Rector's November 2013 Letter

‘The Getting of Wisdom’

Two phrases have been circling in my head as I was musing about my topic this month; both of which might be described as ‘proverbial. Both are from the Bible (sort of, in one case, as I will explain!), and both are striking enough that they have been used as the titles of unrelated books and become familiar in a disconnected way, so that we may feel we know them without actually knowing the full quotation.

November actually contains three days of remembrance, not just the famous one on the 11th when we remember those who died in war; the 1st of November is ‘All Saints day’, when we remember the well known heroes of the Christian faith and the 2nd is ‘All Souls day’ when we remember our personal heroes, those we have loved and lost. The first phrase that comes to mind is from a reading often used on Remembrance Day, from the book of Ecclesiasticus Chapter 44. You won’t find the book in all Bibles as it belongs to the section known as the ‘Apocrypha’, from the Latin word for ‘Secrets’, which means it is not part of the original Hebrew Old Testament but was added later.

The Church of England traditionally commends these books as worth reading for their human wisdom, though not always to be relied on as a guide to faith and doctrine. The passage is a moving one, starting off: ‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us’, and moving through a list of qualities of those who are remembered, then saying poignantly ‘There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been.’ Its application to Remembrance Day is obvious, but it also serves to remind us of all those who have somehow by their lives shaped our own; our literal ancestors and those whose relationship to us is symbolic; those perhaps who led us to the faith we have or demonstrated it in their own lives; those who taught us by word and by example and those unknowns whose teaching was passed on to us without us ever being aware of them as individuals.

And that brings me to the second phrase,which I used as my title above - ‘The getting of wisdom’. This comes from the Biblical Book of Proverbs, chapter 4 v 7, and in full says ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.’ It is in effect a proverb about the importance of proverbs, as one of the principle ways that wisdom was collected and passed on through the generations in times past was in these short, memorable, pithy sayings that encapsulate little nuggets of wisdom about ‘how the world works’. That was why the Book of Proverbs was collected and written, and why it is included in the books of the Bible; because a big part of becoming ‘wise’ and not merely clever or knowledgeable is absorbing life lessons from those with more experience than us, whether in practical everyday matters or in things of faith and the spirit.

One of the values of a proverb is that it makes it clear that the wisdom passed on is not merely the brainchild of one particular person, but that it has been found valuable enough to be passed on over and over again, becoming polished in the process. If your grandmother tells you that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to people who say nice things about you, because their admiration may not come to any practical benefit, that is one person’s advice. If she says ‘Soft words butter no parsnips’ (a personal favourite of mine since childhood!) it is clear that there is a weight of many experiences behind the words.

Some proverbs may appear to be contradictory, but this is mostly because they are applicable in different situations – part of the wisdom is recognising whether this is a ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ or a ‘many hands make light work’ situation!

November, the season of Remembrance, is a time for gratitude to those who have shaped our lives and our world, both known and unknown. So let’s take a moment or two to sit and reflect on those who have made a difference to us, thanking God for their example, their wisdom, and their courage in facing life’s difficulties, and asking Him to help us follow their good examples.

 

Rev’d. Karen Spray 01392 877400

church@revdkaren.org.uk


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