This fall I am teaching a study from Labor Day to Thanksgiving on Christian wisdom. I have been intrigued by various reactions to this topic as it has come up in the recent past. “I am teaching a class on Christian wisdom… “
“So, you are going to teach on Proverbs?” “No, I am going to teach on wisdom. Proverbs is a part of the conversation, but by no means does our understanding or need of wisdom end there.
“Why don’t you just teach on obedience to God? Wouldn’t that cover the same territory?” “Well, I don’t think so. Wisdom has her eyes on God, but she is also focused on living in the world in a specific time and place, and offering a particular invitation in a recognizable tone of voice.”
“Why do you call wisdom a ‘she’? “Besides Mary and the church, wisdom is the predominant feminine presence in the scriptures. I think that matters.
”I’m teaching this class because I need to know wisdom better, and my particular vocation is to learn as I study and dialogue over an extended period of time. I want to embrace this topic because I keep encountering the God who promises that if we ask him for wisdom, we will receive wisdom (James 1:5). Because there is fullness of life in the moments when I have received this kind of wisdom for today. And finally, because nothing tastes this good and I live in a world with a dreadfully indiscriminate palate for goodness.”
Many years ago I found this thought on the cover of Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues. Quoting Bernard of Clairvaux, “The man is wise who tastes all things as they really are.” The further I get into this journey of life lived as honestly as I can with God, myself and the world, the more I appreciate these words.
Over the years I have learned very rudimentary principles of wine tasting. I can now tell the difference between a good white wine and a cheap one. I, of course, prefer the better one with the higher price tag. I wouldn’t call that wine wisdom, it’s basic wine knowledge, a bit of wine experience. But last spring I experienced a different kind of tasting. I stayed in a cabin with surprisingly delicious tap water. I couldn’t get enough of it. I found myself remembering (as though I ever knew) what “thirsty” and “thirst quenched” meant. I tasted something I hadn’t tasted for years, if ever, yet it was strangely familiar. And I knew there was something special about this water that was uniquely satisfying before I learned of its mountain spring source.
Christian wisdom has similar attributes. In those moments when we are in-graced with a convergent glimpse at God’s heart, our own desires and others’ needs, we taste the way before us with a unique clarity that lies beyond ourselves, and yet enables us to be fully alive and present to our world. That rare quality is well worth tasting.