Wisdom CallsPosted: May 26, 2013
SLIDE 3: HOLY SPIRIT – WISDOM – FEMININE
Sometimes the ways of the Lectionary are mysterious. Like why jump from the story of Pentecost to Proverbs? Actually our scripture this morning makes sense. In ancient Hebrew Wisdom was a feminine noun associated with the Holy Spirit. So even with ancient Israel’s patriarchal God, there was a feminine side to the image of the divine.
SLIDE 4: WISDOM CREATED FIRST
In the text Wisdom is conceived of as the first act of creation: “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”
The early church coupled this passage with the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” to provide the foundation for the concept of the Trinity. Wisdom in this Proverbs passage is divine.
SLIDE 5: WISDOM IS IT SMARTS?
So what is wisdom? Is it intelligence, smarts? Or is wisdom something more? There is a humorous story about the difference between smarts and wisdom.
A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down and there were only three parachutes but four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one of the parachutes and jumped out of the plane.
The computer whiz said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one of the parachutes and jumped out of the plane.
The minister turned to the Boy Scout with a sad smile and said, “You are young and I have lived a full life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”
The boy Scout said, “Relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just picked up my backpack and jumped out of the plane!
SLIDE 6: DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SMART AND WISE
I think Michael Piazza in a recent devotion helps us to wrap our minds around the difference between smart and wise:
If I found a genie in a bottle that had only one wish left to grant, I don’t think I’d ask to be as smart as my two smartest friends. They are amazing people and great assets to the universe. If I had only one wish, though, I’d ask the genie to make me as wise as my wisest friend.
SLIDE 7: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
It has taken me a lot of miles and years to really understand the difference between being smart and being wise. If I had to choose, like Solomon, I’d ask God to make me wise. This friend has the emotional intelligence to read what is really happening inside of people and to assess things without judgment or condemnation.
SLIDE 8: COMPASSION
He said recently about someone, “He has no core. He isn’t a bad person, but he doesn’t really know who he is, and, worst of all, he doesn’t know he doesn’t know. He can’t be vulnerable and open because he has no idea what’s on the inside.” This was spoken with great tenderness and compassion. Me, I would have been judgmental and critical.
Maybe that is the key. Next time I’m tempted to respond negatively to someone, I should stop acting like I’m smart enough to know enough to judge. Perhaps if I paused long enough to ask for wisdom, I might be able to see the truth with my heart, and I suspect my response would be more like Jesus. Come to think of it, Jesus is, after all, the wisest person I know.
SLIDE 9: HUMILITY
Wisdom is a wonderful mixture of intelligence, humility and compassion. This past week as the awesome force of nature devastated Moore, Oklahoma, I was reminded of the importance of humility and compassion. Having humility in the face of the awesome power of nature like Job before the whirlwind: Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements — surely you know!
SLIDE 10: SHARED SUFFERING MADE US KINDER MORE HELPFUL
In the face of the vastness of the universe and the power of nature we are like dust on the scales. The tornado also reminds me of the importance of compassion. Remember two years ago in April of 2011, when an outbreak of tornados wrecked several paths of destruction across Alabama? Most of us in this congregation were only mildly inconvenienced by a lack of power for several days, but did you notice that in the shared suffering people in general were kinder and more helpful? And remember how many people turned out and gave their time and resources to help clean up and fix up after the storm? Shared suffering and humility help to bring out compassion in us.
SLIDE 11: SPIRITUAL PRACTICES INCREASE AWARENESS & COMPASSION
According to the book How God Changes Your Brain spiritual practices change our brains in ways that cultivate compassion and a contemplative perspective that leads to increased awareness and better judgment – both components of wisdom. Heightened awareness and a peaceful mind both contribute to prudence – appropriate caution in light of circumstances. Or as Will Rogers used to say, “Always drink upstream from the herd. And don’t squat with your spurs on.”
SLIDE 12: WISDOM IS GENEROUS
Although let me take a few moments to lift up the difference between prudence and parsimoniousness, thrift and miserliness. Wisdom is compassionate and therefore wisdom is generous. I am frugal. In fact my Scotts ancestry often motivates me to pinch the penny until Lincoln cries uncle. So I have to constantly remind myself that I have to open my hands to give with generosity in order to receive God’s blessings. Jesus was always clear if we give we will receive. If we try to hold on to our stuff or our money, pretty soon all we end up with is junk, or a pile of money that means nothing.
SLIDE 13: WISE TO FORGIVE
Forgiveness is also a part generosity and the wisdom of compassion. When we choose to hold onto a grudge, we harbor feelings that actually damage our brains and our immune systems. Dr. Fred Luskin, is director of Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project and author of Forgive for Good. Luskin is quick to emphasize that forgiving doesn’t mean condoning an offense, but he has found that letting go of a grudge can slash an individual’s stress level by up to 50 percent. Volunteers in his studies also have shown improvements in energy, mood, sleep quality and overall physical vitality. “Carrying around a load of bitterness and anger at how unfairly you have been treated is very toxic,” says Luskin. Forgiveness is not something we do for other people, we do it for ourselves. Once we stop giving other people free rent in our heads we can relax and allow our spiritual energy to flow freely, generously, wisely.
SLIDE 14: SPIRITUAL PRACTICES TO MAKE US WISE
Wisdom is nurtured by spiritual practices. According to brain scan studies reported in How God Changes Your Brain compassion appears to be related to the area in the brain called the anterior cingulate. “. . . our neurological heart appears to be in the anterior cingulate, a very small structure that sits at the center of an important communication junction between the frontal lobe (which initiates our thoughts and behaviors) and the limbic system (which processes a wide range of feelings and emotions). It helps to maintain a delicate balance between our feelings and our thoughts, and is the newest part in the evolutionary history of the brain. If you have a larger or more active anterior cingulate, you may experience greater empathy, and you’ll be far less likely to react with anger or fear.”
Through the wisdom of spiritual practices, meditation, prayer, worship, we can learn to interrupt our reactions of anger and fear in order to be more calm, compassionate, generous and forgiving. Remember the question we have asked over and over this Spring, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? We would become wise. So, join us then on Monday afternoons or Thursday evenings to learn how God can change our brains so we might become wise.