As the New Year dawns amidst a pandemic, what could lift our spirits and keep us going? There are many wonderful inspirational thoughts in the world. I find my mind turning to a book in the Old Testament of the Bible, called Ecclesiastes. The Latin word ‘Ecclesiastes’ goes back to the Hebrew name ‘Kohelet’, described as ‘the son of David’.Ecclesiastes is one of the beautiful ‘Wisdom Books’ in the Old Testament, which ‘contain the poetry of the Hebrew nation’. Ecclesiastes is much debated by western commentators. They wonder what it really says. Does it have a positive or negative view of life? In my view, it is perhaps easier for Indians to relate to it, on account of its reflective Upanishadic tone. Ecclesiastes clinically and philosophically examines the nature of existence, God’s mystery, and what we should do, to live out our lives in a befitting manner.One of the book’s most misunderstood phrases is, ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ — sometimes taken out of context to suggest that our sole task in life is to party.The King James Version of the Bible says, “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun” — Ecclesiastes 8:15. The import of this verse is that we are all on earth only for our allotted span, so let us find comfort and meaning in the small, simple joys of everyday life. This sounds like very good New Year advice to me, a grounded and encouraging view of reality.But then, what is reality? The book famously tells us that, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” As a reality check, it is powerfully and simply worded. The book correctly paints the teetering seesaw of our emotions and experiences, but also tells us to get on with it cheerfully.By Renuka Narayanan
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