The Book of Ecclesiastes: Hevel, The Fleetingness of Life
A summary of the Book of Ecclesiastes, its implications for our lives, and our creative process.
At it’s crux, the Book of Ecclesiastes highlights the absurdities of life. Guided by the words of “The Teacher” (Eccl 1:1)—the book begins with “Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless!” The word translated as meaningless is the Hebrew word, hevel. It literally translates into “vapor” or “breath”—which, in the context of the book, indicates the idea of something “fleeting.”
Ecclesiastes is simultaneously a book about life and death. Extending beyond an emotional experience, death is posed as an inevitable part of life—they are two sides of the same coin. The book reflects on death and how that should inform our time in life. It is a book of optimism and pessimism; it is a book of “both-and.”
Ecclesiastes says that wisdom has limits. If the message of Proverbs is “this is how you should live your life,” the message of Ecclesiastes is a response saying “I did that and it didn’t work.” There's a split on interpreting this book—is this a positive outlook on life? Or a negative one? Strong cases can be made for both. Regardless, Ecclesiastes has a message: to stop worrying about the future, to stop chasing after perfection, to be content with where you are in life, and follow God.
In making Alabaster | Ecclesiastes, we reflect on these themes by opening with ephemeral images and faint elements—image movements and transparencies to encapsulate the spirit of hevel. We continue with wispy landscapes, natural elements, and temporary materials, all to explore the diverse hevel world we journey through as human beings.
Ultimately, Ecclesiastes shows us that everything is fleeting, and much of life is out of our control. And, yet, there are quiet invitations beneath the surface: to do our best in everything, to be wise, and find enjoyment in the small things. Even as hevel is part of the natural human experience, may we choose to embrace contentment in the present, release anxious worries about the future, and trust in God. Amen.
Words: Tyler Zak and Darrin Mckenna
Photos: Samuel Han and Isaiah Im