Thursday, February 13, 2014

Discovering the Heart of Wisdom

It is fine to expect our spiritual journeys to bring us to a place of wisdom.  Most of us suspect there is some difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Most languages, even English, have different words for knowledge and wisdom.  In Latin the word for knowledge is scientia, which gives us the obvious English word, science.  Most of us can remember those classes, even in high school, where gaining knowledge was not easy.  Those chemistry classes, math classes, and others were deemed “hard.”

As I recall my formal education, certainly that education before college, I recall no one mentioning, much less teaching, anything about wisdom.  If one had a good philosophy class in college, reference might be given to the “wisdom of the Greeks.”  But again, colleges do not seem to be in the business of teaching about wisdom. 

Even churches, at least Christian churches, are seemingly not in the business of teaching about wisdom.  Of course, that is not quite fair.  There are books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that explicitly are called “Wisdom Literature.”  I think of Job, Proverbs, some Psalms and others.  There are snippets of the New Testament that can be seen as part of this “Wisdom Tradition.”  Sometimes John’s gospel portrays Jesus as Wisdom incarnate.  This means that John sees Jesus living his life as Wisdom in human form. 

But I am still left pondering: “Yes, but where do I, practically speaking, look for and, hopefully, find wisdom?”  I was helped in something I recently read in a book called, Essential Spirituality, by Roger Walsh.  To the question, where do I look for wisdom, Walsh answers, “everywhere: in every person, situation, and experience to which I bring an open inquiring mind.”  Walsh continues by recommending five particular places we could seek wisdom: in nature, in silence and solitude, from the wise, in ourselves, and finally, from reflecting on the nature of life and death.

I find this kind of advice quite helpful.  It is still very general, but it gives me a focus for some spiritual development.  Let’s look at some of these in detail.  One source of wisdom, says Walsh, is nature.  That is so true for me.  I covet that first day of spring when the world “comes alive.”  It is as if the very Spirit of the Divinity Itself awakens from the winter’s dormancy.  The vibrancy of the world comes into our awareness and it is easier to believe.

A second place wisdom is found is in silence and solitude.  This has been very important to me.  I admit that I am an introvert, so I may be less bothered by solitude than my extrovert friends.  And perhaps my Quaker background prepares me to be at ease with silence that is different than our noisy culture.  Whatever the case, I am confident that all people need to spend some significant time in silence and solitude to begin discovering the heart of wisdom.  I am pretty sure there is little wisdom being dispensed in the cultural media of our day---television, etc.  I need to be alone and quiet for the God of Wisdom to speak to my condition.  I need to be quiet to hear.

I absolutely love Walsh’s next source of wisdom, namely, the wise.  That seems so obvious I wonder why more of us don’t take advantage of it.  Of course, if I want to discover the heart of wisdom, why not find myself with someone who has a heart of wisdom!  One of those people who played that role for me was a colleague who taught at the same place I once taught.  She had not done any formal theological training, so in many ways, was much less knowledgeable than all the rest of the faculty.  In fact, some of us wondered whether she was competent to be teaching!  But she was a wise soul.  She knew God in her heart and she soulfully followed God’s desires.  I needed to learn to walk with her.  Then I could discover the heart of wisdom.

Walsh’s next source is a bit surprising.  We are a source of wisdom for ourselves.  Part of me wants to yell, “No, I’m not!”  However, I acknowledge that I am a child of God---created in the divine image.  Most of us know a great deal more than we think we know.  And most of us can become wise if we would allow that process to unfold.  We have spiritual instincts.  We are divinely intuitive.  We need to touch that and trust that process.  We already have a heart of wisdom; we simply need to discover it.

The final source is again pretty obvious.  We can study life and death.  Life is quite revelatory.  Pay attention to what your body tells you.  Listen to the deep questions of your spirit.  Recognize the lessons that dying and death will teach.  As I get older, I become more aware that I really am mortal---that I will die.  For a long time in my life, I knew it was theoretically true.  Now it seems much more likely to be absolutely true!

So what do we find when we discover the heart of Wisdom?  Simply put, we discover the very God Itself.  We discover a God who calls, who cares, and who is ultimately compassionate.  We discover a God who loves us to death.  And likely who loves us beyond death.  WOW!   

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