wisdom-key-picWhere do we turn to hear the voices of wisdom? This week’s “Ask the Matriarch” question comes from a RevGal who has missed having her mother by her side through challenges and tragedies.

Dear Matriarchs:

Of late, I have been pondering questions of wisdom and aging. At 63, I have lived longer than many members of my family. My five years of ordained ministry have been filled with caring for the elderly, many of whom seem to have few resources to fall back upon as their bodies give out. People often presume that I have wisdom, either because of my calling or the traumas of my life, but I don’t consider myself wise.

In recent conversations with my adult daughter (29), I have begun feeling very intensely the loss of my own mother — not of her, personally, exactly, since I barely remember her, but the loss of having had a mother, a woman of wisdom, through all the events and experiences of my life.

I have started making a list of my own ideas of wisdom figures, people whose work I either know a bit or wish I knew. So far, my list includes all kinds of people, some of them officially spiritual writers, but others are artists, and one is a scientist! 

My question is: Who are your own wisdom figures? What is the literature or music or science to which you turn when you want to understand something of life and death or seek expressions of mystery or comfort? When you are hoping that by 80 or so you finally know something? I figure I might have a few years left to learn some of what I wish I knew now, and still have time to share it.

Rev. Robin

* * * * * * *
Great question, Rev. Robin! Let’s hear where our own wise Matriarchs go for wisdom.

Dear Rev. Robin-

What an interesting question. My first response was that I am lucky to be able to still call my parents.  At age 80, my father is still one of the most creative problem solvers I know – always ready to offer you ten good ideas.  At 82, my mother is incredibly insightful due to her nature and her experience.

My second response is that I have “people.”  Those ones that you can trust with your frailties, your questions and your dreams.  The people you may not see for ages but the conversation picks up nearly where you left off. The ones you ask for prayer.

My third answer is books, books, books!  In particular, I love fiction shelved in the adolescent/young adult section of the library. In these books I find old friends and meet new ones who as they ask their questions, have often helped me find answers.  I regularly scout out the Newberry Medal winners and “Best Books Ever” lists. Some of my favorites…

  • Everything Madeleine L’Engle but especially The Time Quintet and A Ring of Endless Light
  • C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia read in the order of their original publishing.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
  • Anything by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord
  • The Giver and others by Lowis Lowry
  • The Ender’s Shadow series by Orson Scott Card, particularly Shadow of the Giant

I wish I could fully explain my book list. I am half way finished with my DMin and they are at the heart of it. Simply put, I find that there is much in children’s literature that helps us to frame our story of faith.

I’m sure I’ll think of something brilliant later…    but I’m only 56, so it might be a while.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod

Dear Rev. Robin,

What an excellent question.  My first response is that I am glad that as I age I am increasingly comfortable with NOT knowing much about the things that really matter.  I like this quote by Henry Vaughan: “There is in God (some say) a deep but dazzling darkness.”   I am more and more of a frame of mind to be dazzled while in the dark.  One of my Bible studies is reading Ecclesiastes right now, and I also resonate with one of the refrains there: “Who knows?”  I don’t know if this cosmic shrug is wisdom, but perhaps it is. (Who knows?)

 Nevertheless, I do have my favorite wise voices.  Poets: Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry.  Theologians: Huston Smith, Catherine Keller, John B. Cobb, Soren Kierkegaard, Parker Palmer.  Musicians: Vasen, Leonard Cohen, Paul Winter, Steel Wheels. And I love the distilled wisdom of hymns old and new.  Artists: just about everyone–looking at varieties of art with an open heart is a great source of insight about the human spirit.  Trees: all of them.  I am growing ever more enamored with the company of trees; they instantly put my little life in perspective.

I very much believe in the wisdom of a trusted community.  My gathered church is very wise. My circle of church camp friends is both thoughtful and compassionate. I call on active colleagues and retired elders for consultation when I am stumped.  In short, I love the wisdom collected in human experience among people who will never be famous for anything.

You might like this book at this stage of your life: Breaking Free: Women of Spirit at Midlife and Beyond. It is edited by Marilyn Sewell, who also edited a couple of splendid collections of poetry. 

Most wise saying I know: “This, too, shall pass.”

Peace, Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational United Church of Christ, Bainbridge Island, Washington [eagleharborchurch.org]

Dear Rev. Robin,

Your question reminds me of the Bible story about God’s approval when Solomon requested wisdom. Your request itself is wise.

My grandmothers always seemed so wise, and I miss them so much! I have always wanted to be wise like them when I got “older.” Now that I am older than when I thought they were old, and I am the same age as you, I wonder when (if) that wisdom will kick in!

In each ministry setting, I’ve been gifted with one or two local, in-person colleagues who have been generous with their voices of wisdom. Calling on the wisdom in these collegial relationships has saved me more than once.

Sometimes I play a game with myself: “What Would ___ Do?” — not Jesus, in this case. I imagine wisdom coming from one of my grandmothers or another strong woman that I know, or think I know. Some of those women are RevGals, some are world-leader sheroes (Michelle Obama tops my list) and some are writers or actors or characters in a movie or book.

If I am getting wise at all, it is that I am gaining the wisdom that wisdom is not one desired quality but a sharing of life experience, compassionate questions and focused listening to life and people. As I write this, I am with my grandkids (ages 2 and 6) and I am learning so much from them while they are simply being who they are in the world.  I wonder if my grandmothers had that same experience when they were with me.

Journey wisely,
Sharon Temple
Tidings of Comfort and Joy

* * * * * *
So much wisdom has been offered, in the question and in the responses. Thank you, Matriarchs!

How about you, dear reader? Where do you go for wisdom? Share your responses in the comments below.

Do you have a question about ministry life? Are you facing a challenge at church or in the world? Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Our Wisdom Sources

  1. Dear Sharon,
    I can relate to so much of your letter! Thank you for asking this important question. I have always found spiritual direction to be incredibly helpful. There is something about having another person to help you see where God is in your life, and to listen for the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
    Blessings on you journey,
    Pat Locke
    Pastor, Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church, Johnson City, TN


  2. Robin, a bit late responding so I hope you will find this. I am finding so much depth and wisdom in Richard Rohr, Br. David Steindl-Rast, Thomas Keating, and Cynthia Borgeault. I wish there were more women on that list.

    I think I have always held a much different view of life/death because of my medical training. I cannot ignore the physiological functions and how the body works. Of course, this is all based on my understanding of feline and canine medicine. However, a great deal does cross over. I also know from those years of working in the clinic, there are always exceptions to every way an illness “usually” progresses and/or resolves. Sometimes those astound you and sometime they make you weep.

    For music…mostly without words…mostly melodies I do not know. David Nevue is one I listen to when I cannot fall asleep.

    If I think of more, I’ll let you know.


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