The Zeitgeist is an ancient creature from before time itself, part man, part dragon. Its head looks like innumerable octopus looking tentacles descending from above it’s maw. Its hundreds of feet tall with wings upon its back. The Zeitgeist is imprisoned under the ocean waiting for the day it will rise again. It is said that the Zeitgeist is in the communal memory of humanity itself, the cause of an ancient anxious memory passed down from the ages. Worshiped by many underground cults, they say that one day the Zeitgeist will will rise from its ocean prison and…wait, that’s Chtulhu from H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories. Never mind.
Then what in the world is a zeitgeist? The zeitgeist is the spirit of the age. Now, I’m not talking about an ethereal or mystical spirit here. I’m not talking about something of a grand mythos. Zeitgeist is a weird compound German word (and them Germans do a lot of compounding of their words) that means the overall general beliefs, ideas, intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
The 50’s had their affluence and growth and conservativeness, the 60’s had their free love and protests, the 70’s had disco (we’re not talking about that), the 80’s had it’s optisim and wide shoulder pads, the 90’s it’s cynicism, the Aughts, I’m not sure, I was too busy in school at the time to pay attention, and now the, what do we call it, the teens? What’s our zeitgeist?
Things change over time. And yet they stay the same.
Bob Dylan said it so clearly in the 60’s with his song “These Times they are A-Changin'”
“Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you
Is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’.”
Each generation, each time, keeps changing. Time itself is in flux. To quote the Doctor from Doctor Who (and no, this isn’t a spiritual sci-fi Friday post) it’s all wibbely wobbely timey wimey stuff. Things shift. Things change.
On September 10th, 2001 the world was a safe place, things were optimistic. Things were looking up. Zoolander was coming out to the theaters soon. September 11, 2001 changed all that forever. The zeitgeist changed but yet was the same. People kept living. The slogan “We will never forget” was forgotten. Nine years later, things changed. Yet they never did in the first place.
I’ve been reading through Ecclesiastes lately.
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Ecclesiastes 1:2
Sounds like a child of the 90’s to me. The zeitgeist of cynicism.
Later on the Teacher says
“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11
As a child of the 90’s listening to Nirvana and the ilk, this resonates with me. The zeitgeist of millennia ago still rings true in my ears.
And then the teacher says this
“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
That sounds a bit more optimistic, like the Millennial generation almost. The zeitgeist is still the same, yet different.
Things are changing, yet staying the same. There may be nothing new under the sun, but when we look at what we have under the sun, we can see what we can do with it.
Each person, each generation, takes what isn’t new under the sun and re-examines it. Re-looks at it. Retools it. Uses it for what they think is best.
The church today has its own zeitgeist. Oddly enough (or not so oddly) each individual congregation has its own zeitgeist. And even my denomination of the CRC has its own zeitgeist (If you’re interested in stuff with the CRC, you just have to read Paul VanderKley’s blog lately on this stuff). Each congregation, each place, each person, has their own view of the world around them which is actually connected to the overarching view of what the world is going through (again, zeitgeist). The church itself is not immune to it.
So, what in Ecclesiastes speaks of this (and why does it matter?)
“Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:6
What’s your zeitgeist? Are you chasing after the wind or are you wanting to hold on to tranquility. The church today, and many of us seeking spiritual strength, seeking Jesus, seeking understanding of God in this world. Faith, seeking understanding, wanting tranquility, wanting, waiting, being, existing.
Where are you in the midst of it all? Are you blind to your own personal zeitgeist? Are you blind to your own cultural, spheres of influence, people you know, vision of the world’s zeitgeist? Pay attention to it. It will make you look at your own spiritual journey and walk with Jesus in different ways. Don’t let your zeitgeist block you. Look through it. Look past it.
Watch out! The zeitgeist, not so much like Chtulu, will rise up and do some harm if you’re not paying attention.
Whats your zeitgeist? How does it affect you? How can you look through it, know it, and use it to help you in your journey of faith?