Perhaps because of my name and its derivation (philo-sophy: the love of wisdom), I have a special relationship with wisdom. I remember when I was a teenager that my prayer — with heart-yearning anguish — was “To Understand.”
“Understand what?” someone might have asked, had I opened the secret tablets of my heart.
“All of it!” I would have said, “Who am I?” “What is this Universe–and Why is it here, not there?” And these were only the simple questions. “Why do plants grow petals in odd numbers?” “What if something is faster than light?” And always, Einstein’s question: “Is the Universe a friendly place?” And then one day, sometime in my middle years, I realized with a burst of joy that I would never understand–and what a gift! There will always be something to explore!
Now that I am an older woman, I am supposed to have acquired some modicum of wisdom. Whatever I know is very small. But curiously it circumambulates Female energy; sex, fertility, creativity. Maybe wisdom is simply awareness.
The other day, I found myself putting on my ruby and diamond engagement ring from my long-ago marriage. I wanted to wear something special for a memorial service for one I loved. Because the mind works by association, slipping it on my finger brought to mind the Book of Proverbs, where a Ruby is the metaphor for Wisdom — and also for a virtuous woman.
Do you remember reading or hearing Proverbs 31:10-31? Here is a paraphrase of the “Woman of Noble Character”: a good woman is more precious than rubies: she rises while it is still dark, cooks and cleans, and feeds her family, buys and sells in the marketplace, acquires land that increases in value; plants vineyards, weaves, sews, dresses her family in red and purple, heals the sick, and is still awake late into the night. She is cheerful, kind, generous to the poor. (Whew! It’s exhausting just thinking about her working while her husband attends to his pipe and pals.)
The other famous “ruby” is found in the proverb on Wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7), and again it pertains to a woman, for Wisdom herself is said to be female.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who searches understanding,
for… She is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
It was Wisdom (Sophia) who told God to create the earth, divide day and night, and fill the universe with life (Proverbs 3:19).
The Lord by Wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew.
Yet God’s knowledge was worth nothing until she (Wisdom) worked alongside. Invisible Wisdom whispering in your ear. Google “Knowledge” and you find 1,100,000,000 results. Put in “Wisdom” and about 252,000,000 crop up. In the Book of Proverbs the word “wisdom” occurs 55 times.
But what is wisdom? One friend of mine defines it as Intelligence backed by Experience, and another announces, facetiously, that it’s good table manners (chew with your mouth closed), which is smarter actually than at first dismissal, since anyone with that courtesy surely extends it to all other aspects of life. Still a third says wisdom is listening to your Intuition or Inner Voice, which surely pertains so long as your Inner Voice is pure and filled with loving kindness. I distrust those intuitions that tell you to go kill your mother in law.
One friend says it’s discernment–especially of when to shut up. Just listen. And such is greed that there are some people who would trade wisdom any day for handfuls of rubies.
The Book of Proverbs describes wisdom with precision: To do good, and right away now; to not betray or take advantage of the trusting neighbor; not to argue, or be scornful, devious, cunning, contemptuous, brash, bragging, or violent; but to be upright, humble–and always, first and foremost, to put your trust in God that will care for you in every situation.
Maybe that’s all we need to know about wisdom: Good table manners. Kindness. Discernment, and Awareness that the Universe is mostly a caring place and on our side. Maybe wisdom is noticing how blessings pours down onto us — in bushels overflowing, because the Universe cannot help but give and give — and give us everything. I’m reminded of Goethe’s wonderful quotation:
“The gods, the eternal ones give all things to their darlings — all joys, all sorrows, to their darlings, everything.”
Perhaps wisdom is the utter and total acknowledgment of one fertile and feminine verb: to be.
© Sophy Burnham, 2018