It was like a liturgical act, embedded with a hard spiritual truth.
We were clearing my parents house. It was a beautiful house full of beautiful things but with mum having passed away and dad living in a Residential home with dementia the things were no longer needed. A few things found their way to family members, most of the furniture to Habitat For Humanity Restore and the rest ended up in the skip. It was all top end, expensive and tasteful.
Impermanent things. As we cleared I became aware that I was acting out a song and a Biblical truth.
“All these impermanent things
Well they're trying to convince me
Baptize my soul and rinse me
Purge my mind of honesty and fire
All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they're my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day”
- From Impermanent Things by Peter Himmelman
Wikipedia will tell you that Peter Himmelman is an orthodox Jew who prays 3 times a day and is the son-in-law of Bob Dylan. The Jewish part explains Himmelman’s deep spiritual insight. When I did my weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster I played Himmelman very often. Impermanent Things was the most played.
As a preacher it is one of my very favourite songs. I have used Himmelman's words in a sermon on Matthew chapter 6 v 19-34. If you didn’t know about Himmelman’s deep Jewish faith you would be sure that he had used this passage as his inspiration.
Of course the Gospel account of Matthew Gospel is the Gospel most intent is revealing Jesus as a continuation of Jewish tradition so perhaps it is not so surprising that he and Himmelman would be on similar themes.
Jesus is saying in the second half of this most famous Sermon that where are treasure is our hearts will be also. He is suggesting that we invest our lives on eternal things that last rather than the impermanent things that Himmelman so poetically describes in this song.
Jesus goes on to talk about how we shouldn’t be worrying about impermanent things and Himmelman puts it beautifully here how these impermanent things play tricks with our heads and hearts and throw us of the better more lasting course. Jesus is on the same idea.
So why do we get obsessed with impermanent things? We are back to me piling my parents' things onto a skip outside their house. So many things. A few months before they were vital things in my parents lives but now they were useless; rubbish even! It made me ponder Himmelman's song and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. A cold liturgical lesson in the emptiness of things.
On a more recent Himmelman record There Is No Calamity, the first song 245th Peace Song begins:
"The holes in people’s lives need to be filled
I get that. I understand that.
But you’ve got to be careful what you fill them with
Do you get that? Understand that?"