David Paterson thinks about... The Love of Wisdom

Here lies a tree, which Owl, a bird,
was fond of when it stood on end

So begins a wonderfully daft poem by Winnie the Pooh, celebrating an heroic event. And, if you don’t know the story (or, worse still, only know the Pooh stories in their Disney version), see A A Milne’s 'House at Pooh Corner' The story is about how Piglet rescued Owl and Pooh from Owl’s ruined house when the tree it was in blew down.
Sing ho! for Piglet

I think the best wisdom is usually a bit heroic, with a warm, loving, celebratory sort of daftness. And anyway, owls are always wise aren’t they? (this one could even spell his own name – WOL).

THE LOVE OF WISDOM. English is a wonderful language – you can make almost any phrase have more than one meaning. The love of wisdom – that’s “philosophy”, isn’t it? Plato and all that jazz? Well, yes, and we’ll come back to that later. But what about “the love which Wisdom gives” – the love which (perhaps only?) Wisdom possesses – the love of Wisdom, Wisdom’s love? (And I’ve just noticed that a capital W crept in while I wasn’t looking!)

Wisdom has a sort of personality. She’s someone to talk to and listen to; she loves you and teaches you to love. Or so many religions have thought. The Hebrew scriptures include the Wisdom literature in which Wisdom is the creative force of Yahweh, who dances with him to create the world. In Sanatana Dharma (“Hinduism” as the Europeans call it) Sarasvati, Kali, Radha, Sita and many other Goddesses, representing a whole range of feminine human traits, hold the creative power of the Three Worlds while their male counterparts fight the battles, make all the noise and steal most of the limelight.

To personify an idea like that is to make a way of talking to ourselves and each other about it, a way to explore and understand it. Don Cupitt has often said “There is nothing outside language”. Perhaps we might say that there are many languages, and they are together outside-less not in the sense of any denial of things that cannot be put into words, but simply in the sense that languages are the ways we humans continuously reach out to make sense of it-all. We detect, reflect, understand, invent an ever-increasing all-that-is. And so the personification of Wisdom is closely related to the personification of the Logos, the Word.

To love Wisdom is to love the world – the world within, the world between and the world beyond. To love it-all. Every new thing we discover, invent, or even just imagine becomes a new part of it-all, forever infinitely large, forever infinitely small, forever expanding our experience. There is no need to seek transcendence in divine figures existing outside it-all (what could that possibly mean?), transcendence starts for us in the complexity of our own brains which perform functions too many and too fast for consciousness. And that’s only the start. The myriad interchanges and changes between my thinking and yours, this language and that, our species and others on this planet, and (maybe someday) from other planets too – to love it-all is an epic journey of exploration, in which we learn to have enough wisdom to enjoy and celebrate it-all and not destroy it with our unwise loves and desires.

But back to “Plato and all that jazz” The historical legacy of Greek philosophy is very great, but it’s only one of many ways of loving wisdom. Different human languages are good at different things: Latin to combine the hard-edged word structure the Christian Fathers wanted for producing strict dogma, Sanskrit for many-layered “both-and” words with multiple meanings, Arabic for the intricacies of law-making, and so many, many more, all with their own unmatched insights. No one tradition – no one language – even begins to embrace the whole of human wisdom. And that’s only considering the national and regional languages – how about the language of physics, the language of music, or of mathematics, poetry or art; and the languages of myth and mysticism, the language of our physical bodies and our relationships with each other and with other life forms, the basic inner magic of DNA? Languages which we create and which create us.

Wisdom is a dialogue of body, mind and spirit, of learning to live together in community. To love Wisdom is to wish to talk to her, to listen to her. May she teach us to love wisely.


David Paterson is a retired C of E clergyman and a Sea of Faith Trustee


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