Wisdom is Her Name
Earlier in life I was an inveterate thinker. My logical, rational mind occupied most of the active space in my being. I wanted to know things. Of paramount importance was the attainment of knowledge. In that way I was not unlike my contemporaries. The Evangelical world was captivated by the trappings of the Modern age. From Descartes to Locke, we were taught to focus on what the mind could unearth. At its best this led to amazing scientific discoveries. At its worst it led to a religion in which believing the right doctrine was more important than living a virtuous life.
In such an environment only the mind could be trusted. It became such a hallmark of the Evangelical church that the charismatic movement, a reactive community, emerged as an attempt to restore balance. Among the gatekeepers, however, that movement was seen as incompatible with “Biblical Christianity” and dismissed as frivolous and irrelevant.
In a world in which only the mind was to be trusted, feelings and emotions were seen as secondary, or even extraneous to the human experience. This was true in the scientific world, in which “hard” sciences like math and biology looked down on “soft” sciences like psychology and sociology.
In a world dominated by such factually oriented intellectual thought, not only were feelings and emotions lost. Wonder became suspect. Wisdom was secondary. And trust became nonexistent. Think about it. The mind does not trust. It is always skeptical, demanding a never-ending stream of information. Only the heart and soul trust.
The natural inclination of a child is to freely express emotion, embrace wonder, and trust life. As long as we have the basic building blocks of childhood we remain beings of wonder. If we sense the safety of our existence, have feelings of self-worth, and role models able to delay gratification, we remain trusting of our feelings, students of the heart, experts in intuition.
At some point, however, the education system of the Western world kicks in, and trust is replaced with skepticism. Pascal’s heart with its reasons that reason does not know becomes the antiquated musing you might expect from a man who walked around with the words of a religious experience sewn into the lining of his coat. Trust becomes a casualty, feeling and intuition an afterthought.
In my pastoral counseling I often ask, “And how did you feel about that?” Pundits make fun of that therapeutic question, but we ask it because we must. Clients often cannot identify their feelings. “I don’t know what to think,” they cry. I suggest thinking might not be what is called for. “What does your gut tell you?” I ask. The answer lies beneath the rational mind.
It will not surprise you that men have more difficulty identifying their emotions than women. Their hard wiring gives preference to the rational left side of the brain. Neurons do not fire as freely across hemispheres as they do for women. A woman’s neural connections resemble a ball of twine, with countless pathways from the rational side of the brain to the more feeling, intuitive right side. Men’s neural connections tend to happen within hemispheres. A man’s brain is able fire from one hemisphere to the other, but it’s like driving across town in rush hour. It’ll take some time. (For the curious, it appears the brains of transgender women function about halfway between males and females.)
Since men have determined the path of our civilization, we should not be surprised we have been in a 500-year reign of fact before feeling, knowledge before wisdom, skepticism before trust. We lose the truth that on his last day of public ministry Jesus did not say love God with your mind. He said love God with your heart, mind, and soul. In a civilization that questions the very existence of the soul, those words remain as radical now as they were then.
Intellectual understanding does not necessarily lead to wisdom. A well-lived life leads to wisdom. Wisdom is personified as female in the Hebrew scriptures. That would come as no surprise to a child. Children intuitively know wisdom is a she. But of course, there are also countless wise men, like Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations during the height of the Cold War. His book, Markings, is a journal of great wisdom. And then there’s Blaise Pascal and the Péensees, his unfinished masterpiece of knowledge and wisdom. I would have loved to sit at the feet of either man.
As for me, I still have a voracious appetite for knowledge. But it’s my heart and intuition I have learned to trust, and wisdom I seek.
And so it goes.