To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
In fact it is difficult to actually say Pete Seeger wrote it… It would be a little more accurate to say that he co-wrote it with King Solomon or an anonymous Jewish Wisdom teacher, depending on which scholars you consult regarding the authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes. Traditionally it was said to be King Solomon, but many scholars would say that the language and content of the book would suggest a much later date of authorship. Whether one takes King Solomon or an unknown wisdom preacher to be the author of Ecclesiastes, it could be said that the song holds the distinction of being the number 1 hit with the oldest lyrics in the world as well as a musical collaboration spanning between +-2200 and 3100 years.
Pete Seeger himself openly admits that, apart from the tune which he wrote himself, he only really wrote 7 words of the lyrics one of which was the word turn, which he used repeatedly and then the final 6 words of the song: “I swear it’s not too late”. All the rest of the words come entirely from the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1-8.
Like all Biblical passages, the lines from Ecclesiastes could be open to myriad interpretations especially when viewed against the rest of the book, but Peter Seeger's contribution to the song turned the words of Ecclesiastes into a plea for world peace with the closing line: "a time for peace, I swear it's not too late."
As I have already said, the book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally attributed to King Solomon although many scholars would not take that literally. But in a symbolic sense it is significant that the book was was attributed to him. He epitomises the wealthy and well-to-do. In 1 King 10 it is said that he received 25 tons of gold every year. In addition King Solomon is said to have received revenues from merchants and traders from all the Arabian kings and governors of the territories as well as receiving wealth from those who came to listen to his words of wisdom. The Biblical writer summarises the splendour of his wealth by saying that King Solomon was greater in riches than all the other kings of the earth.
And yet, one of the refrains in the book of Ecclesiastes are the words meaningless, meaningless, meaningless. Some would translate them as ephemeral ephemeral ephemeral. It is a symbolic reminder that like Solomon, you can have all the wealth in the world and yet still not know the true meaning of your existence. You can have all the wealth in the world and still feel like life is empty, ephemeral and meaningless.
It is a reminder at harvest that temporal things, food and drink, bread, produce are vital for our existence and yet… they cannot satisfy our deeper hunger. Jesus summarised it in these words: Man cannot live by bread alone! We all need a deeper purpose and a deeper meaning than simply satisfying our bodily needs and desires. Food and clothing and shelter may be important and necessary, but they are not enough.
Without discovering some deeper more eternal reality, the Turning of the seasons and the endless repeated cycles of life can very quickly begin to seem meaningless and ephemeral.
And so while we celebrate with thanksgiving the produce that can feed and sustain our bodies, we look for food and a sustenance that would feed our deeper hunger for things of an eternal nature… things that do not rot or waste or rust away in a few days to paraphrase the words of Jesus.
Jesus in John’s Gospel is portrayed as urging us to seek the Bread that is from Heaven a bread that will help to satisfy a deeper hunger.
In a world that is constantly changing, and turning, Turn Turn Turn, Jesus, and all the great mystics of the world invite us to discover that which is eternal and unchanging.
Meister Eckart, a German mystic and pastor from before the time of the Reformation (who got himself into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church at the time) taught that there is a divine essence within each of us, a light in the soul that is uncreated and indestructible, unconditioned, universal, deathless, a divine core of our personalities which cannot be separated from God, an essence within the soul that lies at the very centre of consciousness. He taught that this divine essence is in every person and can and should be discovered so that it’s presence and it’s sparkling light can be brought forth as a reality in daily life. He also taught that this discovery of our spiritual or divine essence within each of us is life’s real and higher goal. As Eknath Easwaran puts in his book Original Goodness, our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, not to write our name in history, but to discover this divine spark, or the seed of the divine that is in our hearts.
And when we realise this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all – in all individuals, in all creatures, and in all of life, and having discovered this Divine Essence within which Jesus called the Kingdom of God and Buddhists call the Buddha Nature, in bringing it forth into the world we begin to become part of the solution and the healing of the world, rather than being part of the problem. It enables us to move beyond our greed, fear and anxiety enabling us to bring forth the fruits of love of wisdom, courage and compassion in the world.
Turn Turn Turn, there is a season for everything under heaven, a time for peace, I swear it is not too late. There is an urgency for not just in making peace with each other in this world, but also in making peace with the earth and learning to care for our Mother earth who sustains us with food and produce, learning to live not as greedy exploiters of the earth for our own private pots of wealth but to become people whose lives are dedicated to the healing of the world. It won’t be solved by technology alone, but as humanity begins to tap into the Divine essence within as as we begin to bring that forth into the world.
Meister Eckart said that pear seeds grow into pear trees, apple seeds grow into apple trees, and God seeds grow into God. And that is our destiny to grow into the Divine beings God has created us to be. How do we make these seeds grow. How do we become farmers of the spirit watering the divine seed within, nurturing the light within us and in others that sparkles and shines…
1. Firstly, some form of regular daily meditation, that will help us every day even for a few moments to turn inwards. Eknath Easwaran suggests taking a beautiful passage of scripture or a prayer like the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi and memorising it and then saying it prayerfully and slowly every morning or every evening. This can nurture the seed of Divine love and peace within our hearts.
2. Secondly by engaging in acts of love and kindness and generosity… even the smallest acts of love, and generosity open the heart and enable the divine seed within to sparkle and shine and in doing so brings beauty and healing into the world.
And so on this Harvest Sunday, at the turning of the seasons, and in thanksgiving for all that sustains our physical bodies, we are invited to become farmers of the spirit, watering and nurturing the divine seed within that we may bring forth and abundant harvest of love, kindness and healing in the world. Amen.