The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honour you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a fair garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.’
Hear, my child, and accept my words,
that the years of your life may be many.
I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered;
and if you run, you will not stumble.
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day. — Proverbs 4:7-18
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, wisdom has several definitions: (a) accumulated learning; (b) an ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; (c) good sense; (d) generally accepted belief; and (e) the teachings of ancient men. Oddly enough, the Greek word for wisdom is sophia while the Hebrew word is chokmah, both feminine nouns. There’s a feeling of a small victory for womankind there even if just linguistically.
Wisdom is said to come with age. I certainly hope so, because age is certainly tagging at my heels and threatening to overtake me. It’s about time I acquired some wisdom, something you can’t necessarily acquire from books but comes from living and learning from mistakes as well. That’s probably why this passage from Proverbs has a ring of truth for me. Wisdom more than presents a crown, she is a crown in her own right.
I could point to many wise people I’ve known in my life. Many have been book-smart, but all of them have had that something about them that inspires trust and respect. They have lived and learned, and they are willing to listen and to share that wisdom.
One of the best ways I found to acquire wisdom, aside from just living and making mistakes, was to study. It keeps my mind active and I learn stuff that way. One of the places I learned to prize wisdom was in my Education for Ministry* groups, studying in the program for four years before becoming a mentor and trying my best to foster growth and learning in others. In the studies of Old and New Testament, church history and theology, coupled with lessons in spiritual growth and lots of theological reflections, it was the opening of new windows on wisdom in a number of different guises. No, I can’t recite all the heresies for the past several thousand years, much less sort out which philosopher belonged to which school of thought, but I’ve learned what community truly is, how to look at ordinary things and find the sacred in them and when to listen to others, finding new insights myself in their epiphanies. Those things probably can be found and read about in any number of books, but nothing takes the place of the experience of actually doing and being part of it.
Wisdom can just come but most often it has to be sought and then recognized. It’s a life-long endeavor although there is a so much wisdom that can be gained by listening to the young, like the voices of the Native American youth in Northern Arizona led by Kaze Gadway**. Wisdom is learning to look through other eyes to see the world and learn from the experience. While the youth learn to live in a world that is often hostile to them, they are learning to walk in beauty, truth and in the footsteps of the Jesus they have come to know as a companion and guide. A lot of older folk could stand to learn that kind of wisdom, me included.
I will never be a Solomon, an acknowledged wise man, but I hope I never stop looking for wisdom wherever she may be. Just the journey of living will be interesting but the search will make it even more so. I’m impatient to find what’s around the next corner, even though I am almost afraid to find a snake or a bill collector or an incurable disease there. Still, nobody ever sailed to London by just sitting on the dock on Cedarbush Creek, a good many miles from the ocean.
One can never have too much wisdom — but one can continue to add to their own stockpile. That’s my goal.
* Information on Education for Ministry (EfM) can be found here.
**Stories from Kaze and her emerging young leaders of the church can be found here.