungry. As they have done for decades. Soon after lunch they will go out again. And then after dinner, they will go out into the storm yet again. But right now? Right now the carousel stops. Right now we gather around the table. We gather dressed in work clothes that shine with fish scales and sweat.  We shall eat our meat and homemade bread and drink our tea with gladness. We will laugh. For God is with us. For we are working with all our might. For God approves the work we are doing.

 

 

Like this, I will make it through today. Through another fishing season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 10 Worst Jobs in America+What Are You Working For?





         While everyone is out playing this weekend, I am thinking about work. We have no fish. The nets are blank.  I went out a few nights ago with my daughter---and after hours of bending over multiple nets, we caught five fish. Yes, five. Did we pay for our gas, even?




            This week, Kristi and I spent six hours, until nearly midnight, making smoked salmon sausage, my own new recipe. It was better than I imagined  (SO good!!)  but no one at the dinner table said a word about it.  Silence as they ate (What? Are you kidding? Do you know how long that took us?)




               It took me a lifetime of living to write Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers and two years of writing and praying, and out it goes into the world. What will come back? 

              I am writing a new book now that I began taking notes for 10 years ago. It will take me another year to finish. Will all that work be worth it?




           Sometimes very little of our labor comes back to us. Of what use is it, this work?  And what if you have one of the 10 Worst Jobs in America? (link at end of post). My heart goes out to you----loggers, flight attendants and others. (Can you guess?)

          And to all of you loading the dishwasher for the 79th time this month, only to unload it hours later after you put the 17th load of laundry in for this week . . .  And the report you just filed, the account you just settled, the yard you just mowed, the bedpan you just emptied,  the apple pie you just made, the car you just fixed, the fishing net you just cast---all will need doing again.











      How weary we are of our labors that never end, or only end just in time to begin again.

         All of us, patient weary laborers, can join the Preacher from Ecclesiastes who asked, thousands of years ago, 

“What does the worker gain from his toil?” 

And we toil not only under our everyday work load, but under this weight as well:

 “He has made everything beautiful in its time, “ the Preacher tells us.

Do you know what he is naming beautiful? “To everything there is a season . .. .  Dancing, laughing, love, embracing, building . .. "     Yes, of course—beautiful!  But look at the other side: "Uprooting, killing, tearing down, mourning, scattering stones, hating, dying."



Beautiful?

How are these things "beautiful"? 

This is the burden---that we will know some of this in our own lifetimes, that traumatic, tragic and ugly things will befall us, and we won't know why. 

Our lives are too short, our eyes too narrow, our hearts too finite to see how God has and will transform our labor and our suffering. He WILL, but we won't always see it.  

But sometimes God’s time is NOW! And sometimes, even often, we are given glimpses of the beauty and the good he is already making from the work of our hands.

This week, 

A daughter (yes, the work of hands) returns for a visit . . .





On a beautiful hot (for Alaska) day---in between fishing, we earn time off to go swimming! 




        And this most amazing message from a reader: 

 A reader of Forgiving wrote me to tell about her parents who had died more than 30 years ago. She wasn’t sad when they passed---there was so much dysfunction and so little love. In her 20’s, she went to their graves and pounded the dirt in fury, “I hate you! I hate you!” she yelled. She left with her hands dirty and her heart hard. But God. But God was not done with her. God has patiently been bringing renewal and love into her life. And the work of my hands and life gets to be a small part of this. After reading about "honor your mother and father" in Forgiving, she wrote me to say she will go to her mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death----to plant flowers. To plant flowers in the dirt instead of a fist.






I cried.


        We often don’t see fruit from our labor, but know, believe that none of what you do is lost. Nothing you put your hand or mind or heart to, in the name of Jesus, is wasted.







From the Common Book of Prayer, I pray this for all who are weary: 

Dearest Almighty God

"Deliver us in our various occupations
 from the service of self alone,
that we may do the work you give us to do
in truth and beauty 
and for the sake of the common good;
for the sake of him who came among us 
as one who serves,
your Son Jesus Christ Our Lord,
who lives and resides with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."

Amen.
                            








*The 10 Worst Jobs in America (according to Forbes)


Eating Bear, Racing Outhouses,Falling Moose + Other Alaskan Absurdities




"Bear, anyone?" the server asked, with a smile as he
lowered a silver tray before me. I'd never eaten bear before, so I gladly took the offered pastry. Hmmmmm, it was sausaged bear wrapped in a phyllo pastry, so it tasted quite nice. The next round brought squirrel pops and barbecued seal. All local wild foods, of course. (And all legally harvested.)




I got to dine on all these treats two nights ago at a benefit dinner.  Which got me thinking about-------absurdity. It was the bear-in-pastry and then the squirrel pops that did it. They just kind of took the cake, you know?  I'm a huge fan of the chef who made them. He's brilliant, creative, generous--and he donated his efforts for this dinner on behalf of a friend with cancer. But--- the cutest of creatures, his little chicken-y flesh endoughed and impaled on a popsicle stick? And the wildest of wild creatures, who terrorizes our garbage routes, served on a silver tray en croute? 

Fed by such delicious paradox, I got to thinking about other general human craziness, which abounds, of course. Sometimes we're so embattled we forget to lift our head, consider the squirrel pop in our hand, and simply laugh. I did that this week, in between more sober events. And I'm hoping, in a pure spirit of contagion, to infect you as well.

Consider these entries: 

 An artist  (Nina Katchedourian), who spent too much time on long-distance flights, decided to put those tiny bathrooms to fuller use.  Why not create classic Flemish portraits in the loo using only toilet paper and other paper products offered there? 






































Then there's the festival held every October  in Manitou Springs, Colorado, in celebration of Emma Crawford, a woman who died of tuberculosis in 1889. No one would be racing coffins in her honor now had not storms and a landslide unearthed her coffin and slid it down the mountain to the canyon below in 1929. Why not run wheeled coffins through the streets?



                (photo by Cornelius Dunham)

But I really needn't stray so far from home. Alaska has its own brand of Absurd.  We have outhouse races, of course, like many places. But our state actually still uses outhouses---and we have the race in winter. Why make it easy?






  




Alaska has some strange laws on the books that are still enforced, I hope. Otherwise the public would be in clear danger: 

*A person may only carry a concealed slingshot if that person has received the appropriate license. 


*Employers of bars may not let their bartenders serve while they are drunk themselves.

*You may not wake a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking a photograph.

*In Fairbanks, you may not feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.

*(And my personal favorite:) It is considered an offense to push a live moose out of a moving airplane.


(photo: sardinereport,wordpress.com)


Elsewhere in Alaska, the village of Talkeetna has been out of sorts lately since a dog viciously attacked its mayor (See photo below.) Yes, Stubbs really is the honorary mayor. The only mayor. At last report, however, Stubbs is recovering well and should be able to resume his mayoral duties soon. 



But I needn't even leave the island for absurdities and fun.  I discovered this week that there are 7--count them!! SEVEN reality shows either based in Kodiak, or featuring Kodiak for some parts of their series. Including this new one: "Alaska Women Looking for Love". (Yes, that's the real title.) Four of these women are from Kodiak. The drama? They fly down to Miami to go on dates with eligible Florida bachelors--with cameramen catching every scintillating word. (Yawn.)




Given all this, I was not surprised when a friend wrote me on Facebook this week and suggested that I too start a reality show. But I'm much too normal for that. And I'm married. AND--I got married in a church. BORING! As compared to, say, getting married in the river, as this lovely Kodiak couple did last summer. 
























                                                       (Photos by James Brooks)



Here's what I know: When Life bends down in a white-pressed shirt and serves you lollipop squirrels and bear eclairs, you take, you eat and drink and you rebuke the Preacher in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes who complains that "all is meaningless, meaningless"; that "all things are wearisome, more than one can say," and, long sigh: "What has been will be again; there is nothing new under the sun."  

Really? Not so! So much in this life is new to us--and funny and paradoxical and ridiculous and laughable----if we keep watching. And I promise I will. 

When we do this, stay awake to the presence of God and one another, no matter how crazy we are, this is how we can rest and live, the Preacher goes on to say:


Go eat your bread in happiness.
Drink your wine with a happy heart.
For God has already been pleased with
    your works.
Let your clothes be white all the time.
And let there always be oil on your head ...
God has given you these days under the sun. 





So he has. 

Let us laugh when we can, 

and Praise God when we can. 

And let us count the squirrel pops  

        and  toilet paper head dresses

         and fishy weddings
        
           and inebriated mooses
          
All joy. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?