It started innocently enough. Just a cursory glance at my inbox for an email I was expecting. But then I clicked on a Labor Day shopping offer that just seemed too hot to pass up…which turned into a thorough research project on, you guessed it, the best high-altitude camping tents, and the reading of no less than three blogs on navigating the world’s highest peaks, a Web-MD debriefing on the tell-tale signs of high-altitude sickness, and the most nutrient rich foods by weight. And by the time that this unplanned, two-hour internet session had come to a close, I had very little to show for it beyond strained eyes and some intriguing facts about mountain goats (they can jump 12 feet in a single leap!?). I had been sucked into the void. But what can I say, you know how these things go—just another typical day in the age of information.
You and I presently live in a time where we have more access to information than any other generations before us. Wanna’ know what the weather’s like today in coldest town on earth? Just enter Yakutsk, Siberia into your weather app. Curious about how your friend’s daughter is adjusting to her first year of college? Check out the pictures on her Facebook profile. Want to impress your dinner company with the perfect home-made macarons. Rest assured, my friends, Pinterest has you covered.
We have access to almost anything we want to know, literally, at the touch of a few buttons. But somewhere in the midst of the DIY projects, 24-hour TV news cycles, and top tips for keeping your hair shiny, it seems to me that we’ve become distracted from that which is truly important in our living. We’re inundated by information and knowledge and yet, ironically, we are paralyzed by it, highly anxious about it, intellectually lethargic because of it, and impulsive in our consumerism (mountaineering tents, anyone)? And with all this information and a Google-estimated average lifespan of just under 700,000 hours, we are in desperate need of something that can curate our experience; something that can help us navigate the chaos and clutter of the world. We require something that can speak to our purpose; something that could help us in aligning our paths with what God intends for our lives. Tell me, where is true wisdom when we need it?
It was the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, who suggested that wisdom begins in wonder. Poet Christian Wiman wrote, “Wonder is the precondition for all wisdom.”1 And the sacred text that we know as the book of Proverbs says it this way: “The fear [or perhaps better translated the wonder and awe] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Our belief in a sovereign and gracious God is rooted in this overwhelming sense of surprise and admiration that we call wonder. I don’t normally make it a habit to quote the dictionary, but The Oxford English Dictionary has a delightfully succinct definition for wonder. It says wonder is “a state of bewildered curiosity.” I love that! When was the last time you felt this bewildered curiosity? What impact did it have on you?
Bill Brown, Old Testament professor, has written at length about his concern that the community of faith has surrendered wonder to the age of information. He says,
“What’s more, we tend to think of wonder as immature. Somehow, we adults have deluded ourselves into thinking that wonder is reserved only for children. Wonder is something we outgrow, to be replaced by knowledge and wisdom. But the thing is: wisdom has everything to do with sustaining a sense of wonder… Put simply, wonder is what takes your breath away and gives it back. In common with all experiences of wonder is what wonder does to the one who experiences it: wonder places you on the boundary between fear and fascination, between awe and inquiry, between perplexity and curiosity.”2
What takes your breath away and gives it back? What places you on that boundary between fear and fascination? For the Psalmist, it was the incredible power of God revealed in the extraordinary beauty of creation: fire and hail, snow and frost and stormy wind…mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars…wild animals and all cattle…” The list goes on and on, beginning and ending with words of gratitude for God’s creation. This gratitude, like wisdom, is born in awe and wonder of God’s creation.
This week, we dive into the liturgical season known as CREATIONTIDE. It’s a season for reflecting on God as Creator and on God’s good creation. And one of the things that sticks out to me in the Bible is how often creation is named as embodying the wisdom of our Creator God. Jesus was always pointing at nature to illustrate faithful living. He asked folks to observe the lilies of the field, or about what it means to lose life then gain newness of it, by observing the process that a grain of wheat undergoes. The Apostle Paul fleshed out what it meant to be the body of Christ by naming how a real body functions. Scripture is crammed full of holy wisdom that is drawn from God’s created order. And so today we launch into this Creationtide series on journey to seek the wisdom in creation. We’ll be looking at biblical stories that draw upon creation to teach us something about God’s ways and how we might faithfully embody that wisdom in our own lives.
In our scripture passage this morning, we heard directly from none other than Lady Wisdom herself. The sacred text known as Proverbs was written under the authorship of the wise king, Solomon, to one of his sons, both as a manual on leadership best practices, but also on how to find a virtuous wife. And while most of the Book of Proverbs feels like a long list of fortune cookie saying and snippets of advice that we might find on the internet, a closer examination reveals the presence of an image that dominates and frames the entire book. That image is the personification of wisdom.
As we read along, we come to understand the young princess’s search for a virtuous woman as a metaphor in our own search for the virtuous woman known as Lady Wisdom. Here wisdom is named not as a rule book or a tradition passed down by elders, but as a living presence that is on the scene before any other of God’s creation came to be. Lady Wisdom says
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago… When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep… then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight.”
One is reminded of the opening lines of John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God,” in the beginning. The writer of Proverbs claims that wisdom, is like a maiden that God created to care for creation, long before we humans showed up on the scene. She is an animating voice, older than the mountains and seas, that glories in the logic and guidance of our Creator God. And she is not just a side character in the story of our faith for she speaks words of grave importance us. She says, “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death. (Ps 8:35-36).” In other words, seeking wisdom is not an auxiliary task, but a matter of finding abundant life or flirting with death.
The good news for us is that Lady Wisdom goes on to invite any and all with an equal opportunity to share in her divine direction and with no price tag. Proverbs makes it clear that she is not selling a secret or starting a school exclusively for monks and mystics. Her offer’s not only for the smartest of us or the aspiring philosopher. It is for anyone who is willing to heed her call. Whomever will listen to her announcement—they are the ones that will receive the gift of her divine direction that she has been sharing since the dawn of time. Wisdom invites whoever has eye to see and ears to hear her call.
But we do live in the age of information. And there are many voices that call out to us, vying for our attention. And the louder we turn up the TV or the phone and surround ourselves with information that we know already tells us what we want to hear, the less use we have for the voice that called Jesus into the wilderness and sustains the path of the wise. When we become invested solely in those things which we humans have created, we miss the voice of wisdom calling from within God’s creation.
You know, these days we’re always being told that nature is good for us and that we should spend more time in its company for the sake of our health. But what’s not pushed enough is that nature is extremely important to us as a source of nourishment for our souls. The Celts spoke of two sacred books: the little book which is the Bible, and the big book, which is God’s sacred word in creation. And when we open our eyes to the wonder in God’s creation, we find its pages are filled with wisdom. In the cathedral of the wild, we hear Lady Wisdom calling.
Many indigenous American tribes, even some who call this area home, have passed along wisdom and stories to their youth that they experienced as having been received from the natural order. From eagles, rivers, and the changing seasons. And the future of their tribes had to protect this wisdom passed down as more vital than the next hunt or harvest. A tradition of wisdom was necessary to guard the next generation from folly, greed and violence with others. The Ute nation makes use of a prayer that includes these words3:
“Earth teach me quiet, as the grasses are still with new light. Earth teach me suffering, as old stones suffer with memory…Earth teach me caring, as mothers nurture their young…Earth teach me freedom, as the eagle that soars in the sky. Earth teach me acceptance, as the leaves that die each fall. Earth teach me renewal, as the seed that rises in the spring…”
And I don’t have any problem with the understanding that wisdom is like a soft voice, woven into the created order; speaking to us beyond language, whispering insights to us like the dew that falls upon grass. In fact, what we see around us might be as clear as an answer as we get from the Great Comforter and Counselor, Lady Wisdom.
But she will not force us to heed her call. In fact, it is the case that our way of living and operating as a people and as a society is daily proving to be disrespectful in many ways to the rest of God’s creation and the wisdom therein. And if we don’t take stance of respect and care for the earth a place on which we are only guests for a short while, we might lose these lessons the earth has to teach us. And then what good would it be in speaking of the majesty a lily or the great might of the cedars of Lebanon if there are none remaining.
When we carry a respect for God’s creation around us and invite ourselves to see it with the wonder and awe that inspires us to recall our Creator, we place ourselves in a position to glean its wisdom. When we are intentional about observing the dew that perches on the blades of grass, we expose ourselves to a lesson on the value and beauty of the little and passing things. When we see the unhurried motions of three-toed sloth, we receive an invitation to slow and calm our own lives from our frantic pace. When we meditate on the enduring qualities of granite mountains, which operate on a timeline wildly out of proportion to our own, we are imparted with the wisdom that everything that preoccupies us will eventually fall away. When we stare up into a star-lit sky, we are offered the much-needed and humbling perspective that in their company we are not the center of the universe. There is wisdom in God’s creation, and when we approach it with awe and wonder, it is enough to make wise ones of us all.
So here, in the midst of a beautiful Labor Day weekend with lovely weather, here’s my invitation to you: why don’t you go take a hike? Get away from the world of your own making. Be filled with bewildered curiosity at what you experience. Let the awe and wonder of God’s creation take your breath away and give it back. Sit out and watch a sunset with reverence—let it be your teacher. Take a prayerful moment in the morning to look out a window and give thanks for the gift of what you see there. Because there is wisdom there and she’s calling to you through the white noise of our living. “Who will hear my voice?” she asks. And our answer will depend, in part, on whether or not we take the time stop and smell the roses.
1 Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.
2 William P. Brown, Lost in Wonder, Found in Wisdom. Eerdmans, 1996.
3 “Earth, Teach Me,” is an anonymously written prayer attributed to the Ute Nation