OK, SO TODAY we’re going to talk about a great mystery, the way things (sometimes) work in how to know things. First, there’s this description of Wisdom from the Hebrew Scriptures:
“Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought,” (Wisdom 6:12–16).
This ain’t rocket science, folks. Do you want to be wise? Seek out Wisdom. She’s waiting at the gate. The gate of any city in Biblical times was a place where everyone gathered. The market would be there. The healers and fortune tellers would be there. Most of all, the beggars would be there. That’s where everyone could find anything they needed.
Sure, some of it was maybe worthless; people get fooled in crowd situations all the time.
Things are busy, they’re fast and you have to make snap decisions. It’s like going to Goodwill on Lincoln Street: tons of stuff there, some just awful, some hidden treasures.
You never, ever know what is going to be there.
Once, for reasons I’m not quite clear on, I just HAD TO HAVE Greek olive oil. Not Italian. Greek. So I did what anyone would do. I bought 3 liters of said Greek olive oil on Amazon, but I didn’t quite read the description. I bought 3 liters. That’s about 3 gallons of that stuff. That’s 101 ounces. In short, that’s a lot.
So obviously we needed a way to dispense it. Pour it out from this huge container? Not without risking culinary disaster every time we cooked. (“Honey, clean up on Aisle 1!”) Yeah. No.
We did what I’ve been doing for years. We went to Goodwill, ‘cause you can find anything there. And what did we find? A lovely little glass decanter with a stopper, just the kind of thing you’d use for salad dressing at the table. It cried out to us. We cried out to it. And, bingo, problem solved!
It was a miracle. (Goodwill was also a miracle when I was living with no money at all and needed clothing. That worked, too.)
That’s the picture of Wisdom in this Biblical passage. She sits there and she waits for you and doesn’t need to hurry. She’s been there yesterday and last month and last year and she’ll be there tomorrow and next month and next year.
She’s there now, waiting for you at the gate of the city of the world.
She’s easy to find.
Knowledge? That’s a different thing. Knowledge is never, ever easy, especially at first. C. S. Lewis mentioned the particular joy of knowledge: that it is always hard won, that first steps, like the first steps of a baby, are hard. There are going to be a lot of bumps on that road. It becomes easier but only later. His example was learning a foreign language like Latin or Greek. The first few weeks, it’s hellish, you go through life muttering the case endings of whatever verb you’ve been assigned: amo, amas, amat. I love, you (singular) love, he/she/it loves. That’s one half: you will need the plural as well, of course, ‘cause things come in more than one: we love, you (all) love, they love. Then you have 14 more verbs. And nouns. And pronouns. And then, if and only if you work hard, one day you find yourself reading a passage in a simple language or order food correctly at a restaurant. And you get it. You totally get it.
How to hold a brush. How to cut wood. How to drive. How to draw. How to make a right-angle cut. How to drive on tight mountain roads in the rain.
Then, you layer on complexities after that. Stanislavski, the great Russian acting teacher and director, described learning how to act as something like this: “Make the hard simple. The simple habit. And the habit beautiful.”
That’s true. But that’s true of knowledge, of craft. You definitely want a surgeon that knows where and how to cut. That’s not what wisdom is. Wisdom is seeing that your patient has just received a diagnosis and is scared, and that you need to tell the patient, “it’ll be OK,” or maybe even only “there are some things we can still do.”
Wisdom, you find on the street and she’s ready for you where you are. Wisdom is the doctor who says “this is far advanced. There’s little we can do, let’s talk about options for letting go.”
Wisdom hastens to make herself known. With knowledge maybe being smart (whatever that means) may be necessary; wisdom comes with relationship, just from knowing someone, being in their company. Love is known in relationship.
Wisdom comes from letting her work on you, and your saying hello.
Some of the most profound conversations I’ve had in my street ministry have come from people who my past led me to expect little.
We need to find that place in the Other where we can serve them and they us.
It’s a mutual relationship, even if brief.
So, yes, we need knowledge, absolutely. We need to know how to do things or how to find others who can help us when we can’t help ourselves.
But we also need to go greet Wisdom. She’s right there at the gateway to the city, at where you walk in the woods, even in your knowledge — when you realize something you’ve had more than you put in it, more than you knew.
Find Wisdom. She wants to meet you.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a deacon resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.