This week, we were all treated to an act in the House of Commons that Green Party leader Elizabeth May accurately deemed to be “unwise.” Irritated by voting delays in the house around the country’s controversial and landmark assisted dying legislation, our Prime Minister marched across the floor, where a group of NDP MPs were crowding around the Opposition Whip, reached his arm past them to grab the Whip and pull him through. In the process, he jostled – or elbowed – depending, it seems on your politics, a female NDP MP, who left the house and missed the vote. Shouting ensued. Angry debate followed. The Prime Minister apologized but was told, sternly, by the Speaker that “manhandling” fellow members of the House was not allowed. It was unprecedented.
How to explain that one to our kids? Surely this is a good test for all us. Some grown-ups were messing around – “mischief” as Ms. May called it – and the Prime Minister got angry. Instead of taking a pause, he intervened, and one of the participants in the “mischief” was bumped. But certainly this looked like an accident. Ms. May who had a clear view, and can be considered, arguably, the most objective observer in this area, thought it was. In the real world, apologies would happen, people would be miffed, and the focus would return to the real business of the day. But this, we would have to tell our children, is politics. Reason and perspective often gets trumped in the chance to score points. Wisdom is often left standing at the gate.
This is where our first lesson places Wisdom, standing outside the town, calling to be heard. But more than that, we are told that wisdom was there from the beginning – present with God at the Genesis of the world, created as one of God’s first steps. “When God marked out the foundations of the earth,” wisdom was “beside God, like a master worker.” She – and wisdom is a feminine presence in proverbs – was God’s “daily delight,” rejoicing in our “inhabited world.” And yet, we see her standing on the fringe, calling to each one of us.”
It may often be suggested that faith is for the foolish, that religion is for the blind, and yet here, in Proverbs we are told the exact opposite. Not only does God call us to seek to be wise people, but wisdom is ranked as one of God’s first companions. Faith is not in conflict with wisdom, it is, in fact, fed by it. Listen to what is the first lesson saying: when we achieve moments of wisdom we are, in fact, closest to God.
So what does wisdom look like: certainly, it appears as patience – something not in evidence on Wednesday in the House of Commons. It shows up when, in the midst of emotions, we pause to consider our next steps. It appears when we are able to reflect on the perspective of others, to see the story behind the obvious narrative. There is line I have heard, “to hurry is an anathema to love”. Certainly I see this in my own family, when we are late and rushing to school, or whatever activity. Doesn’t this apply in all we do? When we rush – to conclusions, to judgment, to the easy answer – that is when we make mistakes happen. That is when wisdom is left calling to us, unheard from the gates.
Earlier this week, President Obama gave the commencement speech at Rutgers University. His principal message was this: “In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.” As the president put it: “It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not ‘challenging political correctness.’ It’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”
Isn’t wisdom the very opposite of this? Wisdom is the act of finding out what we don’t know, and of knowing what we don’t know. That requires listening, and searching – wisdom doesn’t fall on our laps – we must go intentionally to the gates and let her in. As people of faith, we are called to be educated, to seek knowledge, to build opinions based on the facts. And then we have one more step: we are guided by the gospel, to look more deeply, to see where the facts need to be changed, where reality needs to move, where tolerance and justice should prevail.
We might call wisdom the Holy Spirit – the voice that makes known to us the gospel on earth. We are not left bereft – waiting for Jesus, or watching for signs of God. We have the Holy Spirit – the presence of wisdom, woven through the gospel, and that continues to stay with us. This is not a weak replacement for the divine, or a third stand in. As Jesus says, this is the “spirit of truth” who will glorify Jesus and take what is his, and declare it to us. It is upon us to listen, as clearly as we would if God or Jesus was speaking to us.
So what must we do, on behalf of wisdom? We must be patient, to wait for the truth to reveal itself. We must remain hungry for knowledge – not settle for the sound of our own words, which will drown wisdom out. The gospel is not leading us on a fool’s errand; it reveals the path to wisdom. Let us walk down it, and open the gates, and let her in to be heard.