Year C Proper 11: echoes of eternity

Vanity, all is vanity: A brief reflection on the lawn.

Ludwig van Beethoven was, for the latter portion of his life, profoundly deaf. A musician to his core, he could so easily have fallen into cynicism and despair (and often did); but he had an overarching conviction that he had a purpose – a God-given purpose – in his art that transcended his present suffering. Also, he had great affection for his brothers.

He wrote to them:

…from childhood my heard and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even eager to accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady …

what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such inidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life – only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce …

Patience – it is said I must now choose for my guide ….

Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein…

The writer of Ecclesiastes tended liberally towards the attitude of cynicism and despair. Yet even he, when pushed, agreed that in the end, the overarching theme of God’s creation supercedes our little place within it.

Jesus quotes Ecclesiastes in his story of the rich man, who seeks to “eat, drink, and be merry.” He confirms the source of our cynicism, when we live only for ourselves; that when we live only to ourselves all is vanity. There is no goal that may sustain us past its completion, or its defeat, or beyond the knowledge of our certain death, if we hoard ourselves into this life alone.

But what transcends such cynicism is God. What transcends is love, enduring relationship. What transcended for Beethoven was music, art, creativity, those things which bridge the chasm between here and eternity, give us glimpses of might be, beyond our sight, our understanding, our hearing.

When the brother came to ask Jesus to divide up the family inheritance, Jesus refused. He would not divide their spoils only to leave them spoilt and divided. He wanted them to find something beyond the division of baubles and come together as brothers, in the recognition that what they share: one lifetime, infinite possibilities under God; that these things are far greater than what they divide up.

In the final years of his life, profoundly deaf and increasingly ill, Beethoven composed his ninth and final symphony. Undefeated by life’s cynicism, he included in it a choral setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. He never heard it sung, but he directed its premier, to the deep joy and satisfaction of those with ears left to hear.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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