'All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:8)
Another way of describing our age is through the human eye. Recently, we speak of the ‘ecological footprint’ which denotes the overconsumption of Earth’s resources. A kind of mirror image to this is ‘the over-consuming eye.’ The powerful king in Ecclesiastes is profoundly unhappy, because he had seen too much. All possible richness, physical and spiritual, has overflown through his eyes. Through that eye which is regarded as the organ of ‘possession’. For we own the world through vision. The most powerful organ of manipulation and source of insatiable desire.
‘I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine… and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces… So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.’ (Ecclesiastes 2:3-9)
Ours is an age of the tired eye. The problem is not simply that it is exhausted, but the exhaustion of our imagination, and the visions of hope. We no longer have a hopeful eye, a humble eye, a searching eye. Instead, our eye has become that of a colonist. In the end, we ourselves became colonised by what we amassed and possessed.
In the end, it is true that unexamined life leads to depression. Un-processed visions, the eye over-flooded with images and information, lead to the melancholy to which the unhappy king of Ecclesiastes gives voice. ‘And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind.’ (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
Mihail Bulgakov said somewhere that there are no longer angels, only demons have been trumpeting. Actually, it was his diagnosis of how state atheism transformed Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution. But in our own age, is it voice of the demons of acedia, which has the final word? We Christians are always in protest against this. Yes, we can recognise the pain of Ecclesiastes in us. We must be honest that our vision is wounded. Yet, is not this malady of our eye, is the birth of a new monastic focusing? Is not it a turn to not what we have seen, but to what we have ignored to see?
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..