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Date Posted: November 5, 2020

What Is Wisdom?

Lavon was 19 years old when he married his sweetheart, Oreece in 1943, in the tense days of World War II. Not long after they married, he shipped out to Ft. Hood in Texas for basic training, along with his best friend, Norman.  He and Norman had grown up together out in the country, and they went through their training together as well.  

Oreece, newly married, stayed home with family and waited and prayed, like so many others, that they would have a life together on the other side of the war.  

After their time at Ft. Hood, Lavon and Norman’s company landed in Normandy after the invasion there and were sent straight to Italy.  Their company split soon after, and Norman was sent with a separate group into Germany.  Lavon never saw him again.  Norman was killed in action.  

Not long before Christmas that year, Lavon himself was shot five times outside of Bologna and left for dead in the snow.  Miraculously, he was found, unconscious and in bad shape, and he was put on the hood of a jeep so the heat could keep his body warm until they could get him safely back for medical care.    

Unfortunately, given delays in communication, Oreece was told that he had been killed in action, and she looked for days toward life as a young widow until additional word was sent that Lavon had actually made it.  

When Lavon finally made it back home, he had a photo that someone had taken of him and his best friend Norman at boot camp.  He took out a pair of scissors and cut out Norman’s picture and took it to his mother.  It was the only photograph she had of her son.  

Lavon and Oreece settled into their life, enormously grateful for the chance to live and make a family.  They ended up having four children, eight grandchildren, and great-grandchildren on top of that.  I am one of their grandsons, and they helped raise me–two of the wisest people I have ever known.  

They have both been dead a decade now, but rarely a day goes by that I don’t think of them and remember some lesson they taught me.  Lessons of wisdom that are steeped in living a simple life, being kind to people, being honest, working hard, telling people you love them–and meaning it.  I think the true lessons of wisdom are taught by lives that have experienced hardship and suffering–lives that never take the privilege of life for granted. 

When I think of wisdom, I think of Lavon and Oreece–or Meme and Daddar as we know them.  They were truly wise people, and in a particular time when wisdom seems to be squeezed out by willful ignorance and hubris–a self-obsessed pride–I need reminders of the lessons of the Wisdom of God that is promised to us.  

I am deeply moved that today’s assigned texts all invite us to focus more deeply on Wisdom–here in these days in which we find ourselves struggling as a nation.  Everywhere you turn or listen, we feel saturated with information, but we are starving for Wisdom.    As described in today’s reading from the Wisdom of Solomon:

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.

She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.

Yet what does it mean to seek wisdom?  Here is where I want to put my attention.  Interestingly the text lays out a path for us to follow.  

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,

and concern for instruction is love of her,

and love of her is the keeping of her laws,

and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,

and immortality brings one near to God;

so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

What do you notice in this path?  What clues do you see that describe this growth in wisdom?

Notice that the path of wisdom begins with “a most sincere desire for instruction.”  It begins with openness to growth, a recognition that we do not have all the answers.  The path of wisdom begins with an awareness that there is more for us to see, to understand, than we presently do.  So, the path of wisdom begins with humility.

And therein lies the problem for our culture: we are so locked into a posture of arrogance and pride that we cannot imagine being humble.  Vulnerability and supposed weakness are to be avoided at all cost.  They are threats to our pursuit of power.  

Yet, such humility is the key, the opening step, on the path of wisdom.  And from there, we move toward the reality of our essential union with God: pictured with the image of a “kingdom,” a space where our lives are infused by the presence of the Spirit.  

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.

That one line gets me: that wisdom is found by those who seek her.  

Do we dare ask ourselves: What are we seeking?  

Power? Prestige? Influence? 

Are we so locked into this zero-sum mentality that we are only concerned with “winning?”  If such winning is our only concern, then we have already lost, and we will continue in this vicious cycle that lacks wisdom–a cycle of the superficial, in the entertainment-obsessed culture we inhibit.  

So I need to keep my grandparents close to me in these days–in all my days.  I need to keep truly wise people around me, so that I can listen to the substantial, not the superficial.  

One more quick story about my grandfather.  For as long as I knew him, on some Saturday evenings, I would notice that my grandfather would get in his truck and drive up to the church.  I asked him once where he was going, and he said he was going to turn the water on.  

See, it was my grandfather’s job to go turn on the spigot in the enormous baptismal pool, to fill it with water in time for the baptism the next day.  He had timed it and knew exactly how many hours it took to get it ready for the service on Sunday morning.  

I love this image of Daddar: that he went alone into the church, climbed the stairs, put the plug in the drain and turned the spigot on.  He was a quiet soul, and he did his part to enable others to be washed in the waters of baptism and begin their journey of faith in this world.  The preacher may have baptized the people, but my grandfather provided the water.  

He was a wisdom seeker and a wisdom bearer, and he knew the importance of doing what we can to support others in their search for wisdom as well.  He knew what mattered, what was significant,and he focused his attention here.  He learned his lesson the hard way about how to live life.  

I imagine him lying there in the snow at night, wounded and left for dead.  And I imagine him waking up in the hospital, and then going home to see his wife, and then holding each of his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, remembering that he had a chance to be a beacon of wisdom and hope.  

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.

That is his lesson for each of us, I think.

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
November 8, 2020