What is Wisdom?
I confess that each morning one of the first things I do is look at the News app on my phone to see what is happening. Yesterday the most useful and uplifting thing I found was a new recipe for dinner. The news which is dominating the headlines is about governmental discord and the mistreatment of American people, as well as those waiting at our border, by the officials who are supposed to be serving the people. It’s discouraging and overwhelming, isn’t it? Should I just ignore the news for my own peace of mind? That doesn’t seem to be right. Where is the wisdom I need to read the news with any kind of equilibrium?
The definition of “wisdom” from the online etymological dictionary is: "knowledge, learning, experience.” The word descends from Old English, German and Norse. The Greek word for wisdom, “sophia,” is a bit broader in meaning: "skill, knowledge of, acquaintance with; sound judgment, practical wisdom; cunning, shrewdness; philosophy." When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek early in Christian history, “sophia” became the word for wisdom as it was personified in a female form in the book of Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom.
Where in these definitions do we find the “wisdom” to look at our world, our country, in these times? We can be well-informed with knowledge about events. We can learn about policies and points of view we do not understand. We can consider this information with shrewdness, sound judgment, practical sense, philosophical reasoning and maybe, even some cunning. We can measure all this against our own experiences. And still we can be overwhelmed by all that is happening!
I need more solid ground. The female form of wisdom in the ancient Hebrew scriptures, “Sophia,” became synonymous with “divine or holy wisdom.” Is there a clue here? Is wisdom truly found when we include a spiritual component to our search?
In her book, Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You, Joan Chittester investigates the five major faith traditions of the world to discover the meaning of wisdom in a sacred and holy context. She asks the question of what it means to be a “holy person” and concludes that the essence of holiness and maturity lies in the cultivation of spiritual consciousness. Holy people throughout the ages in all faiths “sought to grow beyond the husk to the core of life, beyond the manuals of spiritual life to the essence of the spiritual life.”[i] Chittester relates a story from the Islamic Sufi tradition to illustrate this.
“’Tell us what you got from enlightenment,’ the seeker said. ‘Did you become divine?’
‘No, not divine,’ the holy one said.
‘Did you become a saint?’
‘Oh, dear, no,’ the holy one said.
‘Then what did your become?’, the seeker asked.
And the holy one answered, “I became awake.’”[ii]
This is my prayer for myself and for Plymouth this year as we continue in all of our ministries of worship, study, learning, outreach, social justice and fellowship. May we become awake in ways we have yet to experience to the Divine presence within us, shaping us, nurturing and challenging us! May we become awake as we seek to respond in love to our overwhelming times rather than react in fear or anger! May we become awake to life moment by moment as we breathe in the joy of creation, as we love even our enemies, as we seek circles of community rather than levels of rigid hierarchy! May we become awake to the life of Jesus that lives in each of us!
Blessings and prayers,
[i]Chittester, Joan, Welcome to the Wisdom of the Word and Its Meaning for You; Universal Spiritual Insights Distilled From Five Religious Traditions, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2007), xiv).
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.
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