This is what wisdom looks like. It is not as we have come to know wisdom which so often comes dressed in cap and gown. Wisdom so often looks serious, powerful and distant. But here, wisdom looks personal, merciful, charitable and child-like. This icon of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom is by Slovenian artist and theologian Marko Rupnek, and was commissioned by Pope Paul II. This is what wisdom looks like for those who feel betrayed by those who have impersonated Wisdom and for those whose only hope is in a Wisdom, the likes of which we have never seen before.
The prayer for Wisdom is the first of the Advent Antiphons. They are for those who live in lamentable times. There are seven of them, and they are part of Common Worship Daily Prayer for the seven days starting today.
The prayer goes:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Malcolm Guite has composed an appeal for Wisdom as part of his reflections on the Advent Antiphons. This is part of his collection of Sonnets, Sounding the Seasons.
I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
or break the bread except as I am broken.
O mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.
When we pray for Wisdom we recognise that we are still seeking her. We know Folly sure enough, but Wisdom is yet to be found. In Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth we are reminded just how elusive Wisdom is. There, the so-called Wise Men got their directions so wrong that they travelled to Jerusalem before realising their mistake. Worldly wise they expected the special birth to be at the seat of power, and not in a stable. As Brueggemann says, they were nine miles wide of the mark.
But we act as if we are “spot on”.
I am heartened by the attention being given to how we can share concerns about how we are failing (the Harvard Business Review has published its Failure Issue). We tend to protect ourselves by saying what a good job we are doing, and how we are meeting our targets, like Little Jack Horner sat in his corner. Too often we just list our successes to promote ourselves and our organisation. This is hiding the truth. This is foolish. Further questions need asking such as “in what ways are we (am I) failing to do what we feel we should be doing?” That question is far more likely to uncover the truth. Realising the lamentable truth of our lives is the start of our quest for Wisdom. Wisdom’s absence makes our hearts grow fonder for her.
Here is a link to a general post I wrote about the Advent Antiphons which you may like to read.