You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. (Psalm 51:6, NRSV)
Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy. (Proverbs 3:13-18, NRSV)
“There are, O monks, these four lights. What four? The light of the moon, the light of the sun, the light of fire, and the light of wisdom. Of these four lights, the light of wisdom is supreme.” (The Buddha)
Some people imagine Wisdom as she appears in the book of Proverbs to be a young woman. But I see her as an old woman, full of years and experience. I know I wasn’t wise as a young woman, and I think most of us aren’t particularly wise in youth. Perhaps the wisdom of youth is to look for wisdom, to seek the understanding that comes with experience and reflection on that experience.
Many human cultures have valued wisdom and sought it through study and reflection. Our culture values other things – information, ‘know-how,” skillfulness, intelligence, cunning, shrewdness, astuteness. We admire people who can get things done. We don’t pay a lot of attention to people who can reflect meaningfully and help others to deeper understanding. That’s a pity.
Cultures that value wisdom tend to value old people. Living a long life doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but it does allow more opportunity to acquire wisdom than most teenagers would believe possible. And there’s a collective wisdom in older people that is the wisdom of shared experience and understanding.
What is wisdom but the finding of the sacred in everything and the recognition of sacred mystery?