Radical Wisdom


Wisdom is described in the bible as this:

“Resplendent and unfading is wisdom,
and she is readily perceived by those who love her,
and found by those who seek her.”

We often confuse wisdom and knowledge and in this overloaded existence of constant information it doesn’t occur to us to ask what the difference is.

The visiting priest at Mass instructed us that there is a difference.

You could have heard a match stick drop in the church. Evidently I was not the only person sitting secure in self-knowledge while shoving wisdom under the pew.

Knowledge, the priest explained, is the constant search for new information. We are constantly asking questions. We are constantly seeking. One question leads to another question and so on.

Knowledge is good and noble and informative but without wisdom it binds you here to the earthly life and no further.

Wisdom, on the other hand, seeks to understand what already is.

We can seek all our life for knowledge to our problems, our fears, and our faith and never find the answer. Then, at the end of our mortality, we realize, in the pursuit of knowledge, we never sought the wisdom to accept what we could not change.

Wisdom is found in the hurt mother who kneels at the feet of her child and tries to understand his frustrated day.

Wisdom is found in the anxious father who sits on the passenger side and seeks to understand his teenage daughter’s longing for freedom.

Wisdom is found in the lonely grandparent who smiles through her tears as she watches her grandson walk away in his soldier uniform.

Wisdom is found in the angry store manager who patiently taps his pencil on his desk while hearing both sides of the story.

Wisdom is found in the disappointed teacher who drives to school the next day with a plan.

Wisdom is found in the overwhelmed coach who stuffs his hands in his pockets and decides to push the team on instead of walking away from them.

Wisdom is not easy to come by and it doesn’t change our human emotions but it brings peace which the all-consuming pursuit of knowledge cannot.

A summary of Wisdom is found in the Serenity Prayer…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

In short, wisdom seeks to understand what already is.

There is no need for more information in the book of wisdom. No need for more searching, more clicking, more examination or questioning.

Not that those things are not good.

Knowledge and the quest for knowledge are good and fruitful and holy. Knowledge can also be used to exploit, embarrass, belittle, ridicule, and hold power over.

Wisdom is better.

Wisdom knows you cannot change the whole world.

Wisdom, as the priest said (sounding very much like St. Therese), is in loving people in life and loving them into death.

There are some things we cannot change. No amount of preaching, arguing, or debating is going to change some people’s minds and can prove detrimental to their spiritual growth.

A firm example would be Mother Teresa. I’m pretty sure she didn’t lecture, preach, argue, or debate with the AIDS victims she found in the ditches of Calcutta. She didn’t say, “I told you so!” or “If you had only read your Bible every day…” or “You should have listened to your parents (or to your priests).”

She merely took them home, loved them in life, and loved them into death; knowing that God would handle it from there.

Having been raised my whole life by LaSalette Missionaries and spiritually instructed by Jesuits in the Ignatian Spiritual exercises for almost 10 years, this book opened my eyes anew to the  Benedictine rule. The LaSalette Fathers sought to reach the heart and soul of the child. The Jesuits and St. Ignatius with their power of speech, strength of words, and instruction of knowledge sought to reach the mind of an adult.

They did all that.

St. Benedict came along and showed how to reach the heart, mind, and soul of a sinner who can neither change others and was in need of the gift of mercy.

Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt is a book which transformed the way I see situations which people inevitably get themselves into due to (1) lack of knowledge—which confirms that knowledge is good and holy and beneficial to our salvation (2) influence of others (3) free will—ever heard of that?)

This passage was one of many examples Radical Hospitality which jarred me into a vision of radical hospitality (page xiv-xvi):

“Father Noel and Father Dan were taking a walk on the monastery grounds one day. It was the kind of day made for a walk with a friend. A group of eleven- and twelve-year-olds from an institution for troubled children were on a tour of the monastery. They had arrived by hay wagon, pulled by horses with a couple of young drivers, probably in their late teens.

“Acres of rolling grass invite you to stretch out on a sultry summer day and enjoy the soft grass and warm earth. The monastery grounds are well groomed…

“It is home to the Benedictines, and a home is what it feels like—an easy place to be. Something about the place is welcoming.

“The two monks were enjoying one of those long, warm days of late summer. … Occupied in conversation, Father Dan did not notice the hay wagon drivers until they came within a few yards.

” ‘I was stopped in my tracks,’ he remembers. ‘Right there on the yard in front of us, the two wagon drivers were passing a joint back and forth, looking completely at home, as if this was the most natural thing to do at a monastery. In case you’re wondering, it isn’t.’

“Father Dan was a street-smart kid raised in Detroit. Before he could demand an explanation, Father Noel spoke up.

” ‘Young men,’ he exclaimed with wide-armed relish, ‘we are so glad that you are with us today to enjoy the grass.’

“It was an enthusiastic and heartfelt welcome from the hospitable soul of an old monk. The guys naturally thought he was one very cool old monk.”

Who do you think those two young teenagers in this story would come to if—through knowledge, the Holy Spirit’s prompting, or their own free will—they desired to seek more information about these monks, their lifestyle, their vows…their very faith?

The old monk had the wisdom to know that this day was the beginning of those teenagers relationship with God and he welcomed the teens into that realm of wisdom.

Wisdom seeks to understand what is already before you; not to control it, not to analyze it, not to judge it. Just to take it in faith that God created this person and God loves this person. Can you love them as well? Can you love them in life and love them into death…knowing that God is waiting on the other side?

Most of us can’t. Most of us don’t want to. Most of us do as Pontius Pilate did. We ask “What is Truth?” We wash our hands of loving others and we walk away because it’s hard. It’s harder than anything else we do in life; loving others outside our realm of understanding.

It’s easier to judge. To gossip. To control.

It’s easier to lecture and preach. Easier to push our game plan.

It’s easier to do others things, possess other things.

Easier to analyze what the parents did wrong. Easier to blame others.

It’s easier to keep looking for answers to questions. Easier to keep Googling.

When in truth all we need to do is ask, like King Solomon (1 Kings 3:1-28), to desire wisdom above knowledge. It takes wisdom to know the difference.

Copyright 2011 Cay Gibson


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