Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Also Is Vanity

I have been working in Long Island a lot lately. The Holland Tunnel is my Hudson River crossing of choice, and I take the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn as I drive east onto the Island. Both the trip into the city as well as the return jaunt afford me several break taking views of The City--one of the best ways to appreciate a city, in my opinion, is to view it from its bridges.

The above picture is the Manhattan skyline as viewed from the unheralded Kosciusko Bridge. It's not as well framed as I would have liked, but I captured the shot while driving. You can reference this screen shot from Google Maps in order to be able to get your bearings.

For as many years as I have been traveling to and from Long Island, the juxtaposition of the cemetery and the skyline has powerfully struck me. The view of the two on this particularly dreary day added to the aura of what I think is a poignant example of "wisdom calling out in the streets." (Proverbs 1.20)

Many are those who are proud of New York City, many are those who boast of its size, its importance, and its status among the cities of the world. Some of the greatest men in recent history are inseparably linked to New York City, and it is no exaggeration to declare that decisions of immeasurable consequence are settled behind the glass walls of the skyline towers each day and night.

Yet in the foreground of the picture, mirroring--mocking, almost?--the grandeur of the skyline, point innumerable gravestones and monuments in the cemetery. The memorials of the dead from generations past rise from the cold earth in silence and solemnity. Whose eye is caught by obelisks of marble and granite when there are majestic towers of steel, glass, and high strength concrete at which to gawk? Who has time or desire to dwell on the brevity of one's own existence when the pull to worship and praise the accomplishments of men is so strong?

The Books of Wisdom are ripe with myriad references to the mortality of Man, but never do we find gloom for gloom's sake. In each case, the reader is to gain a renewed (wiser, more godly) perspective by considering his place in relation to an eternal God. In Psalm 90, Moses prays that the Lord would "teach [him] to number [his] days aright, that [he] may get a heart of wisdom" after reflecting on the finite and fleeting number of his own days.

Moses sings, "You return man to dust and say, Return, O children of man!...You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers." (Psalm 90.2-6)

A few other examples:

Psalm 103.14-18 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Ecclesiastes 1.3,4 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 2.4-11 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees... So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem... And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2.18, 19 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.