Wisdom Cries Out
by Alison Willis
Wanting to grow in understanding and wisdom in 2018? A metaphor I often use when teaching or lecturing is that of climbing a mountain. At the base of the mountain the trek ahead can seem overwhelming, and one often feels like it is impossible to see where you’re going. The best way to climb an intimidating mountain is with a guide, someone who has been this way before. That person can assure you that the climb is possible, prepare you for the challenges and point out the highlights. As you begin to climb higher, and get on top of the knowledge, things start to become clearer, much like moving up the mountainside. However, it is not until you are at the top of the
mountain that your understanding can be circumspect – everything comes together and you are able to view the subject with 360° perspective. You’re on top of it.
When I visited northern Canada and Alaska in 2014, I was surrounded by the biggest mountains I had ever seen. They gave me a fresh understanding of understanding.
There are levels of “understanding.” No surprises here. We have all received academic grades. But on the flip side, there are also levels of “foolishness.” We don’t talk about this so much; foolishness is not so cool.
Levels of understanding and foolishness are clearly described in the ancient proverbs and wise sayings written by King Solomon around 1000BC.
Here are his levels of understanding in ascending order:
• Knowledge – the acquisition of ideas, measures, symbols, principles, etc.
• Understanding – the ability to view circumspectly.
• Wisdom – a comprehensive understanding; the ability to synthesise multiple
bodies of knowledge. Wisdom comes from listening, observing, research, and
Here are the levels of foolishness articulated by Solomon in descending order:
• Simplemindedness – naivety or immaturity.
• Foolishness – an arrogant refusal to learn or give heed to warnings.
• Mockery – an egotistic rejection of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, portraying oneself as superior by scoffing at others’ efforts to learn and take risks. A scoffer laughs at the failures and successes of others.
Wisdom is found in everyday life. She is woven into the systematic organisation of natural systems and the patterns of human behaviours. She is positioned in the middle of the throng, in the most obvious places. She is speaking if we listen.
“Do you hear Wisdom calling?
Can you hear Insight raising her voice?
She’s taken her stand at First and Main,
at the busiest intersection.
Right in the city square
where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,
“You—I’m talking to all of you,
everyone out here on the streets!
Listen, you idiots—learn good sense!
You blockheads—shape up!
Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well,
I’m telling you how to live at your best…”
(Proverbs 8:1-6 The Message interpretation).
The old adage, the more I learn the more I realise I do not know, rings true of wisdom. Paradoxically, that is what makes wisdom so wise. A wise person is well positioned to draw conclusions, pass comment or make judgments, and yet is tempered by the acknowledgement of shortcomings. Conceding one’s misgivings and limitations opens the ear of learning, and thereby wisdom grows. The development of wisdom through humility almost defies logic.
Dwelling amongst the grandeur of creation in Alaska and Canada, I felt dwarfed by Wisdom. So much was beyond my comprehension, and yet Wisdom called, beckoned, cried out. I just had to pause long enough to listen to her. Here is a prayer that I penned in my travel journal. If it resonates, you are welcome to adapt it and make it your prayer too:
God, help me to more fully understand that there are no limits to your favour. You are demonstrating this in the majestic landscapes of Alaska, speaking, whispering to my heart: “I am for you, more than you know.” Help me to believe it.