Category: wisdom

Listening is the way to wisdom

Listening is the way to wisdom.

You don’t have to be old to be wise.
You don’t have to be a genius to be wise.

You have to listen.

We can listen in so many ways. Listening in its most direct sense is a use of our ears to hear. But I’m using “listening” in the broader sense of paying attention, taking in information and experience and processing it.

The processing is important. Just as we can hear without listening, we can take in information and have experiences without paying attention and thinking through what we have encountered.

Why do we all need wisdom? Because it helps us live a better life, and life is extremely important — a gift from God, a one time for each one person, a passing thing, a joyous experience, a challenging experience.

But we also need wisdom because this life journey is not just about each of us; it is about the people we encounter. Wise people are more likely to be a blessing to those they encounter. They are less likely to say stupid things that cause pain and hurt.

Reading has been a primary means to wisdom for centuries. But do not despair if reading is not your thing. Before reading, humanity shared its wisdom vocally — telling stories and sharing insights. There is so much knowledge and understanding available today in audio podcasts and in video form. Of course, there is also a bunch of trash, just as there are trash books that do not grow wisdom but rather promote shallowness.

We choose what kind of person we want to be when we choose what we read, listen to, and watch. Take in thoughtful content, process it, and you will become a more thoughtful person.

Those of you who are talkers — like pastors, teachers, public speakers, and just conversationalists — have to be especially careful if you want to grow wise. Every moment you spend talking is time not spent learning.

Those who don’t like to talk so much, have a different challenge. This promotes good thinking and wisdom, but it does not promote community and relationships, and they are important to our whole health, as well.

Healthy living, both for each person and for those they encounter, is along a middle path of thinking and sharing. This is one of the reasons why when I teach I love it when the quiet ones speak. The talkers keep things going and make class interesting, but the thinkers often are the ones who can bring wisdom into a group, if they will but speak.

Solomon prayed for wisdom not just so he could be smart but so he could serve well — the inside and the outside of his life.

1 Kings 3:7-9:
“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (NRSV).

Sirach offers words of Wisdom

We live in a day full of information but often bereft of wisdom.

This morning I read something I had never read before. I went to the Catholic Bible and read from the book of Sirach. Chapter 24 speaks of Wisdom, she who comes forth from the “Creator of all things.”

The Creator, the ancient text says, gave Wisdom a place in which to dwell. The people of Jacob, of Israel became that dwelling.

The passage personifies Wisdom as a woman come to dwell among a people. This paints a beautiful image of what we know from the Old Testament. The writer of Sirach recognized that Israel had been specially blessed as a place for the Creator’s Wisdom to be gradually revealed.

Wisdom speaks of the Creator and Israel:

“Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage” (vv. 9-12, NRSV, Catholic Edition).

Can’t we see this as we read both the Hebrew Scriptures and then the new Christian testament? Wisdom established. Wisdom taking root.

Wisdom “grew tall” like a tree, Sirach says. She could be seen in her majesty, but she was not only seen. Wisdom “gave forth perfume. She was to be inhaled and enjoyed.

“Like cassia and camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume,
and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance,
like galbanum, onycha, and stacte,
and like the odor of incense in the tent ” (v. 15).

And, in the imperfect but fertile Hebrew soil Wisdom spread and gave glorious delights and abundant fruit. And Wisdom issued an invitation for all who desire her to “eat your fill of my fruits.” She also gave a promise, that possession of her would be “sweeter than the honeycomb.”

“Like a terebinth I spread out my branches,
and my branches are glorious and graceful.
Like the vine I bud forth delights,
and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit. [148]
Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb” (vv. 16-20).

And once we taste Wisdom, we want more, because we will never have all of her. And as we obey Wisdom we rise above the sin that so easily ensnares us.

“Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin” (vv. 21-22).

Wisdom is found in the law of Moses, the early chapters of our Bible today, Sirach said. This grand woman, Wisdom, is specially revealed in God’s law.

The law of Moses “overflows . . .  with wisdom” like the Pishon and Tigris rivers in the spring (v. 25).

The law of Moses “runs over . . . with understanding” like the Euphrates and the Jordan at harvest time (v. 26).

The law of Moses “pours forth instruction” like the Nile and the Gihon in vintage (v. 27).

The first humans dd not know Wisdom fully, nor will the last (v. 28). This should humble us. We have a tendency to speak with such certainty about the things of God. Will we every learn that there always is more to learn of the Infinite and of Wisdom?

For her thoughts are more abundant than the sea,
and her counsel deeper than the great abyss (v. 29).

But Wisdom makes a promise.

“I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations.
Observe that I have not labored for myself alone,
but for all who seek wisdom” (vv. 32-34).

Such a beautiful thought. The Wisdom of Scripture will again shine forth like a beautiful dawn, and her teachings will be poured out to all future generations. And it is not just for the sake of Wisdom herself, but for everyone who seeks her.

 

Excerpts From: Thomas Nelson. “NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible, eBook.” Apple Books. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/nrsv-catholic-edition-bible-ebook/id386605154?mt=11

Edith Hamilton keeps deep truth alive

In her 1948 book, Witness to the Truth, Edith Hamilton wrote in the Introduction that when times are bad and “storm-driven,” there is a “strong tendency to emphasize men’s baseness or their impotent insignificance.” This happens in both philosophy and art.

Seventy years later, there is still this tendency to bemoan the nature of humanity. Speaking from our not-to-distant past, Hamilton (1867-1963), a scholar of ancient Greece, has insight that may help us today, which is generally what one finds from the great Greeks and those who “know” them.

Philosophy and art have not always been as they are now, and this already was the case in Hamilton’s time.

“A great change has taken place in the intellectual and artistic atmosphere. Plato’s influence through all the centuries up to our own [the mid-20th century] was immensely strong; Platonic philosophy aimed at turning mankind away from baseness, ‘to lift up the wing of the soul,’ Plato wrote, ‘which is renewed and strengthened by the love of the good, the true, the beautiful.'”

Stop and let those words wash over you — ”lift up the wing of the soul” and “love of the good, the true, the beautiful.” There is spiritual uplift in the words. In our time of so much bad behavior, dishonesty, and ugliness of human character it is good to remember to focus on their opposites — the good, the true, the beautiful.

One can say the ugliness has always been with us, dating back to the plucking of that fruit in the first garden. But still, there have been times when humanity reached hard for the good, true, and beautiful.

“‘All things,’ he [Plato] said, ‘poverty or sickness or any other misfortune will work together for good to him who desires to be like God as far as the nature of man allows.’ That voice is not heard now in philosophy. Plato’s solution was to become like God; the solution of modern philosophy is to die.”

The Christian tradition says it a little differently, but it is essentially the same. We Christ followers seek to be more and more like Jesus — God come to earth. We die to self, yes, but it is in order to truly live in God. We do not fly to death; we fly to life.

One more quote from Hamilton, at last for this day:

“In all the great periods of art the artist looked at the world as its Creator did, and found it good. His aim was to make others share in that vision, to clarify for them the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth. When he had painted his picture or written his poem, people would see truth and beauty where they had not before.”

The best of artists do help clarify for us “the truth of beauty and beauty of truth.” They are, however, not alone in the world of the creative. There are some artists of amazing creativity who lift up the ugly, who seem to relish it, to swim in it, not to expose it but to be part of it.

As for me, I seek the artists of beauty and truth. I love bright and lively colors in painting. I like inspiring and encouraging music. And I fall in love with writers who can help me see the good. All great artists are aware of and touch the ugliness, but they do not stay there.

I heard someone say the other day that Buddhism does away with hope. I’m not sure if that is true, but how can one live without hope? I want the hope that comes from the truth and beauty that the best of artists capture.

In this storm-driven day, may we hold on to the good, the true, and the beautiful. And may we exemplify them by seeking to be more like the loving and forgiving Divine.