Theresa F. Latini
Warm summer evenings have arrived here in Minneapolis, and I’ve been enjoying outdoor meals on my deck. One recent evening an array of birds serenaded my daughter, niece, and me as we enjoyed our food. The caw of crows, tweets of cardinals, trill of red winged blackbirds, and the pattering of woodpeckers presented themselves. Time stood still as we listened to two chickadees perched high above us. One would call, “Hey Sweetie,” and another would respond in kind, “Hey Sweetie.” One joyful call begot another again and again. We could relish these moments, because, at least in part, we sat quiet enough and long enough to notice.
Not unlike the chickadees in my backyard, Wisdom calls out to us, and the wise respond in kind: by calling out and seeking wisdom’s many gifts. This mutual calling is exemplified in the end of the first chapter and beginning of the second chapter of Proverbs. They are worth a full read.
One of the first things to notice is the echo in these texts. Wisdom calls and cries and raises her voice. Wisdom stretches out her hand inviting us to take hold and to clasp our fingers around hers. Wisdom’s openness begets ours, so that we can cry out, raise our voices, and search for wisdom. The pattern is one of reciprocity with Wisdom taking the initiative. So that it is her call echoed in ours.
Who is Wisdom?
Wisdom is personified as a woman throughout the first nine and the last chapter of Proverbs. She points the way to life. She is a central character in the creation of the world. She creates order out of chaos, brings life of out nothingness. This is what the New Testament authors and theologians pick up on when they describe Jesus, the Word of God, as the Wisdom of God.
Where is Wisdom?
Proverbs locates Wisdom in the heart of a noisy, crowded city. Where are the idyllic green pastures that foster stillness and support solitude? Are not these the conditions under which wisdom is cultivated? As the director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, I think about the marsh and prairie and woods as cradles of wisdom. Proverbs reminds us that cities are also places where wisdom speaks. Through neighborhood kids and their parents. Through strangers at parks. Through protests in the streets. And happy throngs at festivals.
Wisdom speaks in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life. She doesn’t require the cessation of activity but rather she requires that we pay attention in the midst of work, while running to doctors and eating out at restaurants, when going to church and all sorts of venues.
At the intersections of life, Wisdom asks us to slow down and listen and reflect and live with intentionality.
After 15 months of slowing down, even shutting down, Wisdom might ask us: how will you return? What have you learned this past year that you do not want to lose? What have you set aside that you no longer want to pick up?
What does Wisdom say and do?
Wisdom beckons. Wisdom shouts. Wisdom calls and cries out in the midst of communal crisis: seek knowledge and understanding; be prudent (self-disciplined and thoughtful); and above all, live together in righteousness, justice, and equity so that all may flourish.
Wisdom expresses her frustration and indignation with those who fail to listen, those who ignore her even as she shouts at the top of her lungs in their presence. Being ignored is infuriating. Ask any parent who has to repeat themselves over and over and over again. Or anyone whose life partner refuses to contribute to their needs in a particular way. Or anyone whose has been denied basic rights in our society. Being ignored in this way is deadly not only for the ones trying to be heard but also for the ones doing the ignoring.
Wisdom promises us ease, security, and the absence of dread of disaster. This is not to say that disaster won’t strike or suffering won’t come. It most likely will, in one form or one another, at some point in our lives. Because it rains on the just and the unjust. The “just,” that is, those who live in right relationship with God, neighbor, and the earth, are not paralyzed by fear. Trust upholds them. Hope inspires them. Love anchors them in the most brutal storms of life.
How might we respond to Wisdom’s promises?
It’s simpler than we think. LISTENING to God, wise mentors and authors, and to the cries of other human beings in need. PRAYING for knowledge and understanding in daily life. DESIRING wisdom. Desire propels along the path of wisdom.
Desire is a term we rarely use in churches today. Either because we have been taught that desires tend to be “bad” or “illicit” or “unhealthy.” Or because our faith is too tame, too domesticated. We fail to connect faith with the deepest longings of our hearts and minds and bodies.
This listening, seeking, and desiring are ultimately responses to Wisdom’s initiative. Our task is to hear, receive, and respond. Divine Wisdom does the rest. This is the grace that frees us to rest in God. Wisdom awakens the desire in us to begin with, gives us words in scripture to guide our prayerful response, and then gives us what we need to live well. Wisdom gives us insight so that we can act, in any variety of life circumstances or relational contexts, with thoughtfulness, clear and accurate judgment (assessment), fairness, resourcefulness, creativity, and cheer. Yes, cheer.
Cheerfulness flows from Wisdom. Such cheer is not superficial but rather an overflow of joy that comes from intentionally living in ways that contribute to truth, beauty, and goodness. Cheer comes from uplifting speech, from acts of kindness given and received, from sharing in the pleasantness of friendship, from witnessing our children (spiritual and biological alike) exude one’s most cherished values, and from the knowledge that, even in our failure, we have sought to contribute to personal and communal flourishing.
This reminds me again of the chickadees in my south Minneapolis backyard: calling out with cheerful delight. May we, too, join in that joyful and responsive song. May we be a people who love Wisdom and take pleasure in God’s Wisdom wherever it is found and however it calls out to us.
This blog is a shortened version of the Sunday radio program, Faith Alive, posted on June 20. To listen to the full program, visit Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church.
Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).