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We all need wise words to live by

14 August, 2016 Proverbs 9:1-6 Pentecost 13 By Rev Dr Christopher Page

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewellery, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us?  Why take a second look our way? Psalm 8 from the Message


Who is the wisest person you know?  Not an easy question to answer.  But I suspect it is not the most educated person you know.  Although a good education helps us to avoid some of the pitfalls of folly and foolishness.  Perhaps it is not even the smartest or cleverest person you know.  And of course we don’t have to be well schooled to have street smarts.  But that’s not necessarily wisdom.  While I may like to think that the richest people I know were wise enough to get all their wealth, that’s probably not so.  And even the oldest person may not be the wisest.  We know there are a fair gaggle of old fools around. As I quoted from the poem by Robert Fulgham last week, “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school.”

T.S. Eliot’s oft quoted lines from his poem The Rock, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" help us see that knowledge, facts and information and wisdom are not all the same thing, and the ancient book of Proverbs says the same.

So who is the wisest person you know? I don’t think it is going to be just one person, but rather the kind of person or people who have a way of being in the world that is broader, deeper, richer, simpler and more engaging that we often meet in our daily life.  But to have a true encounter with wisdom, with the wise person, what is most often necessary is a relationship with that person.

My grandmother was the wisest person I knew.  Maybe it helped that I was 12 years of age, but the conversations we had around the kitchen table were the equivalent of discussing Plato’s Apology, or David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature; well not quite, but it was that everyday kitchen table wisdom that talked about life and living and all its proclivities that gave me an appreciation that wisdom comes from a life well lived.

I think wisdom is often the way we act rather than just what we say.  And it comes from many quarters.

Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.

She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!" To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”

It’s no accident that the personification of wisdom in the book of Proverbs is female or feminine. She has built her house; she is precious above jewels; Lady Wisdom is seen as something to be attained, the highest of all virtues.  Interestingly, in the book of Proverbs folly or foolishness is also personified as female. It seems as if Proverbs, unlike any other book in the Bible, pictures life through the experience of the feminine.

Wisdom is the ability to see the whole picture and not be locked into the minutiae or the mere present moment of living.  My young brother got into some trouble with the police in his early teens, something that would never have happened to me!  My grandmother said, “Oh well, he’s still young enough to learn from his mistakes.” She always saw the bigger picture of life. I think that’s why the book of Proverbs makes the point, and I’ll use the traditional language, that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”.

Of course it is not the knowing about God, as if God is an object we can know like all other objects; it is the relationship with the ground of our being and being in communion with that which holds and sustains everything.  The word fear is a problem for us in the 21st century - it carries such a negative sense.  But it is that experience of being overwhelmed by something that is beyond imagination and comprehension.  The word awe or respect is sometimes used, but they don’t convey the depth or the power of fearfulness.

The religious group that preceded the Quakers were called the Shakers or the Quaking Shakers.  When the presence of God came upon them it was so powerful, so fearful, that they would begin to shake, hence their name.  The pathway toward wisdom does not begin just with study and knowledge, it begins with an encounter with the presence of God, the holy, the divine and the sacred.  That which is beyond my present experience. And from that beginning a life of wisdom grows.

There is no textbook on how to live a wise and worthwhile life.  There is much wisdom in the Bible and in the Koran and other ancient books.  But real wisdom comes from the living and the learning of everyday life.  But there is one truth about wisdom that is essential and that is, its value is in being completely committed to it.  In Proverbs chapter four it is said, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”  Though it costs all you have… And later in Proverbs, chapter four:

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

So how do we get wisdom and not just be satisfied with good knowledge and information about things?  Where can we find the wise words to live by?  Let me suggest what my 64 years of often unwise living have given me.  This is I suppose a kind of creed that I live by….or rather that I seek to live by.  And most importantly, it changes from week to week:

  1. Be generous to yourself and to other people. God has created a world of abundance and fullness: share it and enjoy it.

  2. Appreciate the small moments of beauty that come unexpectedly into our lives every day.

  3. Don't sweat the small stuff - it fogs the wonder and beauty of the hills in the distance.

  4. While life wasn't meant to be easy, take courage, it can be delightful.

  5. Focus on one thing at one time and live into each breath and every moment, remembering that silence can speak more profoundly than a thousand words.

  6. Learn one new thing every day and then put it into practice the next day.

  7. Say a nice thing about a person you don’t think deserves it
  8. Tell someone something that you enjoy and are good at doing.

  9. Find what is meaningful in the ordinary rather than just in the extraordinary.

  10. Accept who you are, as difficult as that may be, and don’t expect that the people around you will become what you want them to be.

“Wisdom has built her house… Leave your foolish ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”

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