O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Antiphon, December 17
Today we pray the first of the O Antiphons in immediate preparation for the Feast of Christmas. In it we pray to know and to share in the wisdom of God. Human beings, at least as far as we know, exceed all other creatures in cognition but, unfortunately, not necessarily in wisdom.
As Pope Francis has pointed out in his encyclical Laudato Si, our common home, our sister earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (#2). Wisdom, says the Antiphon, guides “creation with power and love.” At the heart of the earth and all that moves her there is ultimate Wisdom. Creation in all of its forms contains the wisdom and the way, the “law” of God, which it can reveal to us if we have the humility to be Wisdom’s true disciples, if we allow the world to teach us rather than attempting to dominate it.
Many years ago a candidate to the community said to me one day, “Teach me.” Seldom have I felt so humbled and so inadequate. Yet, I was also tremendously moved. This young man presented himself as a disciple, not of mine but rather of the wisdom that he hoped and trusted that I could, at least to some extent, communicate. He asked me to teach him, not “things” that I knew but rather, the ways of God for him. As the Lord declares in Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
We have lived through many a Christmas, some of us far more than others. The story of the birth of Jesus is a most familiar one to us. In fact, it is so familiar that we often cease to be amazed by it. The Wisdom of the Most HIgh that sources all life and all creation comes to us to save us and teach us in the form of a vulnerable human infant. It is just too mysterious and foreign to our human wisdom for many human beings to believe. And so, too often we even take this great mystery and turn it into a “truth” which we manage and control.
To truly be alive, however, is to continually encounter the limits of our understanding. So little do we know of the life that gives life to each of us and to all that is. Yet, our deepest human potential lies in our capacity for that life and that Wisdom. It is a Wisdom we cannot explain or control, but it is one which we can live. We teach that Wisdom as we live our lives in obedience to it. When my godson who had suffered for over four years with a brain tumor and its effects decided to forego further treatment with the greatest of peace and overriding concern for others, I asked myself repeatedly: “How does he know this is the time?” Yet, it was clear that he was merely following the Wisdom to which he had long before abandoned himself. He could release into the ultimate unknown because his participation in true Wisdom had taught him that Reality, that God, could be trusted and that our only task was to live, and die, in accord with that Wisdom.
“Grant that by the gift of that same Wisdom we may always be truly wise and ever rejoice in its consolation.”
In this loving movement within there arises the seventh gift, which is the spirit of savorous wisdom. It pervades the simplicity of our spirit as well as our soul and body with wisdom and spiritual savor. This is a divine stirring or touch in the unity of our spirit, an influx and ground of all graces, gifts, and virtues. In this divine touch each person savors his exercises and his life in accordance with the power and the touch and the measure of his love. This divine stirring is the inmost intermediary between God and ourselves, between rest and activity, between particular forms and the absence of all form, and between time and eternity.
God produces this spiritual stirring within us at the very beginning, before bestowing any of his gifts, but it is actually recognized and savored by us last of all, for when we have lovingly sought God in all our exercises right into the inmost ground of our being, then we experience the influx of all God’s graces and gifts.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, Book II, IV, B