Wisdom means recognizing life as it is, neither living in the past nor wishing our time for another future.
An old joke: I asked my 90-year-old dad, ‘Dad, how was your good old days?’ His thoughtful answer: ‘When I was not good and not old!’.
“Being older” seems to be getting harder. Families are busier and more dispersed. Developments in retirement life are less focused on the resident and more on profit.The coronavirus was the icing on the cake for many.
Getting older is a strenuous pastime these days. Retirement should be stress free and relaxing. Fortunately, older people have a lifelong experience and are well equipped to respond thoughtfully and purposefully to current challenges. Wisdom is a skill that takes a lifetime to perfect, and it seems that most people “gain” wisdom with age.
For most, life follows a simple pattern. Everything is an adventure as children and our decisions are made regardless of what might happen. As young adults, we make decisions based on our personal needs and desires. These “wild” years are self-centered and hedonistic.
As parents, we become aware of others and develop a keen awareness of good decisions and try, often unsuccessfully, to get our children to accept our logic. As the children leave home, we become more aware of our own needs and reflect who we are and how we want our retirement to be, and plan carefully for unexpected events. When life slows down, our decisions are better recognized and people seek the wisdom that we can offer.
Wisdom doesn’t come easily with age or effortlessly. Nor is wisdom a virtue that can be rushed or hastened. Most of the time in the course of our lives we make good choices, but we are not seen as wise.
Quiet and competent
Wisdom is a higher level of decision making or a way of perceiving situations. Wisdom requires nuances, gentleness, and sagacity. The true level of wisdom is the consistency of those decisions or advice. Wise people seem calm and content.
People who have wisdom are of great value because their insight can be relied on. There is no chance in their advice, nor is the value of the advice convulsive, it always seems to be good. Wisdom is not just a higher form of logic; there is a simple and well-known basis for wisdom. The challenge is to accept the offered wisdom and apply it in our lives.
The Book of Preachers is an intricate exploration of life and the acquisition of knowledge. Although it is traditionally believed that the author is King Solomon, we do not know who wrote the book. It is poetic to think that after a life of excess of time, Solomon becomes aware of what is real and valuable. The essence of the teaching in the book is that wisdom is not the giving of advice, but the acceptance of life and awareness and connection with the divine. Everything in life is a gift and one can sense the goodness of God in these gifts.
The metamorphosis of St. Ignatius
St. Ignatius illustrates the transformation from savage to wise and the awareness of the present. Born into a noble family, he lived a hedonistic lifestyle as a young man. He certainly experienced the “wild” years with enthusiasm. After an injury in Pamplona, he was forced to mature beyond his years and make the decision to seek truth and meaning. In Manresa he met God through mystical experiences. The truth revealed to him was the presence of God in every moment and the desire to constantly seek this encounter. This made him wish to share this wisdom with others.
The spiritual exercises of Ignatius, similar to the insights in preachers, lead to a keen awareness of the presence and presence of God in every moment. His teaching, “To find God in all things,” is the simple truth that offers wisdom to each of us; even at this moment.
Although we encounter wisdom all our lives, we generally allow ourselves to be distracted from life. Life is busy, we have so many plans and priorities. Living in the past or in the future is a trap that makes you foolhardy and naive. The pattern of life is difficult to change. However, as we age, we give up things that have filled our days and other things are taken away from us.
Accept life as it is
As we become less mobile, we inevitably experience a revelation. We accept life as it is. We just live and enjoy what life has to offer – good or bad. Wisdom is therefore acceptance. If we accept that life is lived “now” and we need to focus on the present, we will find God easily. Advice from this perspective is so valuable to the younger generation. So wisdom is not learned, wisdom is simply a knowledge.
Although aging poses more and more challenges as society progresses, the attainment of wisdom and acceptance of life is universal and immutable.
With wisdom comes the realization that the “good old days” are no different from today. What has changed is the ability to accept life for what it is – for better or for worse. With wisdom comes an understanding that we were born to live and there is no time like the present to step into the wholeness of life for that moment.
Wisdom starts here.
Brendan Nicholls is liturgy coordinator in St. Ignatius, Geelong.