The threads of wisdom tightly woven into the diverse fibers of our religious traditions reflect the seasoning of cultures, communities, struggling souls, and sages across the ages. This network of wisdom-webbing does not belong exclusively to any singular tradition, institution, caste, or class. Indeed, we do not own wisdom; rather, it captivates and entangles us.
Unlike laws and rules, wisdom provides nuance and ambiguity, introduces us to mystery, encourages the search for deeper investigation, and is averse to singular interpretation or restrictive, hard-edged regulation. Proposing a listening posture, wisdom allows us to expose our core to a more complex relationship with realities, whose ramifications persistently remain far beyond the reach of our comprehension.
We recognize wisdom because it rings true; it reverberates and resonates with our lived experience. Unlike information, which comes and goes with time and tide, wisdom is a wild, evolving perception, infinitely bigger than us. And, like all things untamable, we might approach, but never quite grasp it, for the currency of wisdom is mystery. Not to be confused with a puzzle or conundrum, mystery is, by definition, utterly unsolvable. Mysteries draw us in, capture and confound, and gift us with humility and awe. To make room for mysterious wisdom, we first must loosen our grip on information by entertaining that more demanding question: What might this mean?
Wisdom speaks of and leads to a bigger picture, a deep-seated awareness of wholeness, a sense of oneness, and interconnection.
Amid confusion and division, wisdom presents parables and paradoxes to undermine our defensive bulwarks and help us get over ourselves. In this way, it opens the door to other levels of learning. Though we can transcribe teachings, define and decipher certain applications, underline insights, and commit text to memory, these merely help us recall details but do not necessarily lead to understanding and integration.
In contrast to typical methods of memorization, wisdom traditions propose heart-learning: fostering prayerful, attentive presence with a receptive approach to life. This is the opposite of posturing and pretending. Referred to as a “contemplative stance,” this attitude is often misplaced as the counterpoint to active engagement in the tending and mending justice-work of ministry. This contemplative attitude is indeed less concerned with rules or resolutions and more inclined toward the motivations of heart.
However, it also encompasses a way of doing, a necessary quality of presence-in-action that nourishes, inspires, and moves us toward deeper engagement with the details, dramas, and distresses of living.
Wisdom neither distracts nor liberates us from our responsibility toward the personal and global struggles and troubles of our time. Taking a longer view, offering a wider angle, it lets us hold, behold, and appraise these difficulties differently, motivating us to mine our tribulations for the graces and lessons hidden therein.