Contemporary Times, Timeless Wisdom
HAVE you ever walked into someone's living room and felt that nothing has changed in the last thirty years? Lamps, furniture, bric-a-brac -- all from an earlier period. When I first visited Miss Steele, I was eighteen. She was in her eighties. A former schoolteacher, she had come back to a small Vermont town after living for many years in Bulgaria. Her apartment seemed to me a vision from the past. Yet we became friends.
I was a college freshman, looking for support and understanding. I wanted to be a writer. At that point I was writing in the style of Hemingway, I supposed, with some fairly raw language and gratuitous explicit detail.
One day I asked Miss Steele if she would be willing to hear one of my contemporary short stories. Part way through, it didn't seem a very sensible thing to have done. But she didn't show any shock. She made a perceptive comment or two and went on being richly supportive. During other visits I learned something about a timeless dignity and spiritual wisdom that were much more basic and nurturing than my concern for her keeping up with the world.
The world's story is one of change. To live is to change. And what doesn't change or can't be shown to be a trend isn't much of a newspaper story. If you were to compare front pages of this newspaper from 1909, 1949, and 1989, you would have a chronicle of extraordinary change in countries, events, inventions, discoveries.
We soon find, though, as did the college freshman, that to have a contemporary sense of where we actually are and where we're going, we need to be able to measure against something -- a standard that has the quality of wisdom. It's as true for individuals as for communities and for mankind.
``Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?''1 asks St. Paul in Corinthians. In the book of Proverbs we read, ``The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.... When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.''2
Wisdom, according to the Bible, isn't a matter of sophistication or sagacity but of discerning our relationship to God. A Bible commentary points out that foolishness, the antithesis of wisdom, isn't so much ignorance as a moral position that would deny the necessity of this orientation of heart and mind toward Deity.
One of the values of spiritual wisdom is that it helps anyone to assess change accurately; it doesn't produce naivet about the world. It can keep you from imagining that something contemporary is necessarily something new, when in fact it may be nothing more than the reappearance of an old mistake.
Spiritual wisdom responds to the genuinely progressive because it isn't locked into the frame of the present. It gives us the humility to see there's no way for a mere mortal to stay ahead of the world, which by definition turns around with him on it, other than by getting wisdom from a divine source. It teaches us that man, made in God's likeness, has divine dimension.
Wisdom is in fact something the Bible associates closely with God Himself; it's a divine quality. Perhaps we do our best in rapidly changing times when we're clearest on what it is that doesn't change. Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science and of The Christian Science Monitor, writing of prayer, comments, ``God is not moved by the breath of praise to do more than He has already done, nor can the infinite do less than bestow all good, since He is unchanging wisdom and Love.''3
Not only is it a reassuring standpoint; it offers the only practical vantage point from which to comprehend a turning globe.
1I Corinthians 1:20. 2Proverbs 2:6, 10, 11. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 2 - NO BIBLE VERSE TODAY -