Monday, December 14, 2015

A Season of Wisdom

"Watching and Waiting"
- in my meditation garden -

In these last days before Christmas the ancient tradition of the Christian church is to focus on the pursuit of wisdom.

The pursuit of wisdom is hardy confined to Christianity. In fact, the idea of being wise and seeking wisdom is endemic to almost all of the major world religions. The problem is that it’s pretty hard to “pin down” what wisdom really is and what pursuing wisdom really means. Trying to define wisdom is like trying to define love. While I am unable to define it, at some deeply intuitive level I think I am able to recognize it when I see it.

For one thing, as I look at my own experiences and examine the writings of the great religious traditions, I think I have a pretty good sense of what wisdom is not. Wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge.  I know many people who have acquired a great deal of knowledge over many years who I would never recognize as being wise.

A little while back a very interesting article in the New York Times reported on some recent social scientific research about what it means to be wise. The researchers avoided definitions and   instead suggested some of the characteristics of wise people- manifestations of wisdom. I found the article very useful, it helped me articulate what it is that I see in people when I recognize the presence of wisdom. The article suggested that:

Wisdom is manifested in a willingness to embrace failure along with success. People who think they are perfect or expect perfection in others can never be wise.

Wisdom is manifested in people who are empathic. When the gaze of one’s life is not focused inward but looks outward and when people can see the world from the vantage point of other human beings, wisdom is present.

Wisdom is manifested in comfort with ambiguity and paradox. The ability to see “shades of gray” rather than to rigidly think in terms of “black or white” is a sign or wisdom.

Wisdom is manifested in simple living. Wisdom shows up in people who aren’t overly attached to anything in their lives, don’t horde what they have and are willing to share.

Wisdom is manifested in acts of compassion. Kindness to others, mercy and forgiveness, sacrificial acts for the welfare of others - these are all symptoms of wisdom.

Interestingly enough, when Jesus taught his disciples about wisdom, he placed a little child on his knee and announced: “Here is what wisdom looks like.”  If we are to be wise we must have the mind of a little child. The fact is that you can’t actually pursue wisdom like you would pursue a college degree; rather you seek wisdom by having an open heart and an uncluttered mind.  You seek wisdom by being as innocent as a little child - looking at each moment of every single day as if you are seeing it for the very first time.

Author and teacher, David Bentley Hart, once explained wisdom in this way:

Wisdom is the recovery of innocence.
It is the ability to see again what most of us have forgotten how to see.

In these days before Christmas, perhaps the best way I can seek after wisdom is simply to look at the example of a little child who sees the lights on a Christmas tree and wonders in delight at all the beauty the world has to offer - what a great picture of wisdom.


  1. Dear Paul...
    Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the possibility that I may come across as arrogant (By no means the first time - I assure you! LOL) I believe I can offer you what I believe wisdom to be.
    And it all starts with knowledge.
    And not just any knowledge, either.
    I AM NOT talking about acquiring information - very tom dick and harry can get all the information they want in school and in the internet - this means they may have vibrant memories - by no means does it means they are knowledgeable or wise.
    To know is to do.
    Knowledge is as simple as that - we learn through our experiences - both outer and inner.
    Obviously, there are different kinds and categories of knowledge, however, in my humble opinion, the most significant and profound knowledge is self-knowledge. This is what I believe Jesus was alluding to in your anecdote above. Children haven't been warped enough to know fear. As such, they don't know how to act BUT AS THEMSELVES! This innocence personifies wisdom.
    To be wise requires knowledge - there's absolutely no question of that. But wisdom comes in when one knows when and how to apply that knowledge.
    Regards..... Z

    1. Yes, very fine insights..I wonder if our emphasis on "children" at this season of the year is because we so desire a deeper wisdom.