If the Teacher does the research into life on earth and its purpose, Blowin’ in the Wind and What a Wonderful World put it to music. The questions in the book of Ecclesiastes compel us to focus on the ‘what’ and then move us on to the ‘who’:
- What does anyone…; What more can…; What then do…; What do people…; What advantage have…
- Who can say…; Who can do…; Who knows if…; Who can tell…; Who can straighten…; Who can discover…; Who is like…
He documents the issues he sees that contribute to the difficulties of understanding life. Then along comes Bob Dylan thousands of years later, impatient, with nine questions all starting with the word ‘how,’ all lamenting the length of time passing:
- How many roads…; How many seas…; How many ears…; How many deaths…
- How many times…x3; How many years…x3
Dylan’s lyrics, written in ten minutes, appear to have flown from his hand as if they had been bandying about his soul ready to pour out in a great lament of protest that ignites a whole generation. Though he says it is not a protest song, it certainly became that. Basing the song on a spiritual hymn sung by African-Americans freed from slavery, it captures the frustration of the length of time they endure before freedom comes.
But the Teacher doesn’t leave us in the mire of unanswered questions, puzzlement at the state of things and despair over the lack of clarity. He tells us these are the hard parts of life on earth but when joy comes along, as it will, receive it and experience it in all its wonder, celebrating the life you have been given in the midst of its uncertainties.
- Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Ecclesiastes 11:7
- So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better than for people under the sun to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15
When Louis Armstrong sings What a Wonderful World every one of his cells vibrates with joy breaking through. For a time we put aside worry and fear and feelings of meaninglessness are driven out.
Side-by-side these two songs bring forward the paradox of life on earth.
In Munch’s Despair, 1894, the protagonist has closed his eyes, retreated into inner darkness and turned his back on the spectacular sunset. Deep in a dark night of the soul, he has lost all sense of perspective, and the sun appears to be running with blood.
Katharine Lochnan, in “Introduction: ‘Where the Universe Sings’ The Mystical Landscape from the 1880s to the 1930s,” in Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to Emily Carr. Art Gallery of Ontario. DelMonico Books. Undated
Off the Beaten Path:
The book of Ecclesiastes read aloud: https://youtu.be/kNU9iP29STs
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez singing Blowin’ in the Wind: https://youtu.be/eG12XQgxkws
Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World: https://youtu.be/CWzrABouyeE
Katharine Lochnan speaks about the art show Mystical Landscapes with host Mary Hynes on Tapestry’s: The spiritual impulse in art from van Gogh to Monet | CBC Radio