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The Impermanence of All Things: And What Remains

A pdf of this commentary to read / or print can be found here.

A Brief Prelude

In the news a few weeks ago was the report the folk/rock legend, 81-year old David Crosby, had died. But in 1965, I was a junior in boarding school when The Byrds recorded their hit single, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”



“To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to buid up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rain, a time of sow
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

As a teenager, I learned to play that song on a well-seasoned guitar that is now stashed away, unused in a closet; since my arthritic fingers can no long sufficiently form the chords on the fret board. So now, more than a half-century later, I watch a recent video recording of an 80-year old Crosby shortly before his death, shake my head and ask myself what, if anything, remains?

Eternal Impermanence, Not Eternity

The other day, someone who has known me for about ten years remarked, “You haven’t changed a bit. You look the same as when I first met you.”

I replied, “Well, something’s certainly changed. I’m afraid your eyesight has gotten worse.” As the saying goes, the only thing certain is change.

But Western religion all too often offers a doctrinaire elixir to persuade believers into thinking there is a source of change-lessness to acquire, win or redeem. A common form of Christian belief certainly preaches this in a form of “salvation history.” Repent and be “saved.” Be saved, it is believed, from the impermanence of all things.

For many years, I presided over funerals and memorial gatherings. The liturgy I used from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer concluded with a familiar prayer known as The Committal. The first part was drawn from a verse from the creation myth found in Genesis (3:19). We are formed out of the dust of the earth, and we return to dust. Whether in the presence of an embalmed corpse or a box of cremated remains, this is simply a statement of obvious, empirical fact.

But the Committal prayer then adds an assertion as a faith proclamation: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.” Faced with the reality of the impermanence of all things – including our own mortal nature – there seems to have always been one thing that that is unchanging; namely, the everlasting human hope that there’s something, somehow, somewhere that doesn’t change and is eternal.

A S.A.D. Truth

Ecclesiastes reminds us there is a time and a season for everything (Eccl 3). The seasons of our years simply come and go. Any religious thinking to the contrary can create a form of “seasonal affect disorder.” A friend reminded me of one of the central tenets of the Buddhist tradition has to do with liberating oneself from the suffering that results from clinging to a dead past. But as someone who has spent the seasons of his life following the path of the Christian faith tradition, I still seek any similar gospel wisdom. What might remain amidst the impermanence of all things?

I have learned again and again through personal life experiences that with the passing away of former things, one can indeed be raised up again to a new life chapter. These are what I call the “little deaths” we die. And, equally so, this is how I understand those mythic tales about resurrection and everlasting life in scripture.

What can last forever is the assertion and reaffirmation that there is a vision of something yet unrealized; but what the Galilean peasant sage repeatedly described as the “reign of god-ness.”  The historical Jesus is long dead and gone; as will I be one day. But such a notion as his life and teachings represented will never cease to be, but rather remain.

What Remains. Or, you Can’t Take It With You

As one example of that everlasting “reign,” consider the story found in two of the canonical gospels of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22 & Matt 19:16-22). In Mark’s version, the man bows down before Jesus – an act of subservience – to beg for the answer in his search for something that will last forever. 

In reply, Jesus reiterates a few of the commandments the young man would have known well; along with the Golden Rule. But the rich man himself admits he’s found them insufficient. “I have observed all these,” he says, then asks, “What am I missing?”

“If you wish to be perfect,” Jesus replies, “make your move, sell your belongings and give the proceeds to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. And then come follow me.” (Westar scholar’s translation.)

The young man rejects the teaching; unwilling to accept Jesus’ offer and advice. Instead, he chooses to cling to fleeting wealth; the ultimate representation perhaps of all that is only transitory, finite and impermanent. So, the gospel message is not to be misinterpreted as a call to a life of poverty, but rather one of liberation from the fear of impoverishment by the loss of former things that are no more.

I believe the “treasure in heaven” to which Jesus refers is a harvest to be planted and reaped from the dust of earth; with Jesus’ vision of a heaven on earth being the seed to be sown in the field of impermanence. 

I described it once long ago in the lyrics to a song I wrote; adapting the melody (with permission) from a talented Italian acoustic guitarist, Peppino D’agostino. It envisions the one thing that might remain and last forever.


Once there was a man, so lost and alone.
Life had grown shallow with everything he owned.
Seems the more he had, he hungered for more.
Found that the more he had, the more he was poor.

He had never known love without measure,
He had found only life’s earthly pleasures,
He never found his heart’s treasure
‘til finding the Fields of the Lord.

Came upon that field, unlike any other
A family of strangers, like sisters and brothers,
Working hand in hand. He never had heard
‘bout giving and growing, in faith with these words:

I can show you love without measure,
You can find more than life’s earthly pleasures,
Together we’ll share our heart’s treasure
At work in the Fields of the Lord.

If you’re like the man, so lost and alone,
Trust in the harvest of joy God has sown;
Work without limit, give without cost,
Knowing your labor can never be lost.

I can show you love without measure,
You can find more than life’s earthly pleasures,
Together we’ll share all our treasure
At work in the Fields of the Lord.

© 1986 by John Bennison
The musical score to this song can be found HERE.


© 2023 by John William Bennison, Rel.D.  All rights reserved.
This article should only be used or reproduced with proper credit. To read more commentaries by John Bennison from the perspective of a Christian progressive go to the Archives on this website HERE.

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