Posted by: rosa alba | January 13, 2011

Are ye wise?

“Are ye wise?” is a rhetorical question boldly asked in the North East of Scotland of someone who has leaped into a course of action that others might have had the foresight to avoid. A somewhat less harsh way of suggesting, “it is your own fault” with an unspoken, “ye eejit.”  So are you wise? And what constitutes wisdom?

Inscribed on the floor of Kings’ College Conference Hall (the old Kings’ Library with its famed vaulted ceiling)  in inlaid mosaic is the motto, “Initium sapientae timor domini;” which translates as, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Of course this motto harks back to the origins of universities as religious institutions (and it is not a novel thought or comment to state that the modernist, the secularist might reject the precept) and is drawn from the final lines of Psalm 111:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

To him belongs eternal praise. (NIV translation)

The Psalm begins with a proclamation of God’s enduring power, and glory, and our dependence on Him, implicitly as a child on a father.  Perhaps – without wanting to posit a pantheistic God – the recent weather tribulations (snow at home, floods abroad in Australia and Brazil) have shown how powerless we are in the face of nature  (many of the Psalms and Canticles do draw on the power of nature: the thundering, the roaring of seas, and – ironically almost these last two Christmases, as it is part of the morning office for the Octave of Christmas – the exhortation that “frost and snow, bless the Lord” [Canticle from Daniel, Week 1, Sunday.]
A favourite prayer of mine is the well-known Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

To truly “live the prayer” means not just seeking to address those issues,  big and small, which plague us and rile us (whether it is taking steps to complain about the buses to the Ombudsman, or making an effort to objectively and critically view one’s own contributions to one’s own misfortunes and address these attitudes or shortfalls honestly, even if the initial cost seem greater than “doing nothing about it”) but being insightful enough of our own humble humanity to admit where we have little or no power and dominion, a concept hard to internalise in a modern, secular “I can/you must” productivity and targets-based society where we tend to build our own thrones of Midas gold and set ourselves to rule.  Midas acquistive nature was his own downfall (HE was not wise), while we tend to paralyse ourselves with hypertensive futile rage and bitterness.

A second part to the Serenity Prayer (I did not know until I searched for it) runs:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

A friend recently posted online about contentment being a question of the state of one’s soul: wisdom is the route to that state. Yesterday’s Morning Office (specific to the day, 12th Jan) had a reading from the book of Wisdom:

Wisdom is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness. Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new. In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets. (Wis., 7:26-27)

Kabbalistic thought in Jewish tradition sees God as being manifest through ten Sefirot, of which one Wisdom; as Catholics (and Christians) we might see Wisdom as the Holy Spirit, guiding us to God: accepting our own human limitations and acknowledging the Authority of God – and living by his Commandments (or Precepts): to return to the initial verse cited, to follow the precepts of God shows a (wise) understanding of our own human place in a world.


Wisdom as an active force draws us to a revealed God, in all his persons and in the Eucharist, as the Magi were lead in their wisdom to the Word made Flesh, God incarnate in a manger – and as  within the co-dependent relationship of the Trinity  – walking with God in his ways, brings us to the wisdom of self-knowledge and peace.




  1. So wise and timely!! The idea of accepting what is, is such a difficult concept today. We are told (especially in America) that we can do all and be all if only we have enough positive thinking, implying that those who don’t have it all are flawed in some way. It is very difficult to get away from this viewpoint. The serenity prayer is a good reminder that the outward trappings are not what is important, for they fade. What is important is living day to day and depending on God.

  2. I like that second part of the prayer – it sounds more like a real prayer and less like the pop psych version that the first version has become. “Accepting hardships as the path to peace” is a particularly helpful idea.

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