Psalm 37:3-6, 32-33
In the calendar of the church we remember today a fourth-century Bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus, which is modern-day southern Turkey. (1) Gregory, a faithful pastor, was known to be wise. In the scriptures, wisdom is the gift extolled above all others for how to make meaning of life. In our first lesson today, from The Book of Wisdom, we hear: “I preferred [wisdom] to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with [wisdom].” Wisdom gives the highest yield in life. Wisdom is a deep knowledge, more than simply clicking onto information. As you well know, you can browse through an almost-infinite stream of facts and stats about life, an endless array of “horizontal information,” surfing life only at the surface. None of this automatically translates into wisdom.
The English words “wisdom” and “vision” come from the same etymological root. (2) Wisdom is a kind of deep seeing, an “insight” into life. Wisdom is not a skill, it does not come on command, it’s not a pill to swallow. Wisdom is a gift from God. Here are several practices that will cultivate the ground of our being for wisdom to grow.
For one, wisdom takes time, time to be attentive to life. Incorporate times to stop, look, and listen, otherwise your life will only be a blur. Parker Palmer, the Quaker theologian, said that the meaning of life will be opaque to us unless we take time to make our experience transparent. The soul will black out or burn out, not when people are too busy, but when people are not reflective how they’re feeling and perceiving and acting on what’s going on in their life. (3) Stop, look, and listen to your life, which will cultivate the gift of wisdom.
Secondly, wisdom does not come from getting it right. More likely, wisdom comes from getting it wrong… and remembering. That’s why wisdom and humility are cousins: humility, the word coming from the Latin humilis “lowly,” literally “on the ground,” grounded. Wisdom is a humble understanding about life. (4) So much wisdom can be gleaned from remembering how we got it wrong, or how we are prone to get it wrong. You may have some significant character flaws; you may be prone to blindness in some ways that become clearly apparent in retrospect. I certainly do. It’s so important to remember how we got it wrong or how we’re prone to get it wrong, and it’s true for everyone else. Remember that everyone else has their own version of not getting it right. Wisdom leaves no room for arrogance. Wisdom is an understanding, looking up to others who, like we, are looking up to God, maybe desperately. Wisdom and humility are cousins.
To cultivate wisdom you need not read another book, nor watch another Ted talk, nor earn another academic degree, nor visit another monastery, nor travel to the ends of the earth. Be where you are, which is where God is with you.. Say “yes” to life on the terms that God is giving you life just now; remember from whence you’ve come, regard others kindly and compassionately as they’re doing the best they can… which some days is not too good; pay attention to your life. Jesus, in the New Testament, is called “the wisdom of God,” (5)the one “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” (6) By clinging to Jesus Christ, we tap into this divine wisdom. (7) Wisdom is finding the Way in life. Jesus is the Way who makes wisdom really present to us. Look to Jesus to grow wisdom in your soul.
- Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 394) and his brother, Basil the Great were revered as “Cappadocian Fathers.” Gregory was a prolific commentator on the Scriptures, and fought for the “Nicene faith” at the Second Vatican Council in 381.
- The English word “vision” comes from the Old English witan “to know;” Gothic weitan “to see.” “The English word “wise” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root weid- “to see,” hence “to know.”
- “Action and Insight; An Interview with Parker Palmer,” published in The Christian Century, March 22-29, 1995; pp. 326-329.
- The Latin word humus is translated “earth.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:24.
- Colossians 2:3.
- In the Scriptures, intimacy with wisdom, wisdom herself, is not distinguished from intimacy with God.
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