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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gift of Wisdom

"She (wisdom) hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed." Wis 6 12-13

Wisdom is not something one usually acquires. Rather, it comes with age, experience and the willingness to slog along muddy roads and navigate across roaring streams in company with other searchers. Wisdom is a gift who presents herself to everyone willing to listen, to move slowly, to ask for help. As the scripture says, Wisdom wants to live within us and among us, but we have to be on the alert for her each day and befriend her when she arrives. This is not always easy.

Several years ago I met an elderly, wise priest who had spent almost forty years as missionary in South America. Returning home to Boston he was troubled by the the waste he experienced in the United States, and was even more disturbed by the variety of so many simple items he saw in our supermarkets. Toothpaste drove him crazy. Why we needed twenty kinds of toothpaste was beyond him. Still, he said nothing, because he thought it was the gospel path to listen first to the experience of his family and his priest friends who had spent their entire lives in the U.S. He was using, he told me, the same values he had learned as a missionary. Presume nothing. Listen hard and long. Let your quiet presence and willingness to learn guide you. This priest honestly believed that everyone had something to teach him, even if it was what not to do!

Listening to this man at many priest gatherings only made me admire him more. He rarely made blanket statements about anything, and preferred to ask questions, even about toothpaste. One evening I was having supper with him and six or seven other priests and someone asked him how he was readjusting to life in the United States. Fine, he said, but I am not sure I will be able to sample all the different toothpastes before I die. Everyone began to laugh, some a little uneasily. It is a little crazy one priest admitted. It seems that way to me, the old missionary answered, but perhaps you see it differently.

Listening, I knew I was in the presence of Wisdom. Asking questions, probing, using humor, listening more than talking, made all of us anxious to hear his insights about us. Had he simply lashed out at the U.S. as a selfish place and people, we would have politely ignored him. That he took time to listen to us and seek our insight made a difficult discussion about crossing cultures not only possible, but fruitful. We all left that gathering determined to look at our daily practices and consumption and do something about our wasteful habits. The missionary never asked us to do this, but his willingness to suspend judgment about us made it possible for us to look at ourselves.

Today ask yourself whether you listen openly to those with whom you live everyday. Pray, too, for the grace to live with what you need, not with what you want.

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