We are embarking on a journey today as we begin reading the book of proverbs of Solomon. Our walk with this book is not just a review of clever aphorisms, or marking a list of viable cross-stitch bon mots that we can hang on the walls of our homes. This pilgrimage is one that Solomon invites to take, one that goes directly into the face of life in the world with the intention to learn, grow and evolve as human beings. More than being successful, more than being "good," this pursuit of wisdom (Lady Wisdom, by Solomon's imagining) is the point of a life well lived.
The wise put a lot of energy into conveying wisdom to the young and inexperienced. We can see, just in the first three chapters of Proverbs, that Solomon knows that this is going to be an uphill battle. The wise know that to seek wisdom means a better way in life. They know that to live well, while learning and growing, is the key not only to happiness but also to a person being able to add to the common good of all. That is true and worthy of all...and yet, how to do you close the gap? How do we ensure that wisdom really does communicate itself from one to another? How does Solomon inspire the student into a willing and open pursuit of Lady Wisdom herself?
There's the rub.
For wisdom to "work," three things are required: the wise must be willing to speak and teach; the young must be willing to listen and adopt; the student must then be willing to put that wisdom into practice. The gift of wisdom is not fulfilled until we, the listeners, put those words into practice.
"Their purpose is to teach wisdom and discipline, to help one understand wise saying. They provide insightful instruction, which is righteous, just and full of integrity. They make the naive mature, the young knowledgeable and discreet. The wise hear them and grow in wisdom; those with understanding gain guidance." (Solomon, in Prov. 1:2-5)
But think of the wise...do we listen? In the Hall of Fame for the wise, we can name folk like Solomon, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-Tze, Confucious, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Franklin, Edison and Einstein, correct? But how often do we convert that wisdom into either a dramatic memory or a fine "drop quote" without actually putting those teachings into consistent practice?
"Neither a borrower or a lender be....To thine own self be true" (Polonius, in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)
The tragedy of Hamlet? All this great advice...all this wisdom...is heard, but not acted upon. That is always the intent of the wise, to help the student to avert tragedy and learn a better way. Our challenge is to hear those words, take them to heart and then use them as guides in the choices we make and the actions we take. That is the birth of wisdom. It's better than trial and error, but so hard for us to embody. We can hear the words, but they won't help us until we listen and then use them well....
"Don't touch that stove, it's hot....." (Mom)