Friday, May 5, 2017

Riddle




“My friends, life is short, and we haven’t much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us …”

The Next Village (Franz Kafka)
MY grandfather used to say: "Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that -- not to mention accidents -- even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey." 
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir 

1883-1924, a German speaking Jewish Czech, Kafka succumbed to tuberculosis age forty, three sisters died in the German Holocaust in the 1940s. Kafka’s writing is interesting, some is fascinating, some macabre. I think the man was insane, and reading his biography convinces me.  “A Fratricide” is hideous. “A Visit to a Mine” close and observant. "Jackals and Arabs" is sickeningly absurd. The novels are worse. But his one paragraph short story, “The Next Village” (above) is complete in itself, which is well, as it carries its complete thought. Brings to mind other writings. Ecclesiastes, Preacher as my grandfather called it, insists that everything under the sun is vanity, we come to nothing. As does Marcus Aurelius who, extraordinarily, sees clearly from wealth and power. In a recent meditation, Father Rohr recalled that throughout its history much of religion’s interest is death. 


Now a friend has called my attention to Psalm 49, which see (scroll down). Called a masal, a wisdom song, the psalmist derides all values but faith, trust in his creating God who alone has control over life and death the equalizer. No clue of the psalmist’s identity, but one might reasonably surmise he was a poor man, seeing his disdain unto contempt for the final value of wealth. For myself, four months and nine days from crossing eighty-two, all I want for Christmas is forty years. Back, not forward. To be forty-two. Where are you?


DThos+  


49 A RIDDLE OF LIFE 

1   Hear this, all ye peoples!
     Give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world,
2   children of the common people and those who are high-born,
     rich and poor altogether.
3   My mouth shall speak wisdom;
     my heart schemes to create understanding.
4   I will incline my ear to a proverb,
     and solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

5   Why should I fear in times of trouble,
     when the iniquity of my enemies surrounds me,
6   men who trust in their wealth
     and boast of the abundance of their riches?

7   Truly no man can buy himself off,
     nor can he pay a ransom to God.
8   For the price of his soul is too high,
     and can never suffice,
9   that he should continue to live on for ever,
     and never see the Pit.

10 Nay, he sees that even the wise must die,
     the fool and the jester, they all perish
     and leave their wealth to others.
11 Graves are their homes for ever,
     their dwelling places for ever and ever,
     though they named lands their own.
12 Yea, man cannot abide in his pomp,
     he is like the beasts that are killed.

13 This is the fate of those who are self-confident;
     thus end those who are pleased with their own talk. Selah 
14 Like a flock they are appointed for hell;
     death will now tend them.
     straight to the grave they descend,
     and their form shall waste away;
     Sheol shall be their home.
15 But God will ransom my soul
     from the power of Sheol;
     yea, he will receive me. Selah 

16 Be not afraid when one becomes rich,
     when he increases the wealth of his home.
17 For when he dies, he will carry nothing away;
     his wealth will not go down after him.
18 Though, while he lives, he may count himself happy,
     and men may praise him
     because he did well for himself,
19 he will yet go to the generation of his fathers,
     who will never more see the light.
20 Man in his pomp is without understanding,
     he is like the beasts that are killed. 

Source of Psalm 49, The Psalms - A Commentary by Artur Weiser, The Old Testament Library, Westminster, Phila, 1962, p.384f.

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