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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 1st November 2020.

‘Wisdom’

I am sure we can all remember various ‘words of wisdom’ or ‘advice’ that people have given us during our lives, that we never forget. When I was young, I don’t recall anyone in my family (immediate or extended) ever attending a church, unless it was for a baptism, a wedding or a funeral; but my father occasionally quoted to me pearls of wisdom of biblical origin (though I don’t remember him ever picking up a Bible), such as, ‘It is better to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

When we were all learning a trade, a profession or a skill, various people will have given us advice, which we still remember. Some of you reading this, who live in Castor or Ailsworth, may remember the late Essex Channell, who used to live at Drakes Orchard, at the top of Main Street, Ailsworth. Until he retired, he was the senior partner in Percival & Son, Solicitors, in Peterborough. I joined the firm as a newly qualified solicitor in 1971. I can remember him saying in one of my earliest conversations with him: ‘I always make instant decisions, and I find that I am right 97% of the time’. (I expect he thought that to have claimed 99% might have been pushing it!) The advice was, of course, that we should rely on our instincts: the longer we delay making a decision, the greater the risk of making the wrong decision. Wisdom comes from experience – ours or other people’s. How often have we all said, ‘I won’t make that mistake again’, or ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now.’

Instinct is one of those senses we have beyond the basic five: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. I believe that everybody has a distinct in-built sense of what is right and what is wrong. Bank robbers tend to wear face coverings, not because of Covid-19, but because they know that they are doing wrong and don’t want to be recognised and caught.

Common sense is another of the senses that we have (or as some might say, that most of us have!). The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: ‘Common sense, in an uncommon degree, is what the world calls wisdom’.

The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. Indeed there is a whole book of the Bible called ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’, more commonly called, simply, ‘Wisdom’. You won’t find this book in every Bible, but only in those Bibles that have a section between the Old Testament and the New Testament called ‘The Apocrypha’. Solomon, King of Israel, addressed his writings to all earthly rulers, urging them to love righteousness and seek wisdom.

But more accessible than the book of Wisdom is the book of Proverbs, which you will find in the Old Testament, and which is also attributed to Solomon (and others). Proverbs is a collection of memorable sayings, the distilled wisdom of the time, including practical tips for living, covering matters such as work, money, temptation, social manners, sex, discipline, and family life. I hope I can tempt you to dip into it. I am sure you will find there are some very interesting and helpful sayings in it. Here are a few examples:

‘A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ (Proverbs 15:1)

‘A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.’ (Proverbs 9:8)

‘The wise of heart will heed the commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.’ (Proverbs 10:8)

‘A good name is to be chosen, rather than great riches.’ (Proverbs 22:1)

‘A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.’ (Proverbs 31:10)

‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’ (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom is about doing the right thing, and at the right time – when and how to act, and when not to act; when and how to speak and when not to speak. Edward Hersey Richards, in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd Ed. of 1997), tells us that we can learn lessons about wisdom from the ‘wise old owl’:

“A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?”

May all your decisions and actions be wise ones!

Fr. Ray