Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Looking for a Road Map

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Memorial of Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. He who loves her loves life; those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. He who holds her fast inherits glory; wherever he dwells, the Lord bestows blessings. Those who serve her serve the Holy One; those who love her the Lord loves. He who obeys her judges nations; he who hearkens to her dwells in her inmost chambers. If one trusts her, he will possess her; his descendants too will inherit her. She walks with him as a stranger and at first she puts him to the test; Fear and dread she brings upon him and tries him with her discipline until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. Then she comes back to bring him happiness and reveal her secrets to them and she will heap upon him treasures of knowledge and an understanding of justice. But if he fails her, she will abandon him and deliver him into the hands of despoilers. (Sirach 4:11-19)
Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord.
(from verse 2, “Be Thou My Vision,” attributed to Dallan Forgaill, 8th century)

Sometimes I hear people having conversations about how complicated life is today, about how challenging it is to raise children in today’s environment, about all the dangers out there for our kids – drugs, permissive attitudes about sex, Internet predators, cyber-bullying. We talk about how people don’t seem to put much stock in marriage anymore and the high divorce rate or we talk about the ups and downs of our own relationships and marriages. Sometimes the conversations are about how to deal with problem neighbors, annoying family members or friendships that seem frayed. Whatever the topic at hand, we’re always wondering how to solve these problems, how to live on a daily basis.

Where do we turn for guidance or advice? When my nieces and nephews were teenagers, I used to watch half-amused and half-alarmed as they went about making decisions on how to conduct themselves. It didn’t matter what any of the adults in the family told them or what they learned in church or at school, they always turned to their peers for the final word.

Others of us take our questions to work and see what our co-workers have to say. Maybe they’ll be able to shed some light on how to deal with our problems. Or, if not our office mates, maybe our closest friends will have some enlightening words for us.

Life in the 21st century does seem fraught with challenges at times, but I would imagine that in every time and place, human beings have always felt that and looked for guidance on how to live their daily lives.

Toward the end of the Old Testament period right through to the time when the books of the New Testament were written, a genre of literature sprang up known as “wisdom literature.” The Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom and Sirach, as well as the Song of Songs, are all examples of wisdom literature. Based on our commitment to God, they are written to give us guidance on the basic questions of everyday living – what to teach your children, why we shouldn’t gossip, why we should work diligently, etc.

In today’s reading from the Book of Sirach, we see that the answer to how to live our everyday lives lies not in what our peers think or our friends or colleagues, but in the pursuit of wisdom. Seek wisdom and you will be given life. You will be embraced by the Lord; you will be blessed. You will know what it is to be loved by God.

The writer warns us that wisdom isn’t always easily attained. Sometimes we are tested and tried. Other times, we find ourselves in situations full of fear and dread. But, it seems to me that in persevering in the search in the midst of trials – illness, grief, failure, etc. – we are often then rewarded with wisdom and insight into the deepest things in life.

Take a few minutes to reflect on the places in your life where you need a road map for how to proceed and pray for wisdom. In the first chapter of the Letter of James, we are told that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all, and our prayer will be answered.