What Does It Mean to Be a People of Wisdom?

What Emerges When We Get Quiet
by the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

I confess: When I turn to the theme for this month, “What does it mean to be a people of wisdom?,” my first response lies somewhere between a groan and a sigh. In this age of skepticism, cynicism, and doubt, of overwhelm and urgency, contemplating “wisdom” feels like a luxury and maybe a bit of a wild goose chase. Who can be trusted, for one thing, and who has the time, for another?

But after several days of background mulling and low-level grumbling, I can feel my defenses begin to lower. I remember a time when I was living in New York, a few months before I go off to divinity school: I am meandering through a bookstore, my favorite Artist’s Date in those days, when a couple of books practically fall off the shelf toward me. The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, and Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. I read them cover to cover, dog-earing every other page, scribbling in pencil in the margins, transcribing favorite poems onto index cards, then setting out to walk in Central Park, memorizing the poem as I go and repeating its phrases in rhythm with my steps all the way around the reservoir. I feel like I am drinking directly from a fresh source of wisdom. I feel like these poems will teach me how to live for the rest of my days.

More than 20 years later, I realize how long it has been since I have opened those books or called one of those poems to mind. But when Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews and I begin planning the March 1 worship service, he quotes both Rumi and Rilke. At the sound of those rhythms, tears come to my eyes. There’s this flutter in my heart, like a Beloved is returning.

I don’t know if Rilke and Rumi exactly capture my life understandings today, as they did all those years ago. I’ll have to go exploring to find out. I do know that if I clear just a little time and space, my body will recognize its own wisdom, its deepest truths, no matter where or how they are expressed. For me, this immediate connection to wisdom resides in my body: in a whooshing sigh—and sometimes a whoop—of “yes!” that emerges as my senses catch a whiff of what’s true for me.

So here are some questions for us to share this month:

  • What is the wisdom of our body trying to tell us?
  • What are our mistakes, even our failures, trying to teach us?
  • What wisdom awaits us on the margins, away from the “expert”-crowded center?
  • Where have we encountered a voice, an experience, a source that seems so true, so wise, that it brings us strength and courage, guidance and hope for the living of our days?
  • What stories, what memories, what relationships that offer wisdom return to our awareness when we get quiet enough to let them in?

Please join us in worship and small groups, fun activities and service opportunities this month! And listen … listen for what we’ll learn together!

Welcoming the not-knowing and cherishing our communal wisdom,