The Way Down Is The Way Up

Hi Everyone. My name is Lydia Shiu, my pronouns are she/they, I’m one of the pastors here. I’ll be sharing a few words with you today. Let me pray for us to get started. 

Holy and Loving God, I thank you that you have given us this day. We come into this place of worship from all different backgrounds and experiences. God, you have gathered us here to teach us and show us that you love each and every one of us uniquely and abundantly, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, what we’ve left undone. Help us to experience your presence with us even now, help us to see and feel your love, maybe through a word or a thought that hits us in a fresh new way. Bring new mercies to us this morning we pray, in Jesus name. Amen. 

It’s been a while since I’ve been up here. Last few months I’ve been leading a Bible Study with our youth group. We did deep dives into some Bible texts about Sodom and Gomorrah, and what they call the “clobber texts,” texts that have been used to hurt and suppress the LGBTQIA+ community, and texts about how nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

We discussed how the Bible has been translated and interpreted in many ways and how we are to engage and understand the Bible. It’s a big task, the Bible is a big book, but it was actually fun and interesting to learn and discuss these things together. I shared my testimony at some point, about the shame of graduating from college one semester late and how much that isolated me from my community, how I felt like a failure and alone. And how Jesus defending the sinful woman in front of the Pharisees resonated with me and felt like God was comforting me through it. Our young people listened at times with wide eyes, other times with boredom, not too different from here when you hear us preach, and they asked good questions like,

“why do you think the Bible included all that bad stuff?”

and

“do you think there are more blades of grass or grains of sand in the world?”

when we talked about God’s love being like the grains of sand.

I come to you today carrying our precious young people in our hearts. A new generation of post-iPhones, post-covid, tender, brilliant, courageous teens. I’m so proud of our church for being a church that not only welcomes, but fully affirms queer and non-binary kids. And I bring to us today a text that we read last week, on our last week of eight weeks together, that culminated to not just wrestling with the tough parts of the Bible, but getting to the core of the message of the Bible and what we’re doing here at church at all–that God loves us and is with us. 

I know we have been in the preaching series called Lives That Work, learning from the wisdom literatures, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and I bring to us today from the wisdom literature, the heavyweight champion, Psalms. Psalm 139, a fan favorite. We read this in the youth group together and the message carries to our young people, to y’all our old people and everyone in between. Because the Psalms express the expanse of the human condition in a candid conversations with God, from the “depths of need to heights of celebration,” it has become time and time again, one of the truest models and pictures of our own faith journeys. Yes, it’s got wisdom. 

What’s the difference between smarts and wisdom? What is wisdom and why is it so important? Well, many of us know how to be smart. We read. We learn. And most of the world is really good at teaching us what to do to make more money, be more efficient, how to be more productive, or climb the ladder of success, through university education or university of YouTube. But wisdom, wisdom is not so clear. The wise answer could often start with, “well that depends….” and follow up with a question. Even Proverbs, as pastor Steve has touched upon in other weeks, has lines that are not meant to be blanket statements but for us to consider with grains of salt applications. You can’t just take a line and apply it to all situations, like

“houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD.”

I mean… who are these parents they are talking about, get me one of those parents please. And I have nothing to say on the latter part of the phrase. 

Wisdom is not something you just learn. It’s something you live with and work out and try and feel through. Wisdom are things my mom said to me growing up, a thousand times like, rinse your mouth with water after you eat like this, “gargle gargle” and I’d be like “mom! You told me a hundred times!” And my English-as-a-second-distant-language would reply, “I know I know, I tell you a hundred times!” And these days I be like “gargle gargle” after meals cause crowns are expensive. 

Alright, that was all intro. Let’s get to the text to see what wisdom this text has for us.

Psalm 139:1-18

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

    Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

    and night wraps itself around me,”[a]

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is as bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15     My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

    all the days that were formed for me,

    when none of them as yet existed.[b]

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

    I come to the end[c]—I am still with you.

Walter Brueggemann in his book the Message of the Psalms would probably categorize this Psalm 139 as a Psalm of Disorientation. You see, Brueggeman categorizes the Psalms into 3 categories, Psalms of Orientation, Psalms of Disorientation, and Psalms of Reorientation. For example, I shared this last time I preached but that was like a million years ago, so here it is again, Psalm 1 says things like,

“Blessed is the human who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…they are like a tree planted by streams of water

(I’m re-translating from “man” to “human” and “he” to “they”)

which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do propers.”

That’s how we all start. The basics. Do this and you’ll get this. A simple equation for how life works. 

But then, you live a little and you see like in Psalm 73,

“I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.”

When we don’t see the world as we were taught, it confuses us. We were taught to be good kids. Do well in school. Get a college degree. Marry well and your life should work out just fine. The simple equation for how life should work. Maybe you even followed many of the Proverbs to the tee. But then a tragedy befalls and we’re like, but I did everything right.

  • Why did this happen to me? I didn’t smoke, how could I get cancer?
  • I was so devoted to him, how could he cheat on me?
  • I did everything for my parents, how could they give all their inheritance away?

I did everything right and I did not prosper.

And we scream at God,

how could you? You said if I just stay close to your water, my leaf will not wither, but look at this mess, withering!

Like a child, but you promised! Disorientation. 

The thing about wisdom literature I hate is that they never explain the disconnect. They don’t give an explanation for why the wicked prospers. The Bible does not have an answer to why humans suffer. Why do bad things happen to good people? Nobody knows. 

What is the Christian answer to our suffering and our disorientation? Our failures and our deep down in the pits? 

Bruggeman says this:

“The use of these “Psalms of darkness” may be judged by the world to be the acts of unfaith and failure, but the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God. Thus these psalms make the important connection: everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.”

It’s included. It belongs. Your suffering. The darkness. The disorientation. The edges. The end. The limits. At the depths. It’s all included. And it’s all God’s. There’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God. 

In the King James version (which is not a personal favorite as far as translations go but some parts of it are translated quite accurately), verse 12 says:

“12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.”

Which is slightly different from what we read earlier that said:

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is as bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light to you.

As if dark shouldn’t be dark and dark is bad and bright is good and actually darkness should be more like light. But King James says, the darkness does not hide and the night SHINES. And that light and dark are both alike to thee. I like you okay, King James!

I’ve been learning about the false dichotomy of dark and light that’s so ingrained in us, through Black Liturgies, an Instagram account that has really some beautiful prayers. In a Podcast by the Faith and Justice Network, the author of Black Liturgies Cole Arthur Riley talked about this thing she does. She said that once a month she goes without artificial light. So no phone, computer, lamp. Just the sun and the night. She does use candles a bit but she embraces that time before the sun comes up or as the sun goes down how the darkness changes and sits with how the darkness makes you feel. What an interesting practice right? 

In fact, I think what wisdom teaches us is that actually there in the darkness, we can find that God is there in the depths. 

Richard Rohr calls this

“the way down is the way up”

in his book called “Falling Upward.” You want to experience God? A spiritual height of growth and awakening? The way down is the way up.

He talks about this in the context of how in the first half of our lives we’re obsessed with upward mobility, growing up, achieving, accomplishing, doing it right. He says,

“First-half-of-life religion is almost always about various types of purity codes or “thou shalt nots” to keep us up, clear, clean, and together, like good Boy and Girl Scouts…” 

But that second half of life, it’s really about letting go. He says,

“Like skaters, we move forward by actually moving from side to side. I found this phenomenon to be core and central to my research on male initiation, and now we are finding it mirrored rather clearly in the whole universe, especially in physics and biology, which reveal one huge pattern of entropy: constant loss and renewal, death and transformation, the changing of forms and forces. Some even see it in terms of “chaos theory”: the exceptions are the rule and then they create new rules. Scary isn’t it?”

He calls it like a secret to life, that if we are not aware of this reality, this wisdom, the same thing that Jesus was saying,

“last shall be first,”

and one of my favorite verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10 says,

“it is when I am weak, that I am strong,”

if we don’t understand this parable, life will not work. Life will be even harder than the hard suffering itself. 

If we are unable to embrace this depth, darkness, disorientation, we will never find the reorientation gift that’s offered there. Another wisdom literature, the Ecclesiastes, tells us that there’s a season for everything.

“a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

You want lives that work? Go and learn what this means, as Jesus would say after he drops a doozy of a parable. It’s counterintuitive. It’s hella confusing. It’s extremely inconvenient frankly. But if you don’t invite the hard work and just keep saying, my life is fine, my life is fine, obsessed with optimizing our lives rather than losing it, (Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.), it will breakdown in the middle of the road at the most inconvenient time. 

What is the way-down invitation that God is showing you in your life right now? 

How can you release and open up that part of your life and say to God,

“Search me Lord, and know my heart?” 

How can you bring your darkness to light, or to put it in another way, invite God and invite others to be with and see you in the darkness?

Every time I pick up my kids midday, I go from bright sunlight outside to the dark classroom where they are napping. And when I first step in, at first it’s pitch black. I have to stop and not take another step cause I can’t see anything. I listen. There’s soft music playing, teachers cutting up some things for the next craft item. But the longer I stay there, my eyes adjust and I can see honestly everything. My daughter’s sleeping face. The kid that’s awake and staring at me. 

When you invite folks into your darkness, you’re giving them a gift. A gift to see the tenderness, the grace. It’s up to them if they are scared or uncomfortable, need to turn on any light in the room to make themselves feel better. But the good ones, good ones will just come and sit with you. And you’ll get to learn who the good ones are. 

I want to close with a poem that one of the youth group kids wrote. In the Bible study last week, we were quietly reflecting on the words for a full five minutes together in silence, and one of the students, Liv shared how verse 7-12 resonated with her. And as she shared, it included another one of my favorite verses there,

“if I make my bed in the depth, you are there.”

which was a verse that gave me such comfort during a time in my life where I was crying in bed a lot. And like a obnoxious cheezy pastor I started crying kind of uncontrollably and the kids are like, Uhhhhh, and so I had to explain myself and just started preaching at the teens like,

“look, if you don’t get anything out of the bible studies I did with y’all just know one thing, when you’re going through dark stuff, I hope you don’t but maybe you already have, but if you do, know God is there with you, okay? I hope when and if you ever feel alone, that you will be open to God’s voice saying, it’s okay, I love you!”

as I was blubbering about. That night Liv texted me this poem she wrote inspired by Psalm 139. She told me I could share with you all. 

“Where are you, God?”

Drowning in tears,

Surrounded by fears,

Trapped in my mind, 

Alone, confined.

At the edge of the sea,

Yet still, you see me, 

In a world stripped bare,

You’re always there,

I’m lost in the night,

God you are the light,

In every breeze, 

In the rustling leaves,

You whisper you care,

Because God, 

You are there,

You are there,

You are there. 

 

This girl knows what’s up. She’s falling upward. 

If life is not working out for you right now, I hope you know that even that, the not working out part, is God’s, it’s included, there, right there in the midst of your greatest downfall, God is there, meeting you, lifting you up. May we know deeply that my friend. Let me pray for us.

Emmanuel God with us, one who revealed the meaning of what it means for you to be with us through the life of Jesus, we thank you for the presence of your spirit with us and within. 

If Job Had a Therapist (Or Even a Few Good Friends)

So May is Mental Health Awareness month. I hadn’t realized that until a friend reached out and asked if we’d want to connect with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, who wanted to collaborate with faith communities on an awareness weekend.

I was so glad for this because our mental well-being matters to us, of course. And it matters to God and it matters to this faith community too. 

Last year we had this huge capital campaign for our 25th anniversary. You all were extraordinarily generous. You pledged over $1.4 million dollars in extra one-time giving to sustain the future of this church, the majority of which has already been given. Another big thank you to us all for that. 

Our biggest goal was to pay off all our old church debts from when we came into this property 20 years ago, and to discern some new ways our church could be a gift to us all and to our neighbors and our whole city, through some new ministry that would express our vision for God’s work of growing what we call beloved community. That’s a society of belonging, of love, of opportunity, wellness, and justice. An expression of Jesus’ vision for the commonwealth of God. 

And as you all pledged toward this campaign, we asked you what you’d like to see our church do more of, and quite a few of you mentioned mental health and wellness. So many that we have a working group right now exploring what our church can do to promote spiritual and mental wellness more broadly –for people that call Reservoir their church but also for our friends and neighbors and others in our city. We’re working on this again because your spiritual and mental well-being, and that of all your friends and neighbors matters to us and it matters to God. 

So I’m glad to be in this mental health awareness partnership today. We actually have two representatives here from the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Line. They’ll be in the dome with a whole bunch of helpful information about mental health and about a ton of mental health and recovery resources for us and for our communities. So stop by and say hi to them, ask questions, pick up resources if you like. 

And today, since we’re studying the old wisdom literature from the Hebrew scriptures, I want to introduce you or re-introduce you to the book of Job, where we meet a person who has experienced considerable trauma. And I want to ask,

What if Job had had a therapist? Or what if Job had even had a few decent friends?

Friends who weren’t therapists or experts on mental health, but maybe just knew the basics.

Job is a weird book. We’re pretty sure this is not history. It’s probably an old legend or fable that was expanded and written down by an intellectual living in Jerusalem like 2,500 years ago. 

The beginning has God making bets with some sort of Satan-type character, and the ending is basically like the very worst happy ending that anyone ever tried to slap onto a tragic story. So the very beginning and very ending, which were probably tacked on last, are kind of awful. But everything else in between is fascinating. We meet this man named Job, who is wrestling with an extraordinary amount of suffering and trauma.

Here’s a taste of it, from the beginning.

Job 1:13-22 (Common English Bible)

13 One day Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.

14 A messenger came to Job and said: “The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were grazing nearby

15 when the Sabeans took them and killed the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

16 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “A raging fire fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and devoured the young men. I alone escaped to tell you.”

17 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Chaldeans set up three companies, raided the camels and took them, killing the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

18 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house,

19 when a strong wind came from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It fell upon the young people, and they died. I alone escaped to tell you.”

20 Job arose, tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshipped.

21 He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.”

22 In all this, Job didn’t sin or blame God.

So if we want to keep a distance from this story, we could laugh at it. There’s something almost comical about the speed and totality with which this man’s world comes crumbling down, from two different raiding armies, and fires. and even a strong wind that knocks a whole house down and crushes Job’s kids during their party – geesh. Somewhere out there there’s a preacher saying:

it was the wine that started it.

Evil. 

But let’s not keep a distance. Job has a big loving family and a thriving, prosperous agricultural business, and he loses it all. This is followed soon after by some severe health problems that add chronic physical pain to this heartbreak. 

Maybe you’ve known people who have seemed to face tragedy after tragedy, like stuff just piles up on them? Like when your friend says, it seems like this is the year when all my people are dying. I met a Palestinian man this winter who’d had over 100 extended family members killed in this year’s conflict. Over 100. Those that remain alive have been dispossessed, dislocated as well. 

Or maybe, in smaller ways, you’re been this person. You’ve been the one to face a series of catastrophes that have been more than you can bear. Whether or not they’re as dramatic as Job’s, with the loss of all his children and all his property and nearly all his health. 

It doesn’t do us any good to try to rank order one another’s struggles or trauma. Suffering is suffering. And we need a lot of help when we suffer – whether that is caused by adverse circumstances, as with Job, or whether that is caused more by something within, as for those of us who have chronic physical or mental health difficulties that weren’t necessarily caused by any set of external events. 

We need companions when this happens. We need compassionate, non-judgemental support. And we need help to make it through. 

At first Job finds that from his faith. It’s a real surprise that line:

Job tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshiped.

I mean the first three things they are all signs of grief in his culture. They are things mourners might do. But the worshiping, that’s interesting.

Faith can be an incredible protective factor for our mental health and wellness. When I was looking for a therapist a number of years ago, I told the people I first spoke to on the phone that I did not need a Christian therapist. I didn’t need someone who shared my faith. But I did need someone who would be curious about my faith, and who would respect it, since it’s very important to me. And for years now, off and on, I’ve met with a therapist just like that – who doesn’t share my faith but is glad to explore how my faith colors the work we do and how my faith is a source of resilience for me, as I explore more and more just how much God knows and loves me in all things. 

I’m not actually a big fan of how Job expresses this. The line:

The Lord has given, the Lord has taken. Bless the Lord’s name.

Far be it from me to judge Job’s faith or theology – what works for you works for you, but this is like high up on the things religion can teach you to say to someone in grief that can be extraordinarily unhelpful.

Things like:

God will never give you more trouble than you can handle.

That’s horrible. One, it’s a misinterpretation of a Bible verse that says God won’t tempt you toward sin or evil or badness. But trouble?

  • One: most trouble doesn’t come from God. It’s not God’s fault that bad things happen.
  • And two: when we feel like we’re going through more than we actually can handle, we don’t need someone to tell us otherwise.

This is kind of like that. When someone faces death or any other loss, to say well, God gives good gifts, and then God takes them away, so deal with it. It’s all good. Again, perhaps for Job, believing God is in control gives him comfort. But I don’t agree with him. I don’t think most of our losses are God taking things or people from us. God’s not a taker. And the form of my Christian theology at least is that God is not always in control. Horrible things can happen that God did not make or plan for. But God is always love, and God is always with us in our losses, and God is always contending for the good. 

So not to nitpick here, but I wish Job’s worship could have looked more like knowing that horrible things happen sometimes, and they are not God’s fault, but God’s going to be with us through them all. I actually think the book of Job moves in this direction. 

I’m allowed to talk this way, by the way. Job says a lot of things. The Bible says a lot of things too. To respect the Bible’s insight and authority does not mean needing to agree with every line. The Bible contains a lot of styles of writing, and it says a lot of different things, some of which can be in tension with each other. So to respect the Bible as a witness to what God is like and what faith looks like is to engage it seriously, not to just nod and submit to every line. Don’t assent to every single thing in the Bible, but don’t throw it out either – wrestle with it. Make sense of the whole together. We’re doing that here. 

Alright, though, Job has God to lean on, and there wasn’t such a thing as a therapist back then, but at first at least, Job has three really good friends who show up for him really well. Let’s listen.

Job 2:11-13 (Common English Bible)

11 When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him.

12 When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky.

13 They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.

This week I was talking to a thanatologist. I didn’t know what that was until last week. A thanatologist is someone who studies, and educates around, and treats death, loss, and grief. We have one on our staff team at Reservoir. Aubrie Hills, our relatively new pre-school kids’ pastor, is also trained as a social worker and thanatologist. And she’s picked up a few extra hours to help us plan for some of the new ministry work we hope to do next year and beyond, like doubling the impact of our Beloved Community Fund – connecting needs and resources – and also helping us launch these spiritual and mental wellness initiatives. 

And I asked Aubrie, could you tell me what people who are grieving need most. And what she described was kind of like what these three friends do. 

She was like:

when we are grieving, we need someone, or someones, to bear witness. To show up, to listen, and to validate what we are experiencing. That this loss happened, that it’s real, that it matters. 

This goes for death, by the way, but also for other kinds of loss – loss of health, loss of relationship, loss of job, loss of innocence, loss of dreams. And Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar crush this. They stop whatever they are doing and they do what in Jewish culture is called sitting shiva. Accompanying the bereaved in the first seven days of their loss by being there. 

They can’t fix anything. They have no right words to say. In fact, the text says they were silent. For a week. 

But they were not silent with their bodies. They wept with Job. They tore their clothes and put dust on their heads too – maybe not our culture, most of us, but they did what Job was doing. They stopped what they were doing and they mourned with him. 

Aubrie told me that people who are grieving also need others to just help out. Certainly with anything they are asked for, but actually without asking what someone else needs, just doing something. Not being like: let me know if you need anything. 

(When Aubrie said this, I was like: oh, I’ve done that a bunch of times – told people, probably some of you, in low moments – let me know if you need anything. And Aubrie was like people grieving need someone to just do the thing they know how to do that helps. Like say I’m going to drop some food at your door Wednesday night, is that OK? I’d like to walk your dog in the mornings this week if that would help. Is that OK?)

I’m going to give Job’s buddies the benefit of the doubt and say they probably did this. They showed up after all, and let’s imagine they brought food with them or something. 

But then the third thing that came to mind for Aubrie the thanatologist when we were talking is she was like:

then people who are grieving need others to keep doing this. To keep showing up, listening, bearing witness. 

Not just for a few days, but in a month, in three months, in nine months. Because grief can take a while, and mostly other people move on faster than the one who’s born the loss.

And here’s where Job’s friends start screwing up. We’ll skip forward just a few chapters and get one more excerpt.  

Job 8:1-7 (Common English Bible)

Bildad from Shuah responded:

2 How long will you mouth such things
    such that your utterances become a strong wind?
3 Does God pervert justice,
    or does the Almighty distort what is right?
4 If your children sinned against him,
    then he delivered them into the power of their rebellion.
5 If you will search eagerly for God,
    plead with the Almighty.
6 If you are pure and do the right thing,
    then surely he will become active on your behalf
    and reward your innocent dwelling.
7 Although your former state was ordinary,
    your future will be extraordinary.

What has happened? 

Job’s been wondering things like:

why did my kids die? Why am I suffering so much? Where is God in all this?

I was taught,

Job says,

that God blesses the good and curses the bad. But I’m good. I’ve been faithful. I’ve lived right. What the heck, God?

Whatever you think of all that, normal stuff for a religious person to wonder about in grief? 

But it makes Job’s friends uncomfortable, so they start spouting the garbage they learned in Bible school. 

Like

God probably punished your kids, Job, for something they did wrong.

(Maybe it was the wine.)

And how dare you question God? And if you’ll get yourself together, God will bless you again. Everything has a reason, they say.

Or:

maybe God needed another angel in heaven.

Or:

maybe you lost a child, but you can have another one. Horrible things people have said to someone in grief. 

Job’s friends want him to move on because they are uncomfortable with the honest, raw mess of grief. 

When someone we know is in grief, or when someone we know is struggling with anxiety or depression or any other form of mental health struggle, we may be uncomfortable with the degree of their difficulty. And we might not have answers to things they do or say. And that’s OK. Most of us aren’t therapists. We’re not being asked to fix anything. (And even our therapists don’t exactly fix things either, even if they have some specific skill sets for treatment.)

What grieving people need is others to bear witness and help a little, and to keep bearing witness. To show up, to care, to be there with whatever compassion or empathy we can find. That’s the job. 

And that’s where Job’s friends can’t pull it off. 

Sometimes we need a therapist or a psychiatrist or other mental health professionals because our mental health struggle is complex enough that someone with some special training and skills can help us in ways other people can’t. And sometimes we need a therapist or we need the behavioral health hotline or Samaritans hotline or the national 988 suicide and crisis hotline because we feel we’re too much for our friends, or they’re having a hard time still showing up.

And in this case, it’s not only a therapist that can keep bearing witness. Sometimes it can be a pastor, a family member, again a kind person on the other end of a hotline, or a different friend.

I mean Job’s friends turn truly terrible. When all this ends, I don’t know if they’re ever getting invited to the barbeque again. But just because a friend lets us down in one way, doesn’t mean they aren’t a friend worth keeping in other ways. 

It takes a village to raise a child, they say. But it takes a village to love a human too. So we all need our villages. Our people, our communities. And when there’s a gap in that community, sometimes a professional resource like a therapist, or like a support group, or like a helpline, can fill the gap. Some of those kinds of resources will be out in the dome for us. 

This has become more of a sermon about grief than mental health per se. And we’re nearing the end here. But I just want to acknowledge that there are a lot of reasons that we or those we love may end up needing the support of mental health professionals. Or that we might need to apply mental wellness strategies in our lives that mental health professionals have taught us. 

Job didn’t have the benefit of a therapist or the wisdom of any mental health professionals. That field didn’t exist back then. But it does now. And I’m speaking to you as a pastor who’s worked with a therapist most of the past seven years and pays a lot of attention to the writing and wisdom of mental health professionals, including those that integrate their work with Christian spirituality.

So let me close with a few words of gratitude to this field, with a few other things I’ve learned about spiritual and mental wellness from our mental health professionals. 

I’ve learned that suffering happens. We will grieve loss in these lives of ours. Many of us at one time or another have struggled or will struggle with trauma. Some of us face long-term, significant mental health challenges, and many of us have faced or will face them for a season.

These are not signs that we are broken or that we’ve done anything wrong. These are not signs that God isn’t loving us, or that God isn’t good, or that God isn’t here. And all this goes for when our kids or our other spouse or our other loved ones face these troubles. 

I learned that as with Job, everyone needs a compassionate companion. Someone or someones who listen and bear witness. And when we can, we need to be those people for each other too. 

I learned that the work happens not just in our minds but in our bodies. I mean geesh, when things get weird, Job’s friends sit there and argue with him. They could have just cooked together or gone out for a walk or something. Just as our so-called mental health can show up as challenges in the rest of our body, same the other way. Finding peace and well-being in our body can have an impact on our mental well-being too. Our spiritual well-being also, but that’s another talk.

I’ve learned that when you reckon with trauma and grief and mental health struggle, you get more comfortable with ambiguity. You learn that two things can be true at once. You can resent part of what someone has been to you, while appreciating other parts. You can have grief and gratitude at the same time. You can shed tears, and they’re sad tears or happy tears, because they’re both of those at once. 

And I’ve learned that unlike in Job, happy endings aren’t guaranteed. But whatever help we can get and whatever work we can do on our mental health and wellness is worth it. Sometimes this means we’ll be able to stay alive, and that’s such a good thing. Sometimes it means we can keep moving forward, knowing we’re not alone, and hanging in there. And that’s a good thing too. And sometimes it means that we find miracles of recovery, miracles of turn-around in our lives.

With the help of God and friends, these are more common than we think too. And that’s pretty great. And it’s worth hanging on for, worth fighting for, worth getting the help. We’re all worth it. And we’re all in this together.

A Few of My Favorite Proverbs

When I was a public school teacher, I had this fascinating principal Bak Fun Wong.  And one of the interesting things about him is he often led through proverbs. Like during a long one on one conversation or in a key moment in a staff meeting, he’d almost never weigh in with a solution or a proposal to whatever we were trying to figure out. Instead, he’d drop these proverbs – these one line sayings into a discussion and invite you to work with them and see where they’d take you.

For instance, in working on some really big change we didn’t know how to pull off, he might say:

To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.

And to be honest, I’d be kind of annoyed. Like eyesight of the invisible is a power we do not have. Maybe I’d think, you know, Bak Fun, that is not what I would consider a solution, or a plan. Or maybe I’d think, Bak Fun, I’ve heard you say that 14 times this year already and it’s not landing any differently this time. Or maybe I’d think, this is crying out for parody.

One of my co-teachers and I used to joke about creating a collection of twisted Bak Fun proverbs. So like this one – To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible. Became: yeah, but to do what’s actually possible, you have to pay freaking attention to what is visible. (I felt annoyed with Bak Fun sometimes – too abstract, too impractical.)

But Bak Fun kept with his ways. He was not asking for my feedback or approval. Which I am grateful for. Because, surprise, surprise, he was usually wiser than me. He was inviting us into deeper, more powerful truths about what makes life work. And he was doing something better for his team than giving us solutions. He was creating an environment where we could co-construct a way forward together. And his proverbs kind of shaped the container of that environment.

I became a convert, in a way. 

Bak Fun had a lot of these proverbs. He was also a Chinese calligraphy artist, and he would paint these proverbs in black ink, with their English translations, frame them and give them to us as gifts. I have a couple on my wall in my office. And 15 years since we stopped working together, I still think of them all the time. Not because they’re always true in every circumstance. They’re not.

But they’re always deep. They’re always true in part. And if you can think of them as conversation starters and not just commands, they’re pretty powerful. As last words, meh, they may or may not always be right. But as first words, they’re pretty compelling. 

This is the kind of thing we find in the Bible’s wisdom literature of Proverbs. Sometimes they seem helpful and deep, other times the opposite – annoying little cliches. They can seem disarmingly simple. Out of touch with our times. 

Our Saturday community group at the church spends half our time every week in Bible study, and yesterday we took a chapter of Proverbs and we each had to find the one we like the most, the one that seems truest, as well as they one that we like the least, the one that seems just plain wrong.

And I tell you that at first, it was a lot easier to pick out the ones we have problems with. Kind of fun, but geesh, there seems like some terrible advice in there. 

Next week we’ll look at a different type of wisdom literature. May is Mental Health awareness month. And the state of Massachusetts is including faith communities in that awareness initiative for the first time. I worked with a couple folks at the department of mental health to talk about this initiative and spread the word. And next week, I’ll preach a mental health related sermon from an Old Testament wisdom book called Job, which is all about suffering. The sermon is: What if Job had a therapist, or even a few good friends?

But this week, back in Proverbs. What I’ll do this week is share just a few of my favorite proverbs and share how and why they speak to me. I hope you like the Proverbs, but even more so, I hope there’s some helpful stuff in here about how we read this book or even any book of the Bible. And maybe even some helpful stuff about how we practice spiritual growth, spiritual formation at all, with or without the Bible driving that. 

So here we go, four of my favorite Proverbs and why. 

Here’s the first, maybe my most favorite. 

Proverbs 26:11 (Common English Bible)

11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit,

    so a fool repeats foolish mistakes.

This is a modern translation I like. The one I have memorized is a little more poetic. What often goes through my head is that one: As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly. 

I like this because it’s gross and really specific, so it’s memorable. 

I like it because it’s true. I mean, I grew up with dogs in the house – plural, almost always two or three at a time, and they are gross. And after no dogs in the house for like 30 years, I have one again, and yep, 30 years later, dogs are still gross. Just telling you. They’ll do stuff like this.

And it’s true about people. I mean who doesn’t have the ridiculously stupid things we do, and we know they mess up our lives, or someone else’s life, or create problems for a whole bunch of people. And we know it’s foolish, and we just keep on doing that. I mean maybe you don’t relate. There is allegedly a class of people that learns things the easy way. But I’m not one of them. 

And judging by what I see out in the world and – let’s keep it real – some of the stuff you all share with me – and I think a lot of them are not people that learn things the easy way. We can come back to our core mistakes, like our greatest hits of folly, again and again.

And as I was sharing with the group yesterday, I actually really like the “fool” proverbs. There’s a whole class of them. There are actually lots of “categories” of proverbs, and this is one of them – the ones that knock fools, or contrast foolishness with wisdom. And I like them because they’re real. 

I mean there are some people who seem really un-self aware or really un-self -regulated. Like they don’t direct their emotions and instincts into fruitful, positive sets of actions. And the Proverbs are like:

some people are like this a lot. Notice that. And maybe don’t hire people like this. Don’t work for people like this if you don’t have to. Don’t vote for people like this. Because fools are gonna fool. It’s going to keep happening.

And it’s not just other people. Like these fool proverbs invite me to get curious about the foolish parts of me.

  • Like where do I keep repeating the same no-common sense moves in my life?
  • Where am I stuck in the same negative grooves that aren’t doing me or anyone else any good? 

And if I can see that, this gives me a way to read this proverb. Or really any proverb, or life advice or direction. Three ways actually.

One, there’s an invitation here to know the truth about yourself. 

For next week’s sermon, I’m looking at a list that a guy named Chuck DeGroat developed. Chuck is a therapist and teacher. He actually founded a therapy center years ago that is connected with Pastor Lydia’s old church in the Bay Area, where she first worked as a pastor. And one of the things he does now is counsel pastors and other leaders whose lives have come off the rails. Really interesting person.

Anyway, he has this list of the five pillars of emotional health and the first two are self-awareness and self-regulation. Self-awareness and self-regulation. Knowing the truth about yourself, and being able to regulate, lead and direct yourself toward health.  

See the proverbs are first invitations to pay attention to the truth about ourselves. We should read them in the order of me – you – they, not the other way around. In other words, follow the advice of Jesus in pulling the plank out of our own eye, before we look at the speck in someone else’s. Let the proverbs help us examine the truth of our own life. And maybe beyond that examine the truth together with people we’re in direct relationship with. And then maybe lastly, give whatever leftover energy we have to think about people we’ll never know – famous people, people in the news, stuff like that. 

And as we read them to know the truth about ourselves, I think God would invite us to do self-awareness with compassion, not condemnation. Some of us in the group yesterday were noticing that we read Proverbs through this super-critical lens, because we’ve got a lot of critical voices in our head. And Proverbs can come off as kind of harsh sometimes. 

But I as a dog owner again, and so a dog lover, when my dog is gross like this, I don’t hate him for it. If he literally pukes out his food, and then walks back to it and eats it up, I’m not like:

you disgusting creature, you are never welcome in my house again.

No, I just stop him. (I don’t even know if that’s totally necessary. I Googled: should you let a dog… and it auto-filled from there… eat its own vomit…. apparently lots of us have wondered…. and the internet was somewhat divided on this subject)

But when it comes to me metaphorically going back to my own vomit again, I think I’m invited to see myself as I see my dog, which is to be like:

huh, this is not ideal. This is worth doing something about. But dang, even so, I love myself so much. I’m worth the work. I’m a work of art, and it’s worth cleaning up the smudgy parts that take me down.

Is it weird to hear someone else talk that way? It’s weird for me to talk that way. Like I am so beautiful, so worthy, so beloved, that it’s worth trying to sort out the fool parts of me. I’m worth it. It’s weird because we don’t mostly think of ourselves this way, but God does. God does. 

So if God or any tool of God’s like the Bible invites self-reflection, self-awareness, even self-critique, always filter it through a lens of growing self-compassion. Maybe I’m a slow learner. But I want to get there. I want to keep finding my way toward a life that works. In the Bible, this is called righteousness – good living, right relationships. I want to keep finding my way toward a life of love. 

Second favorite proverb. (And I stuck this one in last minute, so it won’t be on your screen)

Proverbs 26:15 (Common English Bible)

15 Lazy people bury their hand into the bowl,

    too tired to return it to their mouth.

So at first this is a crappy proverb. I was taking a walk with one of you this past week. We were talking about the stupid things we keep doing and about our struggle to start things and our even bigger struggles to finish things. 

And for both of us, this struggle is real, it’s deep, and we’re pretty sure it’s genetic too. There’s a family pattern. And there’s a diagnosis for this too.

And they were asking me for advice, and I joked to them, well, despite the sermons we’re doing now, don’t go to Proverbs, because they just call us lazy people. There’s a whole class of “lazy people” Proverbs, and they are not flattering. 

So it’s like:

thanks a lot, Bible. Call me a lazy person when I don’t finish things. Like you’re like the dum-dum who puts their spoon in the bowl of cereal, and never gets it back out to your mouth. Ha, ha, stupid you!

I don’t know about you, but that kind of shame does not inspire transformation in my life. 

But let’s read it sideways. 

What if this is an image more than a criticism? Like that not getting stuff done, or never getting stuff done on time, it’s like that person that doesn’t have the discipline to get their own breakfast into their mouth. As an image, it’s funny. It’s kind of illuminating. And it makes you wonder, like maybe something can be done here. Maybe there is hope.

And then what if you can edit the language to make it work for you. Like Proverbs says “lazy person” in some other language and culture from nearly three thousand years ago, but we can be like

– we’ve realized that is not a helpful thing to call anyone, including yourself.

So I can change it to something like

– people who struggle to get stuff done.

And what if when I read it this way

– people who struggle to get stuff done can be like that person with their spoon stuck in the bowl,

and what if I read it not from the fixed mindset that implies but from a growth mindset. Like

you’re never stuck exactly where you are. With help and intention and a little work, things can change.

And that can get me curious about what change is possible in my life today.

And then what if I read this not as a condemnation but as an invitation. And what if read it not as a statement but as a question? Like:

what would help you, Steve, not leave your spoon in the bowl today? 

And then that makes me think of this exercise that is recommended for people like me with ADHD, this little mindfulness exercise called mindful eating. Where now and then, when I find myself eating by myself, instead of eating in a hurry, or eating while working or scrolling on my phone, I can eat while doing nothing else. Eat slowly, and eat mindfully. Pay attention to the tastes and smells and feels of each bite.

And one thing that will happen is well, I’ll eat. I won’t leave my food in the bowl. And I’ll learn something about being present, right here, in the only place in the world that is real – the present now. And that kind of presence, it turns out, helps with a lot of things, including helping with getting things done.

As my yoga teacher says,

there are two places in the world you can be – you can be now here – or nowhere.

That’s it. Nowhere or now here. And now here is almost always a better place to be. 

See where a different way of reading Proverbs can take us. Away from right/wrong, either/or and towards curiosity, towards depth, towards wisdom. And away from compliance or obedience and toward discernment – toward finding God’s best path forward this moment, this day. This is the way, friends.

More briefly, my third favorite proverb. It’s a pair of two. 

Proverbs 26: 4-5 (Common English Bible)

4 Don’t answer fools according to their folly,

    or you will become like them yourself.

5 Answer fools according to their folly,

    or they will deem themselves wise.

This is the place where Proverbs most tells on itself and illustrates what I was just talking about. Like out of one side of its mouth – it’s like,

don’t talk to fools.

And then a second later, it’s like

make sure you give those fools an answer. 

Why? Well, because life is complicated. No one size fits all advice always applies. 

Sometimes people say messed up things and it is better to just not engage. Don’t sink to their level. It takes two people to argue. When someone else invites you to the table, you do not need to show up. But then sometimes, you’ve got to say something. Maybe that person is open to correction. Maybe someone else is listening that needs to hear.

How do you know which Proverb applies to you in any given moment? Well, it depends, right? I think the idea here is – no one verse in the Bible can tell you. Figure it out. Trust your intuition. Or don’t, and ask someone you trust for a second opinion. Wisdom is about finding the best way forward, not about one-size-fits all truisms. 

And last favorite proverb. This is actually a whole set of them. 

Proverbs 10:17, 11:14, 12:15 (Common English Bible)

10:17 Those who heed instruction are on the way to life,

    but those who ignore correction lose their way.

11:14 Without guidance, a people will fall,

    but there is victory with many counselors.

12:15 Fools see their own way as right,

    but the wise listen to advice.

Proverbs 17:1, 5-6, 18:24, 22:2 (Common English Bible)

17:1Better a dry crust with quiet

    than a house full of feasting with quarrels.

5 Those who mock the poor insult their maker;

    those who rejoice in disaster won’t go unpunished.

6 Grandchildren are the crown of the elderly,

    and the glory of children is their parents.

18:24 There are persons for companionship,

    but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.

22:2 The rich and the poor have this in common:

    the Lord made them both.

All of these proverbs are a little different, but to me they boil down to this: find your people. You’re going to need them. And they’re going to need you.

When I was 19, and just getting to know Grace, she asked me once:

do you ever feel bad for all your people have done?

She was thinking of me as a descendant of Europeans, people who not that long ago were trying to colonize the whole dang world. And she was like:

how’d that go for you all? Do you ever feel bad about that?

And looking back, that question was one of the beginnings of my journey toward racial awareness and racial justice. And it was one of the beginnings of my journey away from individualism as a default – I am who I am, me, myself and I – and toward collectivism – like we need each other. We are all in this together. 

But at the time, I had no idea what I said. But I know I thought: I have know idea what you’re talking about. I don’t have “a people.” Someone else did all that stuff. Nothing to do with me.

But the Proverbs are clear that people who think of themselves as an island – not needing others, not responsible to others, not part of a generational web of interconnected – people like that are – you guessed it – fools. 

Proverbs says we have people and we need people. The good life if we are going to find it includes a lot of listening and learning. Anyone who just depends on their own inner light, or their own so-called genius, or says they don’t need advisors and mentors and stuff, they are self-deluded. They’re being a fool.

And Proverbs says we don’t only need people, we need to be a part of a wide web of people that aren’t just like us. 

We’re living at a time in culture where it’s easy for our people to be people who are just like us, the people of our so-called “life stage” however we see that, or the people who look like us or spend like us or think like us, the people we vibe with. 

But these Proverbs have so many other directions their language for the collective goes in. We need a word where rich and poor are in community together, seeing their mutual created worth and value. We need our family, but sometimes we need our chosen family too – people that are more loving and loyal than our own family. We need younger and older too. The best thing for grandparents is their grandchildren, and the glory of kids is their parents. Literally, but metaphorically too. We need people of different generations from us. We really need each other. 

  • Who are your people, friends?
  • Who are you connected with?
  • How is your circle of people getting wider, not narrower?

If this feels hard, church is good for this. Try out a community group, or volunteer somewhere and see who you meet. Or talk to one of us pastors about this. We’d love for Reservoir to be a place where you have people and where you’re part of the people someone else has too. 

So that’s it – a few of my favorite Proverbs and a few ways to read them. And hopefully, you hear, with a few ways to receive spiritual input and wisdom in general 

  • Never just as me but always as part of a we. Not to use against someone else, but to try out on me first. 
  • Not with command and condemnation, but with curiosity and compassion.
  • Not fixed mindset, but growth mindset. 
  • Not one size fits all, but wondering what moves me toward larger, freer, more loving today.

I think this is the way, friends. I think this is the way.

Let’s pray. 

Staying Found

This morning I want to talk about the concept of “staying found” and how it engages the theme of wisdom. 

“Staying found” is a phrase that I learned from the Appalachian Mountain Club. It’s often a concept highlighted in compass and maps classes as well as search and rescue training. Staying found  is a set of tactics and checks and balances that help keep you safe and aware for any adventure outside. Staying found acknowledges the reality that we will likely get lost at some point. That we will encounter the “unease” in our bodies when the well-trodden path no longer looks the same. When our intuition – the orientation to ourselves, to one another, to God – gets mixed up by the wilds of life.

I appreciate this lens because it makes “getting lost or being lost” feel less like an aberration or something bad — but actually a way to expand our way of doing life in a healthy and free way. Staying found suggests to me that we all have a compass available to us at all times, this being WISDOM.  And that wisdom herself is everywhere. In endless markers and landmarks along our journey –  but it takes a bit of practice – some risk, some mistakes, some joy, some delight,  some creativity – to truly engage wisdom. To become wise ourselves.   

We are new in this Wisdom series that will run until Memorial Day. We hope this series will open up the richness of wisdom found in the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament. Today we’ll look at the book of Proverbs – which is full of earthy and piercing and kind of funny lines of advice like:

  • “If you don’t have oxen, at least your barn is clean.” (14:4)

  • “Bad people trip over their own lying lips. Good people don’t have a lip problem.” (12:13)

  • “It’s better to eat veggies in a house filled with love than to eat steak served by someone who hates your guts.” (15:17)

As odd as some of the proverbs might sound they are full of specific, immediate, and practical instructions.

“Full of teaching of wisdom concerning respect for the poor, the importance of generative work, the danger of careless speech, the risk of deep debt, the hazard of having the wrong kind of friends.” (Brueggemann)

And while some of the Proverbs are conveyed through specific forms of conduct — they point us to these big questions:

  • What does it mean to be human and who are we to each other?
  • How do we want to live and who will we be to each other?
  • What makes life work? *Especially when we might feel lost.*

Prayer | Thanks for this space this morning to be together. I take it for granted sometimes. But it’s meaningful. Could you help bring that meaning to life. Could you move us — beyond words, and songs, and place — could you move us by your Spirit which is unexplainable — but oh so felt.  — Amen.

STORY

I live close to the Blue Hills Reservation — like a 3-5 minute drive depending on where you want to go. The Blue Hills is a 7,000 acre state park with trails that stretch from Milton to Quincy to Dedham to Randolph.

I have spent A LOT of time in the Blue Hills over the last 19 years. 

When my kids were little — I would drop them off at school or preschool — and then head to the Blue Hills for a quick hike. I generally would go to one specific area because there were a lot of intersecting trails — so on any given day I’d be offered some variety. 

I knew the area pretty well and had gotten confident enough to not bring a map — having memorized most of the trail #s and markers.

One day a friend joined me. She is a serious hiker, bagging all the lists of all the hikes in the northeast — winter, spring summer fall – – all of it. So I knew we could cover the area I was used to moving in.

Timing wise I knew just about when to turn around to make that preschool pickup… from most points on these trails. This particular day we were hiking at a quicker clip and had picked up a different trail as we talked and caught up on life. And I thought it would be a simple “loop back” trail — but it wasn’t , or at least it wasn’t offering us that option in the time frame I needed. 

I realized we weren’t going to make it if we didn’t find a way back — quickly. We stopped on the trail. My friend offered some WISE options like

“let’s just take a minute and consider our options”

or 

“let’s figure out what direction we are heading in”

let’s think about what our last marker was and kind of pace that out… 

This could have been a moment for me – where “Iron sharpens Iron”....

But I wasn’t really listening. I was starting to imagine all the possible scenarios that would come from being LOST — and the embarrassment I would feel as

  • 1)the preschool flagged alarm when I didn’t show up, and as
  • 2) DCR sent out rescue crews to look for us — on this tiny little trail, and
  • 3) as the neighborhood Facebook groups blow up with chatter… 

And I was like we just need to go! We just need to go straight up! OFF trail — just to the top so we can see where we are and hook up with one of the trails and have a better perspective.  

And I just started going. Through bushes and over rocks and such.. Leaping and jumping like I was a regular mountaineer. And fairly quickly finding myself out of breath and unsure of how to continue about a ¼ of the way up. And only THEN wondering if I should have joined my friend in pausing — I also wondered if “wisdom” was a part of my actions at all? 


This is a small story that exemplifies the many ways in my life I have at times felt overwhelmed, stressed, turned around. Where I’ve second guessed everything —  in the everyday places and aspects of my life that I’m accustomed to. Where I have scrambled or sprinted out of fear or desperation or longing for some solid ground. 

I don’t know about you — but in moments like these I find myself eager to anchor to something solid that offers a sense of grounding and identifiable mooring. And yet when that isn’t quick to appear — I can berate myself and say I’ll be better “prepared” for next time… with more knowledge, more information — a map that will clearly delineate a trusted and familiar path. 

I want to be “smarter at life.”  

So I’m not so taken out by life. 

And this is a little bit of the mystery of human design – right? We have no lack of quest for information, knowledge, love. We all want to love, but as a rule we don’t know how to love well. And we all want more knowledge – but do we do so in a way that LIFE will really come from it? 

What we all need perhaps is wisdom.  

Proverbs 8 is a bit of an autobiography of wisdom – a self-announcement and speech by wisdom herself and it starts like this: 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

1 Doesn’t Wisdom cry out
    and Understanding shout?

2 Atop the heights along the path,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand.

3 By the gate before the city,
    at the entrances she shouts:

4 “I cry out to you, people;
    my voice goes out to all of humanity.”

“Wisdom” has a voice — and it is not a shy one! Wisdom summons all of humanity.
Wisdom is a greeter — at the entrance to unknowns she is there.
Wisdom is a sign-post at crossroads — a guide .
Wisdom is echo-ing across the peaks and the valleys of all of our lives. Searching for us — making sure we are “staying found.”

As we read more of this chapter — Wisdom’s identity continues to unfold and we pick up more in verse 22 and hear more what wisdom has to say for herself: 

22 The Lord created me at the beginning of their way,

    Before their deeds long in the past.

23 I was formed in ancient times,

    at the beginning, before the earth was.

24 When there were no watery depths, I was brought forth,

    when there were no springs flowing with water.

25 Before the mountains were settled,

    before the hills, I was brought forth;

26     before God  made the earth and the fields

    or the first of the dry land.

27 I was there when God established the heavens,

    when God marked out the horizon on the deep sea,

28     when God thickened the clouds above,

    when God secured the fountains of the deep,

29     when God set a limit for the sea,

        so the water couldn’t go beyond God’s command,

    when God marked out the earth’s foundations.

30 I was beside God as a master of crafts

    I was having fun, smiling before God all the time,

31  frolicking with God’s inhabited earth

    and delighting in the human race.

Wisdom was present ‘before’ everything; she is the base layer of all existence. Before earth, and land and water. Before landmarks and paths and mountains and fields.

And wisdom was present ‘when’ God creates everything. When God makes and establishes and marks and thickens and secures. When shape and form are birthed.

All the while WISDOM is joyfully dancing, smiling, frolicking – she is up close and personal with God and the works of creation.  Wisdom is the very movement involved in the process, the active energy all around. All the time.  

 It’s really a wonder that we could miss wisdom at all. That we could feel ‘lost’ or disoriented with such a consistent voice and presence in the very architecture of our world. Shouting to us, crying out to us.

STORY  

I did not pause to consider wisdom — as I was lost that day in the Blue Hills. I didn’t care about “staying found.” I cared about “not being lost – not being seen as a fool.” And yet some might say my actions and decisions were fairly “foolish” — thinking “all things were possible through Ivy Anthony” —  incurring scrapes and slips and some serious scramble. I panicked and bolted. And when I got to the top I didn’t actually gain perspective that was helpful. It wasn’t any quicker to locate the trail we needed to be on.

As it turns out it’s fairly challenging to locate and garner wisdom. And I want to mention two reasons this might be so —

1) the first is because we can lose track of ourselves.

Howard Thurman

The theologian and mystic Howard Thurman in his 1980 Spelman commencement address says that we do miss wisdom.  And for valid reasons. 

He says,

“that there is so much traffic going on in our minds, so many different kinds of signals, so many vast impulses floating through our organism that go back thousands of generations, long before we were even a thought in the mind of creation, and we are buffeted by these…”

and we can get lost in these… 

So in the midst of all of this we have to turn to wisdom. And Thurman says wisdom is to

“find out what our name is. 

To ask,

“who are you?”

Thurman quickly answers,

“You — you are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom – your creative expression-  is the only idiom of its kind in all of existence. And there is something in everyone of us that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in ourselves and if we cannot hear it, we will never find whatever it is for which we are searching.” 

The sound of the genuine is this place of wisdom within ourselves — where we are our truest selves, connected– anchored —  and belonging to the love of God. That we are always found — even if we feel lost.

We live in a time when we are bombarded with words, images, and messages. We live in a time when things move quickly and we are expected to react and think quickly, too. We are rarely given the opportunity to sit and reflect, to let ourselves sink into questions and nuances that are often ignored. We are rewarded for being quick and left out if we are too slow.

“Wisdom, however, rarely sits on the surface of things.” (enfleshed.com)

This is why pursuing wisdom is a personal spiritual practice. If it didn’t require our intentional effort, wisdom would not have to “raise her voice” or come to the center of town to try to call out to us. She comes in pursuit of us, because we are often encouraged in different directions. And there is so much that makes it difficult to hear her, perceive her, to recognize her.

But Thurman says if we cannot hear the sound of the genuine in us,

“we will all of our life spend our days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls…”

Thurman says “stay found.” “Stay found” — there is a lot — a lot that competes — a lot that drowns out the sound of the genuine, the voice of wisdom.

Don’t be deceived and thrown off by all the noises that are a part even of your dreams, your ambitions, so that you don’t hear the sound of the genuine in you, because that is the only true guide that you will ever have, and if you don’t have that you don’t have a thing.

We need to cultivate the discipline of listening to the sound of the genuine in ourselves. This is wisdom. This is to *stay found.*

  1. The second reason wisdom evades us is because we are accustomed to wisdom in a particular form.

The markers of wisdom are often defined and found in very specific expressions. Often in the well-educated, those in power, the privileged.  

But Wisdom cries out, not only to the privileged of the world but to “all that live.”

She makes herself accessible to everyone. She does not require particular training or access to institutions. She meets us in the middle of our lives, where we already are. (enfleshed.com)

Jesus did this too, right? Jesus challenged sexism, patriarchy, misogyny and discrimination in general over and over, and shows us that the margins are sources of deep, divine wisdom.

But still we struggle to value wisdom when it comes in alternative shapes. When it breaks from the same, same, same paths that for generations we have trod – we kind of are comfortable in those deep ruts. But those deep ruts block the view of those who might stand at the crossroads crying out to us with wisdom and yet are again and again ignored —  loop after loop after loop.

I read recently that Einstein began his life with a profound faith in the social good of the scientific enterprise  — but he then watched German science hand itself over to fascism. He watched chemists and physicists become creators of weapons of mass destruction. He said that science in his generation had become like a razor blade in the hands of a 3-yr old. He began to see figures like Gandhi and Moses, Jesus and Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi, as

“Geniuses in the art of living.” He proposed that their quantities of “spiritual genius” were more necessary to the future of human dignity, security, and joy than objective knowledge.” (4 Tippett) 

“Knowledge is like flour — but wisdom is bread.” — Austin O’Malley

We have knowledge but it is falling through our hands – empty of its potential – when not mixed with all the ingredients, the voices, the beauty of those around us.

It would be wise of us to continue to interrogate who gets the mic – the press – the books – the power – the attention of the world. It seems that “spiritual geniuses of the everyday are everywhere. And yet those in the margins do not have publicists. They are woefully below the radar, which is broken.” (Tippett, 4)

So if our own radar —  of knowing who we are deep within — is a little wonky and off, and the radar that puts people on the map of humanity is broken. Then we do need a recalibration.  We do need wisdom.

CHURCH

Matthew Fox an episcopal priest, says we need wisdom-seekers who will

“shake up all our institutions—including our religious ones—and reinvent them.”

People who will not be afraid to  Imagine. Dream. Even “play” a little. Fox says,

“change is necessary for our survival, and we often turn to the mystics at critical times like this — a mystic being someone who goes beyond intellect. Jesus was a mystic shaking up his religion and the Roman empire; Buddha was a mystic who shook up the prevailing Hinduism of his day; Gandhi was a mystic shaking up Hinduism and challenging the British Empire; and Martin Luther King, Jr. shook up his tradition and America’s racist — white supremacist–  society.”

Scholars are in significant disagreement about translations of the verses in Proverbs that we read. Wisdom says,

“I was beside God as a master of crafts”

— some scholars believe the translation of “master of crafts” could be “child” or “nursling.”

Not like the definition of “master” we are used to — where we have conquered the learning, understanding, and knowledge of an area of study.

But like a child — a toddler — skipping and delighting — and exploring — and creating — and falling down — and trying again — a master of a playful, creative boundary-bending energy at work.  

This wisdom is necessary. Americans are fleeing churches and fleeing the Christian faith, including its evangelical expressions. The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) finds that around one-quarter (26%) of Americans now identify as religiously unaffiliated, a number that has risen over the last decade and is now the largest single religious group in the U.S. 

Changes and reform are urgent, and we need new relationships, new networks, and new partnerships to do this as well as we can. We need wisdom.

Father Richard Rohr commented on how disappointed he is that “we” in the Church have passed on so little wisdom. Often the only thing we’ve taught people is to think that they’re right—or that they’re wrong. We’ve either mandated things or forbidden them. And this doesn’t make room for a) creativity b) our own intuition and sound of the genuine or c) even the value of failure that can lead to wisdom…. We haven’t helped people enter wisdom’s path. 

Wisdom though — seems to believe there are still possibilities among us.
She’s still calling, shouting, whispering to us — “you aren’t lost” — (not totally lost).
Stay found. Stay found.

I want to end with a spiritual practice that might help us orient to wisdom. 

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) puts out advice* for when you find yourself off trail, or lose your bearings. And I want to share them with you because they effectively point us back to wisdom – and to the sound of the genuine within and around us.

  1. Grace.
    The first step is to extend grace to yourself, as God does.
    There’s no need to beat yourself up or inflict shame upon yourself — for the ways you feel like you’ve messed up –  or should know better or more… for the ways you are afraid or overwhelmed.
    The AMC says no matter how experienced a hiker you might consider yourself to be, no matter how many times you’ve been out on the trails, how many 4,000 footers you’ve bagged, how much expert gear you have… “You are not an experienced hiker when you are not on a familiar trail…. And even the same trails look incredibly different in different seasons — -just a little bit of leaf growth and underbrush — or snow cover —  can really change the landscape of a trail.

So start by extending grace to yourself.
Release undo responsibility and shame.  

Lord knows we all have a lot of hiking still to do in this life – and we don’t need that unnecessary weight.

  1. Stop. 

The AMC says, Moving isn’t helpful until you know which way to go, and if you’re thrashing around in the forest, you can’t follow the next three steps they recommend.”

I invite you right now to stop. To truly be still. In your body, spirit and heart….

To fully stop in this way can feel discomforting and humbling – especially when it feels like every second is precious time that should be spent figuring out how to be “found.”

But the alternative, to charge, react, thrash our way through – without at least a brief pause – has the potential to make ourselves even more lost and disoriented.

So right now to the best you can, stop.

Quiet your heart.

Quiet your mind. Stop overthinking. Over analyzing.

Stop your body from moving.. Your leg from bouncing… Your eyes from scanning.. Your finger from tapping.

Just stop, and ask God to be close. 

Stopping is the most powerful action that allows us to orient ourselves to Divine Wisdom/God.

  1. Breathe. 

Anxiety can lead to panic, but breathing can help cool your nerves. If you don’t know where you are, staying calm will help you think clearly and figure out your next move.”

Breathing helps let all the feelings tumble through us.  It lets the ones that we don’t need to hang on to, fall to the ground… and the feelings we do need to feel – to inform us – to help us clarify our next steps, stick.  These feelings are the ones that drive our next steps, because they are often the ones that show us where our deep passion lies. 

Possible next steps:

  • .. stay still or take a nap.
  • .. eat a snack. Drink some water.
  • .. look at your map again – with fresh eyes.

Take 3 deep breaths now. IN & OUT, IN & OUT, IN & OUT. 

As you do, fully stretch out your arms – so that breath reaches through all of you… 

  1. Look for landmarks.

    This might be big, like a mountain, but it could be closer and more modest, like an unusual mushroom or a hollow log. The denser the undergrowth, the more observant you need to be.”

  • What are the landmarks of Divine Wisdom in your day?
    • Maybe something big – a stress-free departure for church — wooo! 
    • Likely there are also some small, more intertwined markers of God’s presence too – in the undergrowth, the ordinary moments of your day.
  • Take a moment to consider where you have already seen the markers of God TODAY.  

The more we take note, as a practice, to recognize these markers of God in our days – the more we can identify God in the brush, on the unmarked trails…. that we will surely journey on.

Lastly,

  1. Listen.

    Most people who wander off-trail are within 300 yards of it—close enough to hear the voices of other hikers, which tells you which way to walk.”

So when you feel lost – listen.

Don’t just hear, but listen for God’s voice.

It’s there.   Always.
What might God be saying to you?

  • What kind of day is God inviting you into?  
  • What kind of path does God want to walk with you? Listen.

It is important when we are lost to stop & breathe, look for God’s landmarks & listen.  This work is important work –  not just for our journey – but for the next generation, and the generation after that, and the generation after that.

  • What trail markers will we leave?  
  • What new trails will we cut? 
  • What wisdom do we impart? 
  • These are the questions of today.

Prayer: “Dear Spirit of God, our TRUE NORTH – thank you for being our guide.  Help us to listen to your invitation to us now – maybe it’s that we don’t get back on the same trails we’ve been on so many times before… Maybe you want us to be bumped off trail right now..  But God could you promise to find us there…  Could you promise to guide us still – through the darkest and thickest of forest   – over mountains – and through valleys –  could you, dear God, dwell in our spirit – BE OUR COMPASS – no matter how turned around we get?”

Sources:

1980 Spelman Commencement Address | Howard Thurman

Enfleshed.org | 2019

How Is Wisdom Calling Out to You?

In my first month as a high school principal, I inherited a master schedule that was pretty messed up. A lot of kids didn’t have the classes they would need in less than two months. The former administration that had built the schedule were either retired or laid off. And not many people work in schools in July and August. So I had just a few weeks to learn a scheduling software I’d never used before and to fix as much of it as I could. 

There was this one central office administrator who knew this computer program and was working during the summer, and it was her job to show me the ropes. 

Now I can be a difficult student. I like to learn things really quickly, and I have a million questions, and sometimes I struggle to not interrupt people when I really get focused on something. So a few days into working with Marilyn, the district administrator, and she said to me:

Steve, you’re a damn comet. 

I thought she was complimenting me. Comets sound cool. These objects flying through space, looking like they’re stars or on fire or something. And I was pretty sure Marilyn was complimenting me at how fast I was learning and getting stuff done. Comet.

But later I realized I was only like 20% right about this. Because Marilyn was like – it was helpful that you were learning quickly and trying to fix things. But mostly, this is frustrating.

She was like –

You have to slow down. Take a breath. Listen for a while. Slow down, and you’ll learn this thing, and do what you’ve got to do.

I wish I could say I listened to Marilyn’s advice, but I mostly didn’t. I think I tried to convince myself that her whole comet line, which after all she had said “damn comet” and had sounded frustrated when she said it, but still I wanted to think it was a compliment and maybe didn’t listen.

I’d sort of been like this my whole life – that old proverb “haste makes waste” was for other people. When I first got my drivers’ license, I had a number of speeding incidents. And those had cost me money, but never an accident, so maybe it was fine. When I learned to ski, I liked to fly and take jumps and all and I had some spectacular crashes, but no permanent damage, so again, maybe it was OK.

I’ve been a bike commuter most of my adult life, and at that point, my habits on the bicycle were kind of embarrassing. I rode fast, I was really hit or miss about following traffic rules, and when I couldn’t find my helmet now and then, I just rode without it. 

I thought I didn’t need this wisdom, because I was a damn comet, and it was working out OK.

Well, later in that same first year as a principal, I was biking home from work one day. And that was one of the days I was riding without a helmet, because I was rushing to get to work early and couldn’t remember where I’d left it. I was also talking on the phone while I was riding because a student at the school had been getting in trouble, and their dad was an important person on the school committee, and this was kind of an awkward situation for everyone, so I was trying to talk it through with this frustrated dad who was also more or less one of my boss’ bosses, and that made things urgent. 

I wasn’t biking all that fast, but I was on the phone and not paying attention, and I hit a patch of sand left over from the winter storms and started to lose control of my bike. I don’t remember what happened next. Except that I was on the ground, and my head hurt like hell, and I reached back and it was wet and red. I tried to get up and start walking in the direction of my house, and someone walking by yelled at me not to do that and grabbed and started directing me toward the emergency room of the hospital which I was right in front of when I crashed and split my skull open in a couple places.

A few staples and a concussion recovery later, and I thought:

Maybe haste makes waste. Maybe I have to learn to slow down.

So like 14 years later, maybe my head’s not 100% right anymore, and I still rush into action sometimes, but I’m trying. 

Because if you want to reach old age, and you want to not keep getting concussions, you eventually need to listen to wisdom.

Learning wisdom is what makes our lives work. Like however talented we are or not, however attractive, however so-called smart in different ways, our lives don’t work if we don’t grow in wisdom. 

They get stuck. Or they fly off the rails, Or we self-sabotage again and again. And the catch all word for the stuff we learn – not just here, in our head – but in our hearts, in our bodies, in our whole selves – the stuff we learn that makes our lives really work well, that’s wisdom.

And that’s what we’ll talk about in our sermons from now through when summer starts on Memorial Day – what makes life work, as we read together some of this part of the Hebrew scriptures, the Bible’s Old Testament, that is called the wisdom literature. 

The centerpiece of this wisdom literature in the Bible is a collection of all kinds of earthy advice that’s called Proverbs. We’ll read part of its first chapter today. It starts like this:

Proverbs 1:1-7 (Common English Bible)

The proverbs of Solomon, King David’s son, from Israel:
2 Their purpose is to teach wisdom and discipline,
    to help one understand wise sayings.


3 They provide insightful instruction,
    which is righteous, just, and full of integrity.


4 They make the naive mature,
    the young knowledgeable and discreet.


5 The wise hear them and grow in wisdom;
    those with understanding gain guidance.


6 They help one understand proverbs and difficult sayings,
    the words of the wise, and their puzzles.


7 Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This here is like a title or an introduction. It says these proverbs will teach us what is righteous, just, and full of integrity. What will make us less naive, and more mature. Which sounds old-fashioned maybe or religious, or maybe condescending. But I think the wisdom literature is here to help us develop lives that work. That go about things the right way, that are fair and equitable, that help us be the same, trustworthy person no matter where we are or who we’re with.

It’s like Marilyn saying to me –

try and stop being such a damn comet.

You’ll burn up, or crash, or just be annoying to work with. That was true. And that won’t do you or anyone else any good. 

Try wisdom. 

This ancient near eastern tradition of wisdom literature is really old. The earliest Babylonian wisdom literature was mostly about magic and exorcism. It was like in a weird and scary world, how do you master the power to be less vulnerable and more in control?

But over time, wisdom literature in these ancient cultures shifted to be less superstitious and more practical. So that wisdom literature became like the self-help material of these cultures – it was about the art of being successful. About life mastery, growing a life that works.

Wisdom literature started to focus on the important, practical matters of life that our schools don’t always teach. Like how do you develop the character of a trustworthy, dependable person? How do you get some wealth but not have it ruin you? How do you not be the kind of person that doesn’t derail your own life, whether by accidents caused by your own foolishness, or by blowing up your friendships or your marriage, or by being unable to commit to things for the long haul, or just otherwise being a fool? How do we keep growing into a life that works?

Proverbs wants to help with this. 

But it’s not just self help. Because that’s not how growth works. We don’t do it alone. We need each other, and we need the wisdom that came before us. We need the wisdom of our teachers, the wisdom of our elders, the wisdom of our ancestors, and the wisdom of God, our creator. 

This is where wisdom starts, Proverbs says, by slowing down and listening. It starts with respect for what came before us. It starts with the kind of humility and awe that makes us want to listen. This is the kind of attitude Proverbs calls the fear of God. Admitting we’re small, and listening.

Where do you start, though? And what does wisdom sound like?

Let’s see where Proverbs starts as we keep reading.

Proverbs 1:8-19 (Common English Bible)

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction;
    don’t neglect your mother’s teaching;


9         for they are a graceful wreath on your head,
        and beads for your neck.


10 My son, don’t let sinners entice you.
    Don’t go


11     when they say:
        “Come with us.
        Let’s set up a deadly ambush.
        Let’s secretly wait for the innocent just for fun.


12         Let’s swallow up the living like the grave —
        whole, like those who go down into the pit.


13         We’ll find all sorts of precious wealth;
        we’ll fill our houses with plunder.


14         Throw in your lot with us;
        we’ll share our money.”


15 My son, don’t go on the path with them;
    keep your feet from their way,


16     because their feet run to evil;
            they hurry to spill blood.


17 It’s useless to cast a net
    in the sight of a bird.


18 But these sinners set up a deadly ambush;
    they lie in wait for their own lives.


19 These are the ways of all who seek unjust gain;
    it costs them their lives.

So we read this in my community group the other Saturday and it seemed funny to some of us. Proverbs talks itself up as this well of wisdom, and then as it gets going, we listen in on a parent sitting down their kid for a huge life lesson, figuring we’re going to start with the most important stuff, what we all need to know.

And get this advice – don’t join in with the local street gang. Like don’t jump into the next band of armed robbers that appear. Which, fine, maybe good advice for your kid, but really, is this the thing we most need?

I mean I have made my share of mistakes, but I have never set up a deadly ambush just for fun. I promise. I mean when I’ve done it, it’s been for other reasons, I swear, not just for fun. And my three kids – they have their problems. But we never sat them down before school and were like today, please, do not rob your classmates and share your plunder with us. And please, today, do not spill blood.

On the surface, it seems basic. Is this all that Proverbs has got? 

But then as we talked, we were like, hold on, the schools we went to were full of bullying, groups of kids ganging up on someone they thought was weaker or different. And our kids’ schools are like that still, where people get bullied, just for fun.

And aren’t there other ways that when people just go with the flow around us, our schools or our workplaces remain toxic, or our communities remain unwelcoming and inequitable, like the dances some of our suburbs are playing right now to try to skirt the law and keep from building more housing. 

See this is another way that Proverbs isn’t self-help literature. Because like all the best wisdom literature, it isn’t just personal, it’s collective. We rise and fall together. If one of us is getting wiser, if God is doing something good in our lives, the sign isn’t so much that we think our life is getting better, it’s that the people around us think this. 

And the more I read this first bit of wisdom with this in mind, that it’s not just private, personal advice, the more I’m like I wish any of our societies would slow down and listen. 

  • Would the explorers that traveled from Europe to these lands I’m on today have wondered – what can I learn from who’s there already?
  • And what can I share?
  • And how can we do something together?

Instead of running their feet to evil and becoming extractors and enslavers and using my faith to justify it all.

  • Or would that when this country I’m a citizen of started emerging as the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world when my grandparents were young, what if we hadn’t decided to become the world’s biggest arms dealer, thinking might makes right, and rushing to spill blood?
  • What if we’d just focused on being a food dealer, or a love dealer, or a justice collaborator instead? 

I think this ancient wisdom still speaks. It can still still tell us the truth about ourselves. And I still think it’s urgent that we listen. 

Because our lives are at stake. I love the wisdom here that people who seek unjust gain, the ultimate harm is it costs your life – not just other people’s lives, but your own life. 

Get caught up in violence and extraction and just looking out for you and your own and not others, and you’ll lose yourself.

What will it cost us,

Jesus said,

if we gain the whole world but lose our souls?

Having pastored and counseled people reckoning with serious harm they’ve done, this is true. The harm we do comes back to eat us alive. 

And living in this country with decades of innovation and power and wealth and success behind us for some of us at least, I think man if America isn’t soul-sick and defensive these days? Something has cost us our life. 

So in walks wisdom to the room saying don’t neglect your mother and father’s teaching. Listen to your elders. Listen to your ancestors. Listen to God. 

And then we don’t get laws per se, instead we get a set of stories and a ton of earthy advice.

How do we personalize this, knowing what’s for us? And how do we really take it in? How do we not be like me, when someone tells us we’re moving too fast and mistake the warning for a compliment? 

Where do we start? 

I think the end of this passage gives us something to take away today. 

Proverbs 1:20-23 (Common English Bible)

20 Wisdom shouts in the street;
    in the public square she raises her voice.

21 Above the noisy crowd, she calls out.
    At the entrances of the city gates, she has her say:

22 “How long will you clueless people love your naïveté,
    mockers hold their mocking dear,
    and fools hate knowledge?

23 You should respond when I correct you.
    Look, I’ll pour out my spirit on you.
    I’ll reveal my words to you.

Proverbs insists that not only does wisdom speak, she is shouting in the street, calling out above the noisy crowds. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs as a woman. Later the gospel of John says that Jesus was Lady Wisdom come to life. It says that eternal Logos – the wise Word of God – became flesh and dwelt among us. And so in the Christian tradition, Wisdom is always personal. It’s never a set of facts we learn. And it’s kind of gender-bending. Wisdom is the wisest of women who beckons us to sit at her feet. And wisdom is Jesus Christ, son of the living God, who invites us to follow him. And wisdom is the androgynous, beyond gender, Holy Spirit of God who is the truth-telling voice both without and within. 

And so we may wonder: If wisdom is a woman shouting in the street, and if wisdom is the truth of Jesus the word of God, and if wisdom is the Spirit of God seeking to speak life-giving truth to us still, what is wisdom saying to us? What is wisdom saying to you? 

One way to start to answer this question is to ask –

what has life been trying to teach us recently, whether or not we’ve been listening. 

What truth is crying out to you, to make your life work better, for you and for others?

For me, it’s not so much the haste makes waste thing. I don’t derail my life this way so much anymore. Maybe sometimes, but not as much.

But last year, when I was gifted some time off by this community, in the form of a sabbatical, there was a course-correcting wisdom that came my way. The word I learned is called Enclosure.

I stayed in a monastery a couple times during my sabbatical, and there an enclosure is the place where the public can’t go. It’s the private space, sacred to the monks or nuns that live there permanently. Where they preserve the way of life to which they are called.

And for me, enclosure has become this metaphor for the sacred commitments in my life that I am called to, that make my life work. And over the past several months, I’m thinking more and more about the people and habits and commitments that form the core of my life, and that I don’t let anyone or anything interrupt. 

As a person who has tended to want to YES to everything that interests me in life, I’m learning that the small set of people and things I say yes to needs more protecting, and that has meant working on saying NO a little more often too. And that’s taking a lot of practice for me, but man if it isn’t important, and protecting me from regret down the road, I believe. 

That’s me, though. You may be in the opposite place today – the kind of person who’s been saying NO too often and needs to learn more YESes. I don’t know. So my encouragement today isn’t to do any particular thing in your life, but to ask:

What has life been trying to teach me? 

Where is Wisdom crying out to you with her fierce and gentle voice 

What’s calling to you? 

We’ll ask this repeatedly in the weeks to come, but perhaps we can close by taking a quick minute on this…

  • How is the Spirit of God trying to lead you toward a more healthy, abundant life?
  • How is Lady Wisdom crying out to you, with her voice of encouragement or correction?
  • If you could sit at a table today with your ancestors assembled, or perhaps even with the living God, what observations might they make about your life? What might they have to say?