Men are nothing but a mere breath; human beings are unreliable.
When they are weighed in the scales, all of them together are lighter than air.
Do not trust in what you can gain by oppression!
Do not put false confidence in what you can gain by robbery!
If wealth increases, do not become attached to it!
Lighter than air, we barely tip scales the Psalms say. Life is but a vapor, a breath, a mist. But we attempt to condense it, to hold it down with weighty, shiny things.
I saw a man yesterday in the coffee shop. In the span of ten minutes he discussed deals, vacations, bank accounts, and cars. He hopped from one topic to the next, a schizophrenic sparking of various neon signs. He was hard to follow—most particularly because he was standing two tables over—but I had the distinct feeling that he was speaking to me or at least for my benefit. Identification with him is not difficult.
We own the same sin patterns. That is my confession.
The barista was one of those girls who wears hippy skirts, whose nose ring is small enough to resemble a freckle, who would get a tattoo to memorialize the right moment, for whom the right moment could as easily occur in Fayetteville as in Tibet. It was a less busy time of the day. She had her good book open and was humming that Brett Dennen tune.
People walk around pushing back their debts
Wearing pay checks like necklaces and bracelets
Talking ’bout nothing, not thinking ’bout death
Every little heartbeat, every little breath
She wasn’t singing to me, but for the amount fragility I’ve failed to consider lately—you know Japan, Libya, whatnot—she could have been my prophetess. She won’t be a hippy barista forever. One day she’ll be mother, a yarn spinner, or an accountant. But in that moment she seemed free.
College students floated in and out, each practicing the experience of life, each asking whether they wanted business or barista. Some have already added material to the scales. And it’s not that I want them to believe that all material is bad; that’s not the point. But what if they could increase their weightlessness, rise like vapor against the finite threshold until the pressure of their life is uncontainable, until they explode into eternity guilt-free and joyous?
“If wealth increases, do not become attached to it!” the psalmist shouts. I know this because his words were today’s Lenten reading.