Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Wisdom

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ. 

Wisdom that comes out of the mouth of the Most High, that reaches from one end to another, and orders all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence! 
(source: http://www.fisheaters.com/customsadvent10.html)

Wisdom is an under-appreciated characteristic in this day and age. We tend to think in rather different terms, assuming that the mere accumulation of knowledge and qualifications serves to demonstrate that the worthiness of a persons' contribution to discussion or debate. Yet, wisdom seems to be something else than merely compelling others to listen to us, but, rather, it has a reflective element that we seem to have neither time nor desire to seek. Wisdom isn't primarily about what we know, but rather understands a relationship to what we know and the people around us which sees all of it as somehow integrated. It is that integration which gives wisdom its depth. It applies the ability to take the long view, to eschew the short-term gain in favour of what is best over the long-term. Perhaps this is why wisdom seems so difficult to attain and why it is difficult to value in this peculiarly amnesiac culture of ours.

Yet, wisdom has always been difficult to attain in all ages. The reason for this difficulty is that it is remarkably difficult for any person to maintain the long-term reflective view needed to achieve true wisdom. True wisdom, it seems, should be able to start with the beginning of time and see to the end of it again. True wisdom, as this antiphon suggests, has to be an attribute of God. It is only God whose Wisdom can be felt a fine usque ad finem- from one end to the other, from the beginning of time to the end of time, from one edge of the universe to the other edge. And it is only God's Wisdom which can create the order that we see and enjoy in this universe. We are, whether we acknowledge it or not, dependent on God's Wisdom to keep our own chaos at bay and that Wisdom will outlast us and our petty efforts to pretend we're in charge.

So, if we're attentive, we see God arranging the world 'mightily and sweetly'. I love the juxtaposition of these adverbs. That God arranges the world 'mightily' is hardly surprising, if we presume a God who is omnipotent, he is going to be do things mightily. Yet, he acts 'sweetly', not harshly or bitterly. He acts 'sweetly', filled with grace and an attention to what is good. Yes, of course, I know. It is frequently difficult to see the 'sweetly' in the world as it is today. A lot of distinctly not sweet things happen everyday and one can be forgiven for thinking that seeing God as acting 'sweetly' int the world borders on delusional. Yet, that 'sweetly' reminds me to look for the pleasant traces of God's sweetness, of his grace, of his good work in the world. That 'sweetly' reminds me of the hope found in the goodness of this life, when, frankly, I want to focus on the injustices or hurts which I see in my life. God acts and will continue to act 'mightily' in the world and that might be terrifying if we did not remember God's sweetness, which delights in the good and the pleasant. It delights in the same goodness and pleasantness that we dismiss with a 'yes, but....' when reminded of it. That sweetness is a reminder that we can live in gratitude for the good that we see in our life and that is a viable alternative for pessimism and despair. The problem is that we often have to learn gratitude, while pessimism is, altogether too easy to practice.

So, that is why we learn the path of prudence. Again, prudence is one of those unpopular virtues- one which looks frumpy and old fashioned. Yet, prudence, while a scarce phenomenon, remains important and relevant. Prudence, at its root, is the human relative of Wisdom. It is the recognition of one's limits. That recognition tends to go against the grain for our culture, nurtured by the power of positive thinking and message of self-help. Prudence begins with the recognition that we are not and will not be gods, which should be a relief to the prudent person. Ultimately, God is the one with true Wisdom and it is prudence which recognizes our limitations in this area. We are not God and that is, because of the state of our 'wisdom', is a good thing. The path of prudence encourages us to eschew the immediate and see ourselves in the longer view. It helps us to move past the disappointments and disturbance of our day in order to see the long-view; that God's grace created this wondrous world and that that same grace will redeem the mess we've made of it. And it is this sense of perspective which gives us the hope we need to seek out God's Wisdom as a guide for our life. That path isn't always easy, but it has its comforts.

May the God of Wisdom stay with your on your path today and always.


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