Gaining wisdom  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

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.

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More than ever, I think, we need to rediscover our backyards, state parks, etc. Time spent just watching water drops fall during a rainstorm is well worth it.

Birds that flock to the sunflowers in our garden. Lying in a hammock and simply listening to the sound that the leaves and grass make when the wind blows. Standing outside at night and listening.

We need to reconnect to creation.

October 18, 2010 at 10:08 AM

This brings up a good question for me, which I hope I can articulate. The first thing that came to mind for me is that the person was just admiring/considering the landscape. Of course, the picture helped. If I understand correctly, that is part of the answer, right?
This brings me to my question of sorts. In my mind, stopping and considering God's creation is part of my purpose as His own. In so doing, I am not worshiping creation, but considering Him, and His ways. The thing is, the scripture you cited didn't immediately come to mind. Is it that the scripture is just so ingrained in my heart, that it flows out naturally, or am I becoming Pantheistic? Well, that question is a little tongue in cheek. But, is it possible for scripture to be so much a part of us, that we often forget that we are following directives in scripture?

October 18, 2010 at 10:13 AM

If I'm not busy, I feel like I'm wasting time. I can't drive without having an audio book or message in my earbuds. I can't even watch TV without feeling like I'm wasting time during commercials, so I flip to the other channel to catch two minutes of the movie. Standing still and looking at a field for a long time? Not *doing* anything?? And *that's* the way of wisdom???

I wonder ...

October 18, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Denis, your article was timely for me as I have been meditating for several weeks on Zech 4.10 "Do not despise the day of small things." The context is superb considering the rebuilding of the temple (much smaller and primitive) compared to Solomon's glorious temple. Zerubbbel's discouragement led to the above verse. Your article "pairs" great with the first chapter in Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"- she talks about noticing and being aware of what God has placed aroundus - sometimes in the ordinary, what others may call "smallness" of paying attention. Getting away from the culture's "hurry sickness." Another resource is Billy Collins poem entitled "Detail." You can read it by searching Google. Thanks for the fresh application and encouragement to not "despise the day of small things" - you've added "gaining wisdom" to my learning and pointing to Jesus' words.

October 18, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Well said.
If we are fellow creatures within the rest of creation, then we lose something if we fail to connect with our natural habitat, with our fellows. I realize we are also more than that, bearing God's image, but we are not less.
I've wondered if the church shouldn't begin planning "retreats" where there would be no speaker, just mentors to help us be immersed in God's creation for a weekend. I wonder if many would attend?

October 18, 2010 at 10:41 AM

Excellent thing to have that come immediately to mind! It is part of the answer, because it is in the beauty, the form and order, the exquisite existence that God's glory shines forth.
And yes--I think it is the goal to have "canon sense." In the same way that common sense guides us "automatically" so canon sense means the Scripture is so deeply embedded in our hearts that our first reaction is the correct one.
We aren't pantheists as Christians, but correctly defined, we are panentheists.

October 18, 2010 at 10:47 AM

So hard to actually believe the truth, isn't it?
Like in the call to rest. Since the God of Scripture is the God who rested, only by resting can we demonstrate who God is before a watching world. Yet, resting is so hard.

October 18, 2010 at 11:10 AM

Thank you for this timely post. I have been feeling for weeks that I NEED to go to the National Park, but the tyranny of the mundane keeps me from taking the time to make that trip happen.

October 18, 2010 at 11:55 AM

I said something like that to a friend one time. They paused, thought about it, and then said, "My advice is the next time hesitation over planning that trip occurs you take it out behind the garage and kill it with an ax."

October 18, 2010 at 12:02 PM

Maybe they see something? A deer? A rare bird? Some other animal? Just relaxing their minds in order to be able to be creative? Lots of possibilities.

Cassandra, in my experience, artists enjoy it when their work is being appreciated. So that isn't pantheism ;-)

October 18, 2010 at 1:32 PM

...and what frightens me is that I might be tempted to not only think of this silently observant person as odd or even somehow wrong but, in fact, foolish...

In attempts at wisdom (i.e. managing, prioritizing, budgeting, streamlining, succeeding, producing) what a fool I so often am.

I'm headed out back with a cup of tea to "behold" (as Cal DeWitt says). Thanks for prompting the trip.

October 18, 2010 at 1:57 PM

i'm an intentional "urbanist" (yes, clunkily labeling myself) and this idea is so important to me. the accessibility of nature and space in which/through which to consider our selves and our God seems to be a very low priority for many in my world. having grown up with this luxury of sorts (accessibility that is), it's often hard for me to see my urban neighbors cringe when i talk about going to the mountains for the weekend (you should hear them when i hang a deer in my garage!). the idea of finding self, much less God, in the creation is so far from their minds. the din of the city seems to drown it out. i'm a proponent for the "blended" lifestyle. we must see the necessity of city centers and apply the gospel there, but we must also seek, as you say, "wisdom" in these natural places. since scripture so often employs nature to tell us what God is like, it behooves us to get to know Him through it (his "voice cracks the cedars!" holy cow!!). a constant view of man's reworking of nature just doesn't do! i'll be sitting on a 1 million year old rock in an old growth forest with my son tomorrow, and we will think of God and his relation to his creation in exciting ways. we will no doubt apply that to life in our urban neighborhood.

October 18, 2010 at 2:25 PM

What a great post! Without a connection to Creation we are flailing little souls that are disconnected from the source. We like to think that our connection to God somehow requires us to ponder him in man-made structures like churches and schools or our religious dogmas and systems. Or that we must rummage through books and studies (which are good of course). But sometimes we simply need to reflect on what God has made for us rather than what we have made for him. We need to dwell on the perfect life and balance of the natural world that is an expression of his perfection and beauty. Amen! Thanks for sharing

October 18, 2010 at 7:02 PM

I had the great joy of sending my husband off for a night's "solitude & silence". He went camping, and though he did not stare into a field, he found in his silence a deep awareness (of Presence).

The noises of creation almost screamed at him: leaves and acorns falling, as though crashing heavily in their plummet; squirrels rustling (he imagined a much heavier animal, until he spied their furry minuteness); his own breathing, deep and rhythmic, as he steadily smoked his glowing pipe. Though I did not participate in this retreat, I reaped great benefit from the knowledge that he was gaining much from it.

Sometimes being the friend who observes the watcher is enough to sow the seed of wisdom. For me, I realize I need rest and reflection, in little chunks and big, and I need to help give that gift to others. Thanks for the thoughts - a drop sending ripples out to stir and move through the rest of us.

October 18, 2010 at 8:01 PM

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~ Wendell Berry

October 18, 2010 at 10:24 PM

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