That makes sense. Mirrors reflect images, and any person un-der the sway of vanity is inordinately proud of, and attached to, his or her physical appearance, and to projecting that image outward. For just as vanity must project itself outward, it must also be seen: It must be affirmed to keep up the illusion that it is permanent, separate, and all-important.
Vanity can also be about more than appearances. A person can be inordinately proud of, and attached to, a social status, a level and type of education, an athletic ability or career accomplish-ments—and, of course, about money. Vanity in regard to wealth or possessions is called, greed—which is also a type of idolatry.
A person can even use others to be vain, for when a person basks in the light of another’s glory and redirects the brightness of that glory back to him- or herself, that, too, is vanity.
Yet, this is not exactly what Qoheleth is getting at when he pro-nounces one of the more famous –some say, dour—dictums in all of biblical literature: ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!’ The liter-al meaning of the Hebrew word, hebel, which is here translated into English as ‘vanity,’ actually means ‘a brief vapor or a puff of smoke.’
So now imagine what Qoheleth is really saying: All of existence, all aspects of our being, and all our accomplishments, all that has existed, and all that will exist, is but a brief vapor or a puff of smoke!
In other words, Life is impermanent: its nature is to exist, to ap-pear, to change, and then just as soon, to drift away, to disap-pear and to never be seen again. All of history, all people, and all nations and empires have known this to be true.
And so have all the saints and all the prophets.
But what would move Qoheleth to say such a thing? Was he just chronically bitter or disappointed? And is existence, all of exis-tence, all aspects of our being, really but a brief vapor or a puff of smoke?
As people of Christ, as sons and daughters of God, our faith is rooted in Christ, so our faith is realistic, honest, and humble about the conditions of Life, about suffering and impermanence; and ultimately our faith and our consciousness, when grounded in love, when infused in God, by God with God, lead all people to, and draw forth from us, a true freedom, a deep, lasting clarity, and a generous, wise love.
This freedom, this clarity, and this wise, generous love is not above or beyond the state of our impermanence. We do not so much transcend or escape the impermanent nature of our exis-tence, as we grow in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ, and bear fruit in abundance, and practice non-attachment, for, ultimate-ly, all that exists and then changes and disappears: All this is not separate from, or rejected by God the Father, our Holy-One, the Only-One. All is in God and with God.
We live in times that push us to defy or deny the real conditions of our life: All that matters is for us to hurry up and live, to grasp at whatever strikes our fancy or gets our attention. In other words, to take what we want, when we want it. With no repercussions or consequences, and no concern for how our actions, our vanity—our self-skewed energies—will affect others.
But this too is a vanity, a brief vapor, and a puff of smoke, to live as though our existence is separate from all others. We can defy the nature of our life, we can even deny that our existence is im-permanent, but we will never get beyond impermanence, or out-live it. We are, all of us in Christ, living, breathing, human be-ings, real as we can be: And this, too, is Great Mystery. A Mys-tery-of-Mysteries, I would say.
In today’s passage from Luke our Lord Jesus refuses to take the role of judge and arbitrator in a family dispute over an inheri-tance between two brothers. Why does Jesus not make peace between them? Well, he does. He takes their dispute and redi-rects it: Jesus turns and tells those around him: Do not put off what is important, what is last-ing, the presence of the King-dom, do not trade in your Dignity or your Freedom for the sake of experiencing and achieving everything right here, right now.
Jesus is not denying the value of our present life for some life in the ‘hereafter’.
If anything, Jesus teaches us and guides us to live fully, fully en-gaged in what really matters to God: To always and everywhere live in the service of God who designed us for life, and for love, and for wisdom, and for freedom, and for a loving, compassion-ate solidarity with one another and with the world.
Remember, but do not be afraid or sad: What comes must go; what starts must finish; what appears will disappear; and what looks full is actually empty. But know this: Even in our state of impermanence, God the Holy-One is now, will always be, the ground of our being, and we are always, everywhere, rooted in Christ.
This too is Mystery: But it is our Mystery, and in union with our Lord Christ we will live—and I do mean, live—this Mystery wise-ly, freely, patiently, and humbly, learning to practice compass-sion toward ourselves and others just as we are.
Then Christ will bring you to God who is everywhere True Peace, and True Joy.