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True Wisdom

I was born into an Irish-Catholic family that also honored the ancient religious traditions and heritage of our home-county. Adding to the cultural and religious mix, the first members of the two sides of my family, who came to America during the Irish Potato famine ahead of their families to establish a new home, ended up marrying Cherokee women. Once the men were well-settled they sent for their Irish wives, who were none too pleased by what they found. But by then both Cherokee wives had given birth to multiple children and my Irish-Cherokee branch of the family had begun. The Irish notion of family was a bit different than the immigrants of most other cultures, so the Cherokee women were not turned out and they all got along somehow. Different times.

My father’s side of the family did not honor our Druid heritage as much as my mother’s did, and they definitely tried to downplay our Native ancestry. The fact that my mother and maternal grandmother honored our full heritage isn’t too surprising, since in some respects both Irish and Cherokee cultures are matrilineal. Many of my mother’s female ancestors had been bandrúi, descendants of the female Druids that were learned of herbology and medicine. And they had handed down this knowledge mother-to-daughter for more generations than you could count. And in Cherokee culture, the preservation of family, cultural history and natural medicine was also handed down the female generations.

There were no daughters in my generation, but my maternal-grandmother sensed my interest and that there was something different about me. She didn’t instruct me in herbal lore, she wasn’t going to go that far, but I did grow up hearing rich stories about both cultures.

With this background, I was forced to navigate my multiethnic, multicultural, multi-faith identity since I was a young child. What that created in me was the propensity to honor not only the particularities of my traditions, but also the commonalities, and as I grew older to seek the wisdom of the world’s religions and cultures.

And so I’ve studied and experienced the richness of my traditions and those of others that I have been interested to pursue. Growing up in South Carolina I attended a number of pow-wows and Ceremonies. Druid rituals were harder to find, but they existed, as this was not long after various traditions of Paganism began to reemerge. Once I came to California on the cusp of my teens, there were more Pagan activities, but less Native rituals. What ones I did find were not Cherokee, but Ohlone and Chochenu.

This seeking for wisdom has led me to experience various Christian denominations as well as other faiths, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and various Pagan paths. It led me through the ordination path in A Course in Miracles, through various degrees of Wiccan and Druid initiations, and most recently through Seminary.

But my wisdom-seeking is not done: I am still in the Member-in-Discernment process with the UCC and about to embark on phase II of my journey into the spirituality of hospital chaplaincy. And perhaps after that I may accept the invitation I’ve received from Wesley Theological Seminary embark on the Doctor of Ministry degree they offer in Arts in Theology. God only knows!

This thirst for Wisdom is what I think Solomon is experiencing in our reading from 1 Kings, though perhaps in a bit different way. Now Solomon genuinely loved the Lord and also intended to follow in his earthly father’s footsteps. But those were some pretty long footsteps to follow and some pretty big shoes to fill. This was King David after all, who had had about the most impressive resume of anyone in that part of the world at that time. So, young Sol may have felt just a wee bit intimidated.

Well, as David was now sleeping with his ancestors, the Lord himself stepped in and appeared to Solomon in a dream – you know, just to help the kid along a bit. But though Solomon is quoted in our reading as saying to God, and I paraphrase, “uh, well, you know, you’ve made me king here even though I’m only a little kid that hardly knows how to go out and come in,” he is exaggerating a bit.

If we cross-reference biblical accounts, and relate them to historical records where we can, we find that Solomon was probably somewhere between 20 and 30 years old – perhaps not at the height of his maturity, but hardly an ingenue either.

He is aware of the gravitas of his situation. David had bequeathed him a well-ordered realm, but maintaining a united Israel and Judah would not be an easy task. And, fortunately, he had the innate wisdom to look beyond his own self-interest. For no matter how long his life, how full his coffers, or how many of his enemies God mowed down for him, without the abilities he would need to rule effectively his beloved kingdom would fall.

And so, very cannily, he asked for the very thing he would need: a wise, understanding, and discerning mind. To say that God was just “pleased” I think puts it a bit too mildly. More likely he was mightily impressed, maybe even ecstatic. For this had not been his experience with members of his chosen people so far.

Though God grants Solomon’s request, And gives him long life and riches to boot, from what we know of Solomon throughout his account in Scripture it doesn’t seem that personal advantage was at the heart of his motivation. Rather, he seems to have been one of those remarkable individuals and even rarer leaders who actually put the good of others before their own. And as King, this meant for Solomon the entire Kingdom of Israel and Judah.

So important, yet underrated, is Wisdom, that the Greeks termed it Sophia, the feminine aspect of God. As such it identifies the vital quality of compassion, so necessary among other abilities, not only in leadership but all throughout human endeavors and interactions.

It is this that is being addressed in our reading from Proverbs, in which Wisdom is similarly personified.

Lady Wisdom shows herself to be truly wise, leading by example to demonstrate that true wisdom is not merely a thing of public displays of ostensibly wise behavior, but must be carefully prepared. And so she builds her house with a firm foundation, well-supported by seven pillars. She also sets a well laden table, realizing that wisdom must be well sustained, once established. For only by being grounded, and nourished in spirit and body, can one have the strength and courage to leave behind the things that don’t truly serve the course of wisdom and true perception and carefully cultivate those that do. She is, in essence, telling us – and these may be the most important words I say today – to Wake Up!

And even Paul – and I say that because those of you who know me know that I am not generally his biggest fan – has something very important to add here: it is that true wisdom is more than choosing right behavior that will support the greatest good for all, an observation that seems very much in keeping with our reading from Proverbs. But Paul ramps it up a notch when he adds that in addition to wise acts and altruistic motivations, it is to realize and honor the Divine source of that wisdom, even as Solomon did, and be willing to answer when God calls.

There is, though, if I may coin a term, an “anti-wisdomic” element in all of this, and one that can easily trip us up. It is all too easy to put too much focus on the wisdom of the ancients in sacred texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago. To be sure it is there and continues to be a valuable source of guidance, but that is not the only place it is. It exists in the works of theologians, philosopher, futurists, and other great thinkers of all traditions, nations, and cultures through the centuries and into our post-modern age. So true is this that we might to well to consider re-opening the Canon rather than cutting off our primary scriptural resources with the First Council of Nicaea in the Fourth Century. However, in so considering we would also need to expand both our thinking and our spiritual conception of faith, beyond the traditional parameters of Christianity and Christendom.

But no matter what we do, wisdom is of little use beyond an intellectual exercise if it remains within a book or a seminary classroom. That is merely knowledge, which is often content to sit upon the laurels of its own self-importance. It only truly becomes wisdom when it is put into practical application, into action.

Wisdom has been needed in all ages, in our society and in our personal lives. but never more so than now. We live in a world of exponentially evolving technology with the power to provide great benefit or do great harm. We play with dangerous toys.

So yes, we are in great need of wisdom and discernment, in our thinking, in interpreting our feelings and whether to act on them in carefully considered response rather that as knee-jerk reaction, and in our subsequent actions.

While I sometimes choose not to be political in the pulpit lest I undermine my message and do disservice to the sacred and my charge in spiritual community, there are other times where it seems I am not following God’s call unless I do.

We, as people of faith, are called to action, otherwise why are we here in the thick of the world. Were it simply to work on our own spiritual perfection until we float up into the sky on the day of the Rapture, we could do that sitting in a cave somewhere or cloistered away in a monastery or convent. And, much akin to Carl Sagan’s response when asked if he thought that there was life on other planets: “well, if there’s not, it seems like an incredible waste of space,” it seems that our doing so would be a tremendous waste of real estate. We were meant to be caretakers of the earth, to work together in harmony for the good of the planet, for the health of the human community, and in faithful relationship with God and one another as God’s children.

There are some scientists out there that say it’s too late, that we’re beyond the point where we can reverse the effects of global warming and other ways we have seriously and permanently injured the planet. And they have plenty of creditable scientific evidence to back themselves up. However, In keeping with the nature of science and scientific debate, there are other scientists who say we are not quite yet at that tipping point, but we soon will be if we don’t act soon.

The planet has a tremendous God-given ability to heal itself, but it can only be pushed so far, and it needs our help. We are the hands and feet of God, if we are willing to be – there’s that free will thing again – and we have the choice to speak with her voice rather than our own.

As in every age there are those that say that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, with perhaps the distinct difference that in our age things are moving so fast that we tend to keep making bigger handbaskets so that the problem doesn’t look so bad.

Again, is it too late? Are we so messed up now that we can’t do the work, God’s work that she would have us do?

I don’t think so, and neither, I think, do most of you. We can do it. But we need to start now. Are you with me?

It may be that some of us may be called to work that looms large in the world and in the public eye, while other’s work may be more grassroots, in small community, or even family or individual effort. But the important thing is that we step forward with a willing hand and a faithful heart when called. For even the smallest act may play a larger part in aggregate than any of us realize. Now is the time; the time is now!

Let us pray...

Dear God, we have not always been wise.

We’ve made plenty of mistakes, but we want to stop making them.

Like Solomon we ask for your wisdom.

We need it to do all we can to undo the damage we’ve done.

We need it to be good stewards of this lovely planet you’ve given us.

We need it to repair relationships and make new healthy ones, that we may live, work, laugh, and pray in community as you intended.

We’ve reached the point where we at last realize that we cannot continue as we always have.

And, at last, we are willing to listen.

Give us wisdom, Dear God, that we fulfill our birthright as your beloved children.

Amen, Ashe, and Blessed Be.

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