Week four on this Wisdom theme. I’m not sure how much wiser everyone is feeling, but hopefully this has been a chance to ponder a little more deeply the way of wisdom and the important place it is given in the scriptures. Wisdom as the first of all God’s creations, calling out to us. I wasn’t here last Sunday but had the chance to listen to John’s sermon and Thanks to John for bringing in his perspective into the mix.
The question I’m still asking has to do with how do we actually become wise? What does a person becoming wise look like? I want to know.
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who has done a lot of work on spirituality and wisdom and lived right here in Cincinnati for quite a while before moving out to Albequerque New Mexico to start the Center for Action and Contemplation. He addresses this question of the journey toward wisdom and I’d like to use an outline that he has created that speaks to this that I’ve found pretty helpful.
So this outline in the bulletin insert are the points that he lays out. He calls these the Stages of Consciousness, and I’ve written beside that the Journey Toward Wisdom.
We’re starting these Journey Groups up this fall, meeting together and focusing on spiritual journey, so maybe this can be suggestive of where that journey is taking all of us.
So let’s look at this together, try this on for size, and feel free to make your own notes in the space provided if you find that helpful. This is one way of talking about what a movement into wisdom looks like.
1. INFORMATION STAGE
So the first here is the information stage. This is where we all start. This has to do with the gathering and accumulating of facts and data and formulas, and this is a process that keeps going through all of life. So small children begin to learn their native language and alphabet and start to know names for things. And adults continue to learn names for things, and we study about things that interest us like foreign countries and world history and sports and recipes and the things that make life interesting and exciting for us.
This is what our era of history has become so incredibly efficient at recording and detailing. We have amazing access to all sorts of information. We turn on the news and we get information. We open the newspaper and we get information. We go to the library or jump on the internet and we have access to worlds of information. And if we have a decent memory or if we are just skilled at knowing how to access this information when we need it, we can use information for all sorts of things.
In our religious development this starts with learning Bible stories, memorizing scripture passages, maybe studying church history a little bit. Muslims memorize whole chunks of the Qur’an and the 99 names of God. We start with faith as an accumulation of information about God and following certain formulas.
And this is a starting point. Learning information is important for growth, but in itself it is fragmented, incomplete, and if we focus just on accumulating information it can inflate the ego. The apostle Paul says that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” We are right or righteous because we have gathered the most facts or Bible verses or whatever it may be. We have to move beyond just information.
2. KNOWLEDGE STAGE
And this is what Richard Rohr calls the Knowledge stage. Out of the raw material of information that we are bombarded with daily, knowledge comes when we start to connect pieces and bits of information into larger wholes. We start to see patterns and make judgments about how different parts relate to each other. We’re starting to build something, starting to construct something that makes sense and has meaning. So the amateur engineer within us starts to help things work together in a coordinated kind of way.
We get little glimpses of how things relate to the big whole, but we’re still working on a small scale. Information takes on a context and is no longer as scattered and fragmented. And we begin to interpret information based on the context that we’re able to read it coming from.
With knowledge, we start to be able to tell a narrative, to fit things together into a story that makes sense and to see other pieces of information through this lens. Faith begins to incorporate lived experience and not just propositions.
Knowledge puts us on a path toward what is referred to here as Intelligence which is divided into two parts and is where an important crossover happens.
3. ANALYTIC INTELLIGENCE
So this moves into analytic intelligence, which is a deeper and more filled out form of knowledge. Analytic intelligence is when we make bigger connections and see bigger patterns. The great scientist or the great thinker or artist who can synthesize experience and knowledge into beautiful theories or inventions or pieces of art that communicate new insights. This includes an ability to think outside the box or to question the patterns that others assume as the only way there is. One can grasp and sometimes create systems and analyze them for their effectiveness.
Up to this point it looks like this journey could just be a matter of getting smarter. We move from information to the ability to piece it together to the ability to assemble massive constructs of meaning and to manipulate the natural world for our own needs. So if this is what it’s all about then the higher ones IQ, or the more degrees one has, then the closer one is to wisdom. – this heavy left brained activity of the logical, linear mind. And Rohr points out that the use of analytic intelligence can still be ego based and doesn’t imply any integration of heart, ethics, communion with God, or sense of awe and wonder with the world. He says that this will still emphasize form too much because one has not yet experienced the formless, or confronted mystery.
So this is really a crossover point, when one becomes open to this next kind of intelligence.
This is a good place to bring in the words of Jesus from Matthew 11. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” So the crossover happens through this other kind of intelligence, which brings one back to the mind of the child.
3.5 INTUITIVE INTELLIGENCE
Intuitive intelligence, the intelligence of the heart, happens when one begins to meet reality rather than just measuring it or observing it. There is a sense of being able to feel the whole and to have some initial experience of unitive consciousness where one encounters God in the other. Non-dual thinking begins to happen when head and heart start to work together.
This is where spirituality comes to life. Meeting reality rather than just measuring it.
A good analogy here, I think, would be the difference between looking at a map or a postcard of a place and actually visiting that place, or, even better, becoming native to that place. So one can know lots of facts about a place, but until one has been there and been shaped by that place, one can only have a limited type of knowledge about it.
In our family this comes into play with the expansiveness of the skies of Western Kansas. Most people just see Western Kansas as a place to drive through on their way to the mountains, but if you grew up there like Abbie did, and when you go back to visit, there is this identification with the open expansiveness of the land. The external has become, in a very real way, part of the internal landscape. And one can feel this in one’s being. This recognition when the inner resonates with the outer. At least, that’s sort of how Abbie describes it. It’s intuitive. It’s sensed, it’s felt, it’s known in one’s soul.
There are two more stages here that Rohr talks about and I guess I might as well say that anywhere beyond this point don’t be fooled too much if I sound like I know what I’m talking about. It’s kind of difficult to wax eloquent about the upper stages of spiritual consciousness when one is still trying to learn the basics of love, joy, and peace. So try and imagine with me just what it might look like for a person, or a community, to be moving toward wisdom.
With understanding, one is now connecting the smaller wholes into The Whole, and holding together the fragments of experience and intuition into an integrated worldview. We “begin to be part of the entire ‘great chain of being’, visible and invisible, inner and outer, form and formlessness, matter and spirit, which are seen as one.”
We develop the contemplative mind, which produces in us kinship and affinity instead of distance and otherness. Rohr calls this co-naturality. We are of the same nature with reality and meet it on its own terms, “without a need to categorize it, control it, explain it, or even understand it.” ‘It is what it is.’ We understand it not just intellectually, but because it has become a part of us. We understand that God is grace because we have come to experience and to practice that grace, and we become more childlike in how we receive grace.
And we become more comfortable with accepting God on God’s terms, the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. “I am who I am.”
And when we live the teachings of Christ, like spending time with the poor, or working toward forgiveness for those who have harmed us, then our consciousness expands into understanding. We start to know the gospel and actually start to be the gospel. Co-naturality, of the same nature.
So what is wisdom? Wisdom is what you get when all of these previous parts of the journey can be included, honored, held together into a unitive whole, and, we also come to completely relax into the acceptance of mystery, grace, paradox, and seeming contradictions. There is room for all this and we recognize that it is not so much us holding it all together, but we who are being held together. Everything has a place. There is room for suffering, room for celebration, room for deep sadness and joy. Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (3:1) We let go of cynicism, and we approach everything and everyone as a teacher, an opportunity to learn. We become humble. The mind of the child and the mind of the mature adult. We finally know that we don’t know, and we are OK with just being known. As my dad has said, “I used to know a lot more than I do now.”
This is also a return in many ways to simplicity. Ronald Rolheiser, who is another priest, not to be confused with Richard Rohr, talks about the difference between himself and Mother Teresa talking about God’s love. He knew Mother Teresa and he says that when she would get up to speak in front of people all she would have to do is to say “God loves you,” and people who begin to cry. He said when he talks about the love of God he has to talk for 20 minutes, and have this complicated outline and different examples and stories and metaphors and scriptures. She just radiated love and her presence and few words were all that was needed for this to be communicated. And maybe this is one of the best ways to think about wisdom. Rather than lots of words and examples and a nice outline…. wisdom is communicated from the presence of those who continually allow God to have God’sway with them, and over time love, humility, and wisdom become who they are. That sounds like a beautiful journey to me.
** Outline and quotes taken from a handout given by Richard Rohr distributed in York, UK, “On the Edge” conference, 1-3 June 2007), posted HERE on the web.