Wisdom and Childlikeness

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: / a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, / a Spirit of counsel and of strength, / a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, / and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. /  Not by appearance shall he judge, / nor by hearsay shall he decide, / But he shall judge the poor with justice, / and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. /  He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, / and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. / Justice shall be the band around his waist, / and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Isaiah 11:2-5

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”

Luke 10:21

In Isaiah’s description of the promised one who will judge the poor with the justice they always seem to lack and attend to the afflicted by striking their ruthless oppressors, we hear our own longing for the time when wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear of the Lord will be made manifest. In truth, as day after day we are bombarded with the actions of a government that seemingly strikes the poor and afflicted and raises yet more the ruthless and rich, our longing for the promised and, what our faith declares to be, the realized deliverance is in constant danger of turning into discouragement and despair. If our government is truly, as Lincoln declared, of, by and for the people, then it is we ourselves who are failing the poor and abandoning the afflicted.

Without inspiration and encouragement, without experiencing the call to wisdom, justice, and faithfulness, life has a way of wearing us down. Being of a certain age, I can remember well the aspirations of the counter-culture of the 60’s. We had faith in our power to create a new world because, as Bob Dylan wrote, “the order is rapidly changin’.” Over the years, however, we come to realize that the order does not rapidly change, if it changes at all. As the years passed, we did not so much change the order, as we conformed to it.

So, where is the wisdom and understanding, the true judgment of the poor and the care for the afflicted that Isaiah promised and Jesus delivered? Jesus says, in Luke’s gospel, that although it is hidden from “the wise and the learned,” it is revealed in the childlike. Perhaps the promise continues to remain hidden because there is something basically mistaken in our sense of what it means “to grow up.” Our sense of maturity seems to carry with it that we abandon the childlike sense of awe and wonder in us for a kind of cultural and social sophistication. That sophistication is “worldly-wise” in its capacity for compromise and conformity. It tends to see the capacity for awe and wonder as well as the idealism of children as naive. In appraising the creativity and artistic and humane gifts of its children, it is preoccupied with their utility. It has about it a pragmatism that reduces value to utility.

Yesterday a presidential order reduced the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Monuments in Utah by two thirds and by half respectively. While I am in no position to fully judge this decision on its merits, I could not help wonder why, in the explanation of the change, there was not appropriate reference to the need to protect those parts of these lands that are sacred ground to the Navajo Nation. There are drawings on cliffs that surround the resting place of Navajo ancestors that are 1200 or more years old. As I learned about the sacred sense of this land to the Navajo peoples, I was brought back to March 2001 as the Taliban in Afghanistan blew up a 1700 year old statue of the Buddha. Such incredible lack of respect for a sacrament of our deeper humanity may well have presaged the violence delivered to the United States later that very year.  Absent awe and reverence our propensity to violence is unchecked.

To lose touch with the wisdom of the Spirit in us leaves us prey to a functionalism that is utilitarianism at one pole and violence at the other. When cultural norms of success become our greatest value, then the distinctively human in us atrophies. We even begin to mistake the killing off of what is most human in us with the attaining of maturity.

it is easy for us to forget that we have a responsibility to keep the distinctively human, the life of the spirit, alive in our world. At the moment, there seems to be an incessant degradation of our culture and even our religion. We often seem to be forgetting that the “gifts of the Spirit” are indeed gifts. They are not possessions we can gain for and attribute to ourselves. We are to be led and formed by a wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear of the Lord that are given to those who are empty enough to receive them. Far too often in our functionalized societies, what we call faith and religion is at the service of our utilitarian and political ends. In this way, they are not at the service of wisdom but rather of our own manipulative purposes.

So, how do we keep alive in a world that has little space for it, in the midst of a dark time, the gift of Divine wisdom? Perhaps we can begin by remembering and returning to our capacity for childlikeness. St. Therese of Lisieux describes knowing the love of God for her in such a way that her heart and her entire being take form in accord with it. That love, however, is never only for us as individuals. It is, as Jan van Ruusbroec writes, of its very nature “a love common to all.” So, Therese, in her childlikeness but also in her profound wisdom, says that if she were to discover in heaven that God loved those she loved more than God loved her, “I shall rejoice at this, recognizing that these souls merit Your Love much more than I do.”

If we know and understand how much God loves the Navajo Nation, then we can only respect their relationship to their dead and the significance of their holy ground. If the Taliban, ostensibly religious people, truly knew the love of God for the Buddhists, they could not destroy the Buddha of Bamiyan. If I truly recognize the love of God for the poor and the afflicted around me, I would have to bear to them whatever justice and care that I could. Little children will always respond to other children that they see around them. They do not see differences or have prejudices; those need to be learned as they “mature.”

St. Therese writes that “I cannot conceive a greater immensity of love than the one which it has pleased You to give me freely, without any merit on my part.” In our world everything depends on what we falsely assume to be our merit. As children we know that everything that is most important must be given to us, not because we merit it but because we are loved. This is the truth that we tend to forget. We falsely inflate our own merit, forgetting that others have been largely responsible for what we have, and so we diminish others as lacking that merit. We don’t judge the poor with justice, instead we judge them with pride and arrogance. We do not decide aright for the afflicted, because we suppress them from our awareness. When we recognize how much we are loved, we are moved to be with and to work for the others who are loved with the same love we have received. Despite how small we are and what will always seem to be minor effects of our efforts, we are not discouraged when we work in love. For we know that the promise is true. Despite our lacks as a human race, there abides among us and in our world the promised wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord. As Father André Coindre wrote:  “When we have done all that we can, we have done all that we must.”

You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love You, and I am ambitious for no other glory. Your Love has gone before me, and it has grown with me, and now it is an abyss whose depths I cannot fathom. Love attracts love, and, my Jesus, my love leaps toward Yours; it would like to fill the abyss which attracts it, but alas! it is not even like a drop of dew lost in the ocean!  For me to love You as You love me, I would have tc borrow Your own Love, and then only would I be at rest. O my Jesus, it is perhaps an illusion but it seems to me that You cannot fill a soul with more love than the love with which You have filled mine; it is for this reason that I dare to ask you, “to love those whom you have given me with the love with which you loved me.” One day, in heaven if I discover You love them more than me, I shall rejoice at this, recognizing that these souls merit Your Love much more than I do; but here on earth, I cannot conceive a greater immensity of love than the one which it has pleased You to give me freely, without any merit on my part.

St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, Manuscript C, Chapter XI

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