Becoming Wise Together

A Sunday Gathering Message from New Unity

We come together amid the journeys of our lives
Wondering what step to take next
What road we should follow
And we come to a place without easy answers
Because we know that the light of wisdom is here within us
Waiting for the spark that comes when heart touches heart
Waiting to burn bright in all our lives


Becoming Human, by Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky trans.)

Once a man came to me and spoke for hours about
'His great visions of God' he felt he was having.
He asked me for confirmation, saying,
'Are these wondrous dreams true?'
I replied, 'How many goats do you have?'
He looked surprised and said,
'I am speaking of sublime visions
And you ask
About goats!'
And I spoke again saying,
'Yes, brother - how many do you have?'
'Well, Hafiz, I have sixty-two'
'And how many wives?'
Again he looked surprised, then said,
'How many rose bushes in your garden,
How many children,
Are your parents still alive,
Do you feed the birds in winter?'
And to all he answered.
Then I said,
'You asked me if I thought your visions were true,
I would say that they were if they make you become
More human,
More kind to every creature and plant
That you know."

Our Jeopardy, by Thomas John Carlisle

It is good to use the best china
treasured dishes
the most genuine goblets
or the oldest lace tablecloth
there is a risk of course
everytime we use anything
or anyone shares an inmost
mood or movement
or a fragile cup of revelation
but not to touch not to
handle not to employ the available
artifacts of being a human being
that is the quiet crash the deadly catastrophe
where nothing is ever enjoyed or broken
or spoken or spilled or stained or mended
where nothing is ever
pored over
laughed over
wept over
lost or

Message, by Andy Pakula

And lo, they were all together in that place. They numbered six score in that place. They waited with great anticipation for him to arrive and address them. And then didst the light in that place dim so that one could barely discern the features of another. A great blaze of light then appeared - focused it was upon him so that he gleamed as the noon-day sun. They fell silent as they saw him, and waited upon his word. Each one was seized with trembling and fear, as they wondered if the many shekels they had passed to his disciples to gain entry to the place would have been for nought.

He spaketh greetings unto them then and, although he was a great distance from many, they heard his words clearly and they seemed to come from everywhere at once. Only once did he need to change the battery in his microphone when others would need to change it 7 time 7 fold.

Hosanna, they shouted at these signs and at the many books he had written and published. Truly, this is a man of wisdom, they murmured one to the other.
He spake words of power and wisdom - words that chastened them to seek their treasures without shame and think not ill of themselves.

And some among them heard great wisdom in his utterances. They knew in an instant that this was the way they were to follow. When he had finished speaking, the newly reborn among them approached him, seeking an audience or for him to make the shape of his name upon the manuscripts they had purchased earlier. They awaited further words and sought to discover when and where they could see him.

The others left that place with their gaze fixed upon their smartphones, searching for the next talk or workshop they might attend in their search for wisdom.

The idea of the search for wisdom sounds very old-fashioned but - in fact - that quest is very much with us. I don’t mean knowledge. Wisdom is very different from knowledge. I’ve heard that difference described this way:

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and not a vegetable.

Wisdom is knowing not to include it in a fruit salad.”

Wisdom is the ability to make good judgements. It is the ability to determine what is best to do in a given situation with the knowledge available.

And since most of us don’t feel particularly wise, an industry has grown up offering motivational talks, workshops, videos, and self-help books. In the US alone, the self-help industry pulls in 11 billion dollars a year - that’s nearly 8 billion pounds.

Of course, there was another big industry that used to address this market. It’s called religion.
All these modern and ancient approaches vary in their usefulness, but they all address that same hunger to know how best to act in our lives - how best to act so that we will be happy, purposeful, connected, loved, and find meaning in our day to day existence.
Today is the Christian holiday of Pentecost. You hear that familiar root ‘pent’ so you know it’s got to have something to do with five. That’s correct - it’s 50 days after Easter, which tells you when it is but not what it is.

Pentecost celebrates a story recounted in the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles.  It tells of the apostles and other followers of Jesus gathering together and Acts says this:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other language...

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

And then the apostle Peter got up and proclaimed that this miraculous happening was God’s action and that it had been foretold by the prophet Joel in the Hebrew Scriptures:

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Pentecost commemorates the story then, where God fills the people with the his spirit and with the wisdom of prophesy, of dreams, and of visions.

Interestingly, Pentecost is also the Greek name for the Hebrew holiday of Shavuot, which also tells of the giving of wisdom. It is the story of Moses bringing the law down from Mt. Sinai. Then the people had the recorded wisdom they could live by.

What kind of wisdom do we actually want? We want to know how to live well - to live in a way that is deeply satisfying - a way that where we can bear whatever suffering comes our way - where we can see all the beauty around us and feel all the joy there is to feel. We want to live in a way that leads to satisfaction and meaning and purpose in life.

So much wisdom is out there to study. From the ancient religions, from the centuries of philosophers, from literature and art, and yes - self help in all its forms.

And all of these encapsulate some of the great wisdom there is to be had.

And yet, wisdom never comes alive from the reading or the hearing. I’ve so often learned something - some model or piece or guidance - and carried it around with me for years. I carry it as dry, dessicated wisdom, but it means nothing until that moment where a particular experience brings it to life. It plumps up all sweet and full of juice as an epiphany and I shout “Oh, I get it now!”

There is no wisdom without experience, and the experience needed is relational. Without relationship with the oppressed, justice is just a word. Without someone with whom to be honest, caring, and vulnerable, love is just a word. Without rolling in the long grass, nature is just a word.

It is no wonder to me then that Pentecost’s miracle was people becoming able to speak to and understand one another. Across all their many differences - across experiences and languages and cultures - they were suddenly able to communicate.

And this is where our wisdom is found and tested - in relationship.

We heard a wonderful poem by the Sufi mystic, Hafiz. He tells of a man who believed he was having great and powerful visions of God and asked Hafiz whether they were real. The answer Hafiz gave is that if it isn’t about relationship and love, then it’s not a real epiphany. It can’t be great and divine wisdom without that.

We come here too for wisdom. I once feared addressing a congregation because I thought “I have nothing wise to say.” That only changed when I realised that my role is not to impart wisdom, but to help create a community of deep and healthy connection where wisdom can arise. I can poke and prod that community and toss ideas into the mix, but the wisdom comes from the wonder of what happens between individuals - both the joyful and sorrowful, the pleasant and hard, the agreement and the conflict. It is only in this rich mixture that wisdom can grow.

We bring all we have learned and read and heard - all the philosophy and religion and advice - and we plant it in the rich earth of community. What is true swells and comes to life. What is false fades away.

It is here, together, that we learn and grow. It is together that we become wise.

There is wisdom in all the world’s writing and art
There is wisdom in religion and philosophy
But this wisdom is locked tight and inaccessible to us
Our joined hearts provide the key
Grow in wisdom - grow together