Wisdom starts here18 Jul 2021
Wisdom is acknowledging life as it is, neither living in the past nor wishing our time away for some different future.
An old joke: I asked my 90-year-old father, ‘Dad, what were your good old days?” His thoughtful reply: ‘When I wasn’t good, and I wasn’t old!’.
Being ‘elderly’ seems to be becoming harder. Families are busier and more dispersed. Retirement lifestyle developments are focusing less on the resident and more on profit Coronavirus, for many, has been the icing on the cake.
Growing old is a taxing pastime in the modern day. Retirement was meant to be stress free and relaxing. Fortunately, the elderly have a lifetime of experience and are well equipped to respond to the challenges present in a considered and purposeful way. Wisdom is a skill that takes a lifetime to perfect and it seems most people ‘gain’ wisdom in old age.
For most life follows a simple pattern. When we are children everything is an adventure, and our decisions are made without thought of what may eventuate. As young adults we make decisions based on our personal needs and wants. These ‘wild’ years are self-centred and hedonistic.
As parents we become aware of others and develop a keen awareness of making good decisions and attempt, often unsuccessfully, to have our children accept our logic. When the children leave home we become aware again of our own needs and reflect on who we are and what we hope our retirement may look like, and prudently plan for unexpected eventualities. As life slows our decisions likewise are more discerned, and people seek the wisdom we are able to offer.
Wisdom doesn’t simply come with age or without effort. Nor is wisdom a virtue that can be rushed or fast-tracked. Throughout our lives we make good decisions more often than not, but we are not considered wise.
Calm and competent
Wisdom is a higher level of decision making or way of perceiving situations. Wisdom requires nuance, gentleness and astuteness. The true measure of wisdom is the consistency of these decisions or advice offered. Wise people seem calm and content.
People who possess wisdom are of great value because their insight can be relied on. There is no chance in their advice, nor is the value of the advice spasmodic, it always seems to be good. Wisdom is not simply a higher form of logic there is a foundation for wisdom that is simple and known. The challenge is accepting the wisdom offered and applying it in our lives.
The book of Ecclesiastes is an intricate exploration of life and the process of gaining wisdom. Although the author is traditionally believed to be King Solomon, we do not actually know who wrote the book. It’s poetic to think Solomon after a life of temporal excess comes to an awareness of what is real and valuable though. The essence of the teaching in the book is that wisdom is not the giving of advice but the acceptance of life and the awareness of, and connection to the divine. Everything in life is a gift and the goodness of God can be glimpsed in these gifts.
St Ignatius’ transformation
St Ignatius illustrates the transformation from wild to wise, and an awareness of the present. Born into a noble family he lived a hedonistic lifestyle as a young man. He certainly experienced the ‘wild’ years with enthusiasm. After an injury at Pamplona he was forced to mature beyond his years and make a choice to seek truth and purpose. At Manresa he encountered God through mystical experiences. The truth revealed to him was the presence of God in each moment and a desire to seek this encounter constantly. This led to him desiring to share this wisdom with others.
Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, similar to the insights in Ecclesiastes, lead one to a keen awareness of the present and the presence of God in each moment. His teaching to ‘find God in all things’, is the simple truth that offers each of us wisdom; even in this moment.
Although we encounter wisdom throughout our lives we generally allow life to distract us. Life is busy, we have so many plans and priorities. Living in the past or in the future is a trap that makes foolhardy and naive. The pattern of life is difficult to change. As we age, however, we give up things that have filled our days and other things are taken from us.
Accept life as it is
As we become less mobile we inevitably experience an epiphany. We accept life as it is. We simply live and enjoy what life offers – good or bad. Wisdom is therefore acceptance. When we accept that life is lived ‘now’ and that we need to focus on the present we find God easily. Advice offered from that perspective is what is so valuable to those who are younger. Wisdom is thus not learned, wisdom is simply a realisation.
Although becoming elderly has more and more challenges as society moves forward, the gaining of wisdom and the acceptance of life is universal, and unchanging.
With wisdom comes the realisation that the ‘good old days’ were no different from the current. What has changed is the ability to accept life as it is – good and bad. With wisdom comes an understanding that we were born to live and there is no time like the present to enter into the wholeness of living for this moment.
Wisdom starts here.Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.