...and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 12:7-8.
Monsoon season in Arizona is almost over. Normally monsoon season really starts when the dew point reaches 55° for three consecutive days and it ends when the dew point drops. Of course, with the current need for neatness, there's an official opening and closing day totally unrelated to the actual weather.
With the monsoon as they call it (and it's far from a real monsoon such as most of the world knows it), monsoon season brings high winds, occasional, sometimes extremely heavy rain, and dust storms which we call haboobs. With the end of the monsoon season we have probably pretty much seen the last of haboobs, which is a good thing. They're scary, they're extremely dangerous, and people often just aren't patient enough to wait them out, but would rather go plowing through them, which does not promote for general public safety.Ecclesiastes talks about something like the end of the monsoon season when it talks about dust going back where it came from. Here it doesn't go back, it just stays in its new place.
Those living in the Middle East know dust storms; they live in the desert, and when the wind blows there is very little vegetation to hold down what soil that exists. Consequently it blows, and blows hard enough that it engulfs everything. The sand and dust and dirt get into the tiniest of cracks, it's hard to breathe without something over your face to keep out the particles, and you can't see more than a foot or two in front of you so it's very easy to get lost. Yeah, sounds a lot like Arizona at times during monsoon season; even though haboobs don't come regularly, they still come and cause mayhem, confusion, and a lot of allergies kicking in.
The part of Ecclesiastes that really struck me, besides the part about the dust, was that famous quotation that we hear less frequently than we used to, but still with some regularity, "Vanity of vanities,...all is vanity." In this day and time what the heck does that mean? Vanity? It is so much a part of our culture that we don't really even think about it. Vanity is wanting to one-up the neighbors. If they get a new Lexus, we need to get a BMW, or maybe a Rolls-Royce, or maybe something even fancier. If they had a 54 inch television, we've got to have a 62 or 60. If they where fashion shoes we've got have better ones were in a competitive culture and it's all based on vanity. Like dust from a haboob, it creeps into the tiniest cracks.
Listening to all the gobbledygook and what passes for media coverage of things these days, it's often impossible not to want to the actually act like a turtle and draw one's head in until everything blows over. It has become a consumer culture, which generally means that a lot of the money flows upward but very little of it flows downward words most needed. CEOs of corporations make millions while their employees often work for minimum wage, and even that is begrudged. It's a form of vanity, the vanity of the 1%, while the 99% wait for something to happen and usually go away without much hope.
Vanity is more than looking in a mirror and primping endlessly or constantly checking to make sure our teeth are sparkling white, our ties are straight, and our hair and makeup are perfect. That's a vanity, but so are wearing multi-carat diamonds in rings, necklaces, and earrings, one piece of which would feed a family of five for at least month if not more. Vanity makes us trade in our cars for new ones long before they wear out, rust out, or get wrecked. We are a disposable culture as well as a vain one, and the result is that we have our eyes on the wrong goal. We need to learn to see vanity for what it is, which is something that separates us from God and from each other by putting us on a competitive level instead of one which is accepting and assisting.
I think I'd better keep vanity in mind this week, I'm not so vain that I have to keep checking the mirror. I know that what vanity I have is not in my looks, my dress, my expensive jewelry or my high-class automobile. I have a couple of good pieces of jewelry, but nothing outrageously expensive. My truck is 16 years old, held together by faith, rust, and dirt, but it runs and it's paid for. My vanity is, well, what is my vanity? What am I really vain about? My vocabulary? My ability to listen to people? My pride in what I do, what I write, when or when I do something for someone else without expecting to be noticed or thanked?
For the next week, I'm going to try and find my vanity and then try to find a way to get away from it. It won't be by making myself a doormat or someone who doesn't feel good about themselves because they don't feel they are good enough or even able to do anything well. I'm not going to feed my ego because that would be like standing in a haboob rather take that I am and can do and put it in God's service. Take the vanity that I have and turn it outward so that someone else might be able to benefit.
Care to join me?
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 24, 2016.