Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.
It took me a long time in my faith life to get around to Ecclesiastes, chapter 12. (I know I read it on my first quick read thru the entire Bible, but I was more skimming than studying.) It took me an even longer time to pause at the footnotes and understand this as an allegorical reflection on some of physical challenges that we may experience as our bodies age. (The house depicted here is said by some scholars to be our body — the dim windows are our eyes, the women who grind are our teeth – etc.) Re-reading this passage makes us think about the years ahead and may cause to care a little more about some of my older or less healthy friends.
In the Worshipbook (jointly published in the early 1970’s by The Cumberland Presbyterian Church, The PCUS, and The United Presbyterian Church), we find this prayer “For Retired People.” The words to this prayer might be more appropriately lifted for “those long retired”, but they still may direct our hearts and minds to people in later stage of life:
Your love for us never ends, eternal God, even when by age or weakness we can no longer work. When we retire, keep us awake to Your will for us. Give us energy to enjoy the world, to attend to our neighbors whom busy people neglect, and to contribute wisely to the life of the church. If we can offer nothing but our prayers, remind us that our prayers are a useful work You want, so that we may live always serving Jesus Christ, our hope and our true joy. Amen.