I have a riddle for you. Imagine walking to an appointment or to do some shopping and coming across someone you know looking out into an open field. It includes a few trees, say, or perhaps it’s part of a farm or a section of land inside the city set aside for community gardens. Your friend is just looking, quite intently, and without realizing what you are doing you pause and watch. Your friend keeps right on looking. You look at the field and don’t see anything particularly newsworthy. It’s a field. There are a few birds, I’ve already mentioned the trees, and though some of it has been carefully cultivated, parts are quite wild. A shopkeeper from across the way happens by and comments about your friend, “They’ve been there for hours, you know. Came two days last week, too.” The shopkeeper shakes their head and walks on. Your friend is not a biologist, and has no stake personally in this piece of land. They are simply looking very intently at a field.
Here is the riddle: what are they doing?
Of course, there are many possible answers. They might be taking a break from a busy day doing something they find deeply relaxing. They might be thinking about something that has nothing to do with the field but that requires a quiet place where they won’t be interrupted. Since I’m a product of the Sixties, one possibility that comes to mind is that they might be stoned. They might be overwhelmed by secret guilt and are trying to convince themselves not to commit suicide. They might be secretly lazy, this being merely one manifestation of their ability to waste enormous chunks of time. They might… we could, no doubt, fill out the list of possibilities endlessly.
If our minds and imaginations are shaped by the ancient writings of the Bible, however, one possibility should have come instantly to mind. It is possible they are gaining wisdom.
Jesus told his followers to spend time watching birds, considering flowers, and looking at the grass (Matthew 6:25-30). If we did, he said, we would learn something important about ourselves and about God. Solomon “saw” and “considered” and “looked” at a field, and as a result “received instruction” (Proverbs 24: 30-32) that in turn caused him to write a proverb (33-34). When his wisdom was described, his expertise on trees, animals, birds, reptiles, and fish is included in the list (1 Kings 5:33). After Job had lost his family, his wealth, and his health, gone through more loss and grief than I can imagine, suffered so much, God had him stand still and look at the creation (Job 38-41) so that the deepest questions of his heart could find an answer. The Hebrew psalmist David, perhaps when he was out alone caring for his father’s sheep, looked up at the sky and learned of God (Psalm 19:1). St Paul argued that moral responsibility was inescapable because human beings were creatures in a creation that revealed enough about God that order and a sense of right was the only possible sane conclusion (Romans 1:18-32).
“There is a way that nature speaks, the land speaks,” Native American environmentalist Linda Hogan says. “Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
Remember my riddle about finding a friend staring at a field? My point—my regret, actually—is not that we don’t take the time to do what they were doing—and that is a great loss—but that when we needed to guess what they were doing we probably did not immediately think, “Of course! They are gaining wisdom.” At least I did not. I am so captivated by my culture’s fixation (the biblical term is idolatry) on productivity and efficiency that the notion seems strange, if not wrong.
Which only goes to show how much I need wisdom.
Source: Linda Hogan in The Sun (September 2010) page 48.