Our lesson from the Book of Wisdom is about just that: wisdom. Throughout the scriptures, the virtue and gift of wisdom is extolled again and again, many hundreds of times. Curiously, the source of wisdom is what the Scriptures call “the fear of God.” This is not fear as in a dreadful foreboding; it’s not about fright but about glory. Of our being filled with awe, i.e., the awefulness of God. It is a sense of reverence for God the Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and yet the One who knows and loves even us, called “children of God.” Wisdom has its source in God, and we have access to wisdom when we acknowledge that we are not our own god, when we are awe-filled with the recognition that we have something to learn from God about how to make meaning of this life.
In the Scriptures, wisdom is often described with metaphors or similes: wisdom, like a hospitable host who offers a sumptuous banquet of lifei; wisdom, like a protecting motherii; wisdom, like a mirror of God’s eternal light.iii Wisdom is described as a companion to God: wisdom present at creation; wisdom, playing at God’s side; wisdom, through which God continues to rule the universe.iv Wisdom is that key that opens the way of knowing how to find true delight in life – how to look at life around you: see it for what it is, the good and bad, to be able to size up what is noble; to find the way of moderation; to know where and how to be discreet; where to make your mark. Wisdom is the discovery of the road to freedom, finding the way and the truth and the life; the essence of living life abundantly.v Wisdom’s virtues may sound like Jesus incarnate, no surprise. Jesus, in the New Testament, is called “the wisdom of God”vi, the one “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.”vii By clinging to Christ, we tap into this divine wisdom.viii Wisdom comes in our finding the way, the truth, the life that Jesus promises.
Wisdom is God’s gift, and yet God’s gifts require our reception and our co-operation. Two things come to mind about our appropriation of God’s gift of wisdom:
First, that wisdom is not hidden knowledge but rather eyes wide open. Our English word “wisdom” comes from the same root as our word “vision.” Wisdom is about “the eyes of our heart being enlightened,” the language of the Letter to the Ephesiansix Wisdom is about good peripheral vision: of being able to look backward on our life, of being able to look where we are in the moment, of looking into the anticipated future without blinking. It’s being able to see a visual continuity between where we were, where we are, where we’re headed. If we blink, or have to look away, or find on our visual horizon a visual a block, some black spot, some obstruction, then there’s invitation. There’s an invitation for healing or reconciliation or redemption because we need to be visually congruent with our whole story. If you find a block somewhere or if you’re inclined to look away from some piece of your life – something difficult or painful or shaming – there is probably wisdom there to be found. Rather than a visual block, it’s probably an icon through which to see God’s gift of life for you, and there’s wisdom to be found. There is God’s invitation to you for a kind of visual congruence in your life, the fruit being wisdom.
Secondly, wisdom takes humility. Humility and wisdom are something of “kissing cousins.” So much of the early Christian wisdom literature arose out of seeming-defeat. So many of the wisdom stories came out of the desert, where women and men withdrew in the early centuries to meet God and to meet themselves and, shockingly enough, to see themselves mirrored in their poor, sinful neighbors. The desert abbas and ammas were humbled into being wise. All sense of ego gratification by one’s feigning to be knowledgeable, powerful, masterful, even holy was ground into the sand with the honest recognition that they faced the same temptations as anyone else (if not worse), that they fell and fell again, and, much to their surprise and chagrin, they were often visited by a God who came to them hideously disguised. God came visiting, often in the form of sinners and beggars who came seeking help. The early desert monastics learned what is repeated again and again in the wisdom literature of the Scriptures: you cannot do it alone. Left alone, to our own devices, cleverness, and calculations, we are incredibly vulnerable to self deception. The Book of Proverbs says, “iron sharpens iron, and so one person sharpens another.” Without the kind of transparency and sharpening that comes from intentional life together, we are very prone to be duped, to be foolish, which is the antithesis of wisdom.
The wisdom of God is a gift, not a given. It comes in time, and with intention and desire, and out of the humblings of life. Wisdom is worth asking God for, and worth waiting for, and cultivating. In the fifth century, Abbess Syncletica, a wise woman of holy memory, said that “a person who wants to light a fire first is plagued by smoke, and the smoke drives them to tears, yet finally they get the fire they want.” Out of the refiner’s fire comes the gift of wisdom, if you want it. And, my, don’t we need the wisdom of God to simply make meaning out of life these days? If you want the gift of wisdom, ask God for the gift, and then co-operate with God in the life you are being given.
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