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Wisdom and Clarity


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
August 14, 2016

Today I want to talk about Wisdom and Clarity. A special thank you to Garrett House, Mike Venturino and Jeffrey Jones for their gift of music that seemed so fitting for today’s theme: “What’s Going On?” It is the question that challenges us to draw on every ounce of wisdom and clarity we can muster.

But after a full week of Vacation Bible School, which was amazingly successful, thanks to the wisdom and clarity of our Director of Christian Education, Ursula Jorgensen’s leadership and planning, I am feeling rather unprepared to speak to this topic with any sense of ownership. I’ll share more about Ursula’s vision in a few minutes.

Today, I am especially thankful to be able to turn to Ruth Gendler’s “Book of Qualities” which we have been exploring for the last several weeks. She names 78 qualities in her book and, so far we have talked about 10 of them. Her personifications give substance to what I wish I could claim as my own!

But why did I choose today’s scripture reading from Luke 12:49-56?

My first answer: I haven’t a clue! It is one of those difficult passages that requires lots of clarification if we are to find any meaning for ourselves. (Maybe that’s why?)

Jesus speaks of bringing divisions and conflict to our world! I thought the Prince of Peace brought only love! But these divisions are those that broke down traditional power dynamics in Jesus’ day. Sons obeyed fathers, daughters obeyed mothers, mothers in law ruled over their daughters in law! He is speaking of a revolution in equality of power. It is one of his teachings that somehow got missed by the church as it developed over the centuries. Now we see it in every encounter he had with women and in so many of his blessings and wisdom teachings.

But he tells us here that he is clearly under stress (as he says, “what stress I am under.” He is human! He is just like us! It is important not to spiritualize this reading or explain it away! He knows he is on his way to his death. He knows that few will understand why the messiah has to die rather than conquer the empire. He calls them hypocrits, false and phoney, because they refuse to see what is happening. They fantasize a quick fix to their problems without seeing the reality all around them.

Without perspective, wisdom and clarity, we are in danger of applying this passage to our present time in too simplistic a way. The Bible is full of wisdom but it is also full of very human stories that absolutely cannot be taken literally without becoming toxic to our souls. Maybe I chose this reading as a cautionary tale. Maybe I chose it as a reminder that we need to be cultivating wisdom and clarity in our religious life as well as our daily lives.

Ruth Gendler describes Wisdom this way:
“Wisdom wears an indigo jacket. She takes long walks in the purple hills at twilight, pausing to meditate at an old temple near the crossroads. She was sick as a young child so she learned to be alone with herself at an early age.

“Wisdom has a quiet mind. She likes to think about the edges where things spill into each other and become their opposites. She knows how to look at things inside and out. Sometimes her eyes go out to the thing she is looking at and sometimes the thing she is looking at enters through her eyes. Questions of time, depth, and balance interest her. She is not looking for answers.”

We can cultivate wisdom by making time in our busy lives to listen to the silence. “Wisdom takes long walks in the purple hills at twilight.” I have been encouraging us to practice prayer and meditation. It can help us listen for the wisdom of God that resides in our souls.

“Wisdom has a quiet mind.” Learning to quiet our minds is a great skill. It begins with simply becoming aware of what we are thinking. Sometimes we are thinking so much and so fast that we get ahead of ourselves and lose the present moment in the confusion.

At Bible Study on Wednesday we talked about Jesus’ asking us to remain awake. Last week’s story of the householder’s servants waiting for his return was revisited in Mark’s version of the story. Ella Mae told us that remaining aware of her actions, her words, her thoughts and intentions has become the most important thing to her. We all agreed that this awareness is key to living a life of compassion and service.

Gendler’s description of Wisdom goes beyond silence into awareness that allows for all of life to be included. She tells us Wisdom was sick as a child. She knows about suffering. She knows that, as Richard Rohr says, “Some form of suffering or death--psychological, spiritual, relational, or physical--is the only way we will loosen our ties to our small and separate false self.”
She is not attached to her ego, “our small and separate false self.”

“She likes to think about the edges where things spill into each other and become their opposites. She is able to include all of reality, the light and the dark, in her understanding.

“Questions of time, depth, and balance interest her. She is not looking for answers.” Wisdom has room in her heart and mind for a stressed out, angry Jesus who said things that upset and confuse us. She knows that Love embraces all of life, that we are all human beings learning to love.

“She knows how to look at things inside and out. Sometimes her eyes go out to the thing she is looking at and sometimes the thing she is looking at enters through her eyes.” Wisdom experiences Mystery!

But it is Clarity we need when we want to make healthy decisions. We need to sort things out and see all the possibilities in this complex and confusing world. Ruth Gender’s description is surprising:       
“My visits to Clarity are soothing now. He never tells me what to think or feel or do but shows me how to find out what I need to know. It was not always like this. I used to visit other people who visited him. Finally, I summoned the courage to call on him myself. I still remember the first time I went to see him. Was I surprised. He lives on a hill in a little house surrounded by wild roses. I went in the living room and sat down in a comfortable chair by the fireplace. There were topographical maps on the walls and the room was full of stuff, musical instruments and telescopes and globes, geodes and crystals and old Italian tarot decks, two small cats. When I left, he presented me with a sketch book and told me to draw the same thing every day until the drawing started to speak to me.”

How do you find clarity in your life?
Ruth Gendler is an artist so she draws “until the drawing starts to speak” to her. You might be one to make lists. If you are a musician you might want to notice the music you are drawn to, the song that pops into your head again and again. I keep a journal and reread what I have written and write some more until clarity comes to me.

 Some of us find it hard to find clarity. We ask other people’s opinions hoping they can decide for us so we’ll have someone to blame if the decision proves wrong! We visit people who visit clarity, but ultimately we need to go there ourselves. find that comfortable chair by the fireplace that allows us to sink into our heart center to discover what is true for us.

Sometimes, however, the best decisions are not make in solitude, but with the combined wisdom of caring people. This is what Ursula taught me so well this week. Vacation Bible School went from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. With 19 children, only one of whom went home at noon, we were all exhausted by the time the last child was signed out. But Ursula had scheduled a meeting of staff volunteers at that hour to discuss what went well, what was difficult and what might need to be changed. Our three Notre Dame University students, Mary Beth Gray, Elizabeth Nordt, Garrett House, Ursula, Emily Tauscher and I sat down to evaluate the day. We made changes that made it go ever more smoothly each day. The kids all had a great time. We had a great time. Her wisdom in designing the program and bringing us together to improve it each day provided us with the clarity to make it our first ever, best ever VBS.

We are all learning to listen and follow the wisdom of our True Selves, the selves we are in God. Richard Rohr shared these words this week in his Daily Meditation and they feel like a good way to close as we all continue to develop Wisdom and Clarity in our lives:
“Within us there is an inner, natural dignity. (You often see it in older folks.) An inherent worthiness that already knows and enjoys. (You see it in children.) It is an immortal diamond waiting to be minded and is never discovered undesired. It is a reverence humming within us that must be honored.

“Call it the True Self, the soul, the unconscious, deep consciousness, or the indwelling Holy Spirit. Call it nothing. It does not need the right name or right religion to show itself. It does not even need to be understood. It is usually wordless. It just is, and it shows itself best when we are silent, or in love, or both. It is God-in-All-Things yet not circumscribed by any one thing. It is enjoyed only when each part is in union with all other parts, because only then does it stand in the full truth.

“Once in a while, this True Self becomes radiant and highly visible in one lovely place or person. Superbly so, and for all to see, in the body of the Risen Christ.

“And note that I did say “body.” It begins here and now in our embodied state in this world. Thus the Christ Mystery travels the roads of time.

“Once you have encountered this True Self—and once is more than enough—the false self will begin to fall away on its own. This will take more of your life, just as it did in Jesus.

“What ballad or poem would you write about your True Self, telling its story, sharing its beauty?”