A novel by William Frank Bellais War is an existential crisis for everyone, especially those who are required to conduct the war and offer their own beings to the battle. The question becomes, “What is life about?” That question faces the people residing in a building in Vietnam at the height of the American commitment to repulsing the insurgents and the army of the North Vietnamese Communist regime. However, men like Benson, McAdams, Turner, and Hennessey did not face the enemy on the battlefield but instead in the street outside their comfortable living quarters. More importantly, each had to deal with the existential questions of their lives as men, soldiers, and lovers. They were the owls among the ruins—the ruins of a misguided war and personal tragedy. An Owl among the Ruins - A War Story is available through Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. Photo by Sharon Lewis, Paso Robles, California. Used by permission.
IN MY CHILDHOOD LABOR DAY DID NOT MAKE ANY SENSE TO ME. The purpose of the holiday was not clear in my childish brain. I could understand Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Flag Day, Christmas and so on. But what are we celebrating on Labor Day? For most people, including me, Labor Day is the signal that the summer vacation is over and school is about to begin. That is not much to celebrate—unless cold weather and a leafless tree is heart-warming.
Not until my high school and college years did I learned about the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and found the information interesting and the struggles of labor to organize but the information were not relevant to me. No one in my family was a part of the labor movement. None of the story of labor’s struggles moved me—they were only history.
Sometimes I even saw labor unions as problems causing strain on the community when they would strike. I remember the turmoil reported in the news caused by John L. Lewis and the striking coal miners—their strikes affected on my home. My boyhood home was heated by coal. I recall the arguments around the Taft-Hartley Act in the late 1940s and the strikes at steel and auto plants. While I may have been confused by the arguments and touched by some shortages resulting from labor strikes, all of that remained remote from me.
Thinking back, I don’t even remember seeing striking workers anywhere until I was past my college years. I never saw a Labor Day parade until about six years ago when I was in Jefferson City, Missouri, touring the state capitol on a Labor Day Weekend.
A family down the street from my parent’s home belonged to a longshoreman’s union. We secretly gossiped among ourselves about him. The gossipers hinted that the neighbor was a “Communist”. I recall meeting this neighbor while walking through the city plaza about a day or so after the war in Korea began. We talked about the war and I recall that he was very much against President Truman for committing the U.S. to the defense of South Korea. As we walked and talked together I said to myself, “Aha, my father was right, our neighbor really is a Communist.” Of course he wasn’t. He was a longshoreman with an opinion. My father finally relented and agreed the neighbor was after all a good neighbor and they became lifelong friends.
The difference between the two, my father and our neighbor, was that my father never belonged to any labor union. He had been a laborer in his youth. He spent some time working in a Kentucky coal mine, then he worked on a freighter, a banana boat, in the Caribbean Sea, and he was even a merchant seaman for a brief stint. Most of his early adult life was spent in the U.S. Navy, from which he retired. He continued working as a civil servant on a variety of rocket programs for the Navy and the Army. Thus, his knowledge of the working person’s unions was also negligible.
Therefore, I have made it my goal to know something of the Labor Movement in this country.
The modern American labor movement began under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, a British born
American who led the American Federation of Labor from 1886 to 1924. Known for his opposition to radicalism, Gompers argued that unions should avoid political involvement and focus on economic goals, bringing about change through strikes and boycotts. He stressed the primacy of the national organization over local and international affiliations, and he emphasized the need for written contracts.
The work of organized labor has brought about the end of child labor, the forty-hour work week, workplace safety, and the end of the sweat shop, and the rise of the middle class in this country.
It is this history that Labor Day commemorates.
In recent decades reactionary forces have taken control and the labor movement has suffered. The result is the middle class is shrinking, wages have not greatly improved, and work has been moved overseas where child labor and sweat shops are allowed. A prosperous and working middle class is the strength of the nation. The labor movement is the backbone of the nation and the preserver of the nation’s wealth.
Work, gainful employment, is more than the safeguarding of national wealth. Work is the base on which people stand to feel pride in their accomplishments and a source of self-esteem. Unemployment is debilitating and demoralizing. Thus, on Labor Day, we celebrate the beauty of the accomplished worker who becomes the expert at the machine tool, the work bench, the computer desk, the highway, the lines of energy and communications. We honor the work of the artist and the artisan, the work of the homemaker, the work of caregivers, and the work of educators. Labor Day has a universal purpose—we honor all that we are, all that we manufacture, and all that we produce.
Honoring labor is somewhat of a lost cause these days.
Much of what we consume comes to us from factories of mass production. Hardly a human hand has gone into the actual manufacture of the things we use. The result is that we don’t cherish them. When they are obsolete or worn out things, made by machine are simply thrown out. There are few “fix-it” shops, if any. We live in a disposable society now, and the danger is that not only things are disposable but also people. But think about those things that are essential to our everyday life. Somebody makes them, or at least turns on the machinery that does.
The things we own that are most cherished are pictures our children painted or the woodcraft done by our adolescent son in a woodworking class. We cherish the antiques we have inherited or purchased because of their craftsmanship.
I suppose it is good that so much of what we need is mass-produced. If they were not, it is likely we would not be able to purchase and own them. The labor that has gone into the inventiveness of production must be honored also. But, still we cherish those things that were made with loving hands.
Labor is a major part of the Scriptures. Solomon goes into great detail about the labor required to build the temple and his palace in Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah provide excruciating detail on the reconstruction of the temple after Israel’s seventy-year exile in Babylonia. Jesus states (Luke 10:7) the laborer deserves to be paid.
Jesus was raised in a work environment. Joseph probably trained him to be a cabinetmaker. Hard work was not unknown to Jesus. The disciples, the twelve, were all people who worked at difficult tasks before being called to be Jesus’ disciple. Even Matthew, who had been a despised collector of the Roman tax, labored at the task given to him. Fishing, the work of most of the twelve, was and still is a demanding way to make a living. Today men who go down to the sea in ships face dangerous conditions.
Labor Day, in the Book of Common Prayer, has its own collect or prayer:
|Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.|
Take a moment on Labor Day or any day to think about the message of this prayer and offer it to God as a way of giving thanks for the opportunity to have useful labor in one’s life and to give thanks for those who work so hard to make the goods and products so essential to the abundant life we live in this country.
A Personal Illustration
Returning from a long trip several years ago I was driving a highway at night and eager to be home. In front of me I noticed a vehicle whose driver was having trouble staying in the right lane on a two lane highway. Suddenly, the vehicle ahead of me veered to the left and struck head-on a car in the on-coming lane. The car that had crossed over to the left lane spun around and went into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. Now stopped in the middle of the highway and front end smashed, the vehicle struck by the wayward driver was motionless. In fact, both were motionless and I feared the worse.
I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, stopped my car, got out and began to go to the aid of whoever was injured. However, the traffic on this highway continued to move fast and I was in fear of becoming one of the casualties. I could not safely cross the highway. Fortunately, someone in the on-coming lane stopped and went to the aid of the drivers of the vehicles. Additionally, another motorist, who had a flashlight to warn people of the danger helped others from smashing into the accident scene.
I stayed on until the police came and was able to describe what had happened. Nevertheless, I felt helpless. First, I was not prepared to give any assistance. Second, fear kept from acting. Therefore I had excuses for my inaction: fear and lack of equipment to provide adequate aid. Further, I even doubted my own testimony—did I actually see what I remembered? People have their reasons for not coming to the help of those in need. Some excuses are valid, I suppose. Like my excuses I can justify them. Those who came to the aid of the injured in the accident can be thought of as “Good Samaritans.” It is a term based on a scriptural story of excuses and action.
The Good Samaritan Story
Jesus tells a story or parable in answer to a lawyer’s question about earning eternal life and learns that the law has the answer: love God and love Neighbor. The lawyer, not fully satisfied with that answer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling a story with four characters, one of which is a good neighbor.
The first character in the story mentioned is the victim of assault and robbery is lying near death on the side of the Jericho Road. He never speaks. He is not identified but the reader can presume the victim is a Jew.
The second and third characters introduced are obviously Jews: a priest of the temple in Jerusalem and a Levite, a tribe of Israel charged with specific religious duties.
Finally, the fourth character is a Samaritan is on the Jericho Road. He is only identified as a Samaritan, nothing else. A Samaritan to Jesus’ listeners is a despised and “unclean” class of people to the Jews.
Now the Excuses
The priest and the Levite avoid the injured man and pass by without giving assistance. Surely religious people would give assistance to an injured man. Religious people are “supposed” to be kind and helpful, aren’t they?
Well, no. Not in instances such as this.
The priest and Levite had religious duties to perform or they had just come down from Jerusalem where they had performed those duties. Their focus was on the law, the words of the Torah. Touching blood, for example, would have defiled them. Having been at the temple they were in a purified condition—as the law established. To come to the aid of wounded man was not possible. More than that, even to be close to impure blood was defilement.
Thus, summing up the characters in Jesus’ parable, there are two men avoiding the problem, a fellow Jew on the side of the road in need of aid, and a Samaritan who represented the worst kind of association a good Jew of first century Israel should avoid.
The Jews and the Samaritans
Samaritans and the Jews shared the same ethnicity. They even shared a common story of the Exodus and Babylonian Captivity. The difference between them laid in the number of sacred texts that made up the law and where God was to be worshiped. Recall, in the sixth century B.C., the Jews had been taken into what is known at the Babylonian Captivity. They were forced to live on the banks of the Euphrates River for seventy years. When released from their enslavement, they returned to Israel. Most, by this time, were in favor of establishing Israel as a kingdom in the style of the Persians and Babylonians. A minority wanted to return to a tribal life as it had been before the captivity. In their desire to establish viable kingdom, Jews placed God on Mount Zion at Jerusalem and Samaritans tied to the tribal heritage of Israel claimed that God is worshiped Mount Gerizim in the north of Israel.
In the second century B.C. Israel was invaded by the Greeks led by of Alexander the Great. The Jews revolted against the Greeks in the Maccabean Revolt and established a kingdom that lasted well into the first century A.D. The Samaritans adapted to the Greek invaders. Under the influence of Greek culture the Samaritans adhered to the law less rigidly. Further, they had not accepted the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, as part of the Sacred Scriptures. Some Samaritans even adopted the polytheism of the Greeks. To the Jews of the south the Samaritans of the north are, at least, weak in their devotion to the God of Israel, and, at worse, heretics
Thus, discord between the two became hatred and disdain. The level of discord between them may be similar to the Protestant and Roman Catholic troubles in Ireland and the bloody fights between Sunnis and Shi’ites among Muslims.
A Summary of the Law
No one hearing Jesus tell this story would expect a Samaritan to go the aid of a Jew and vice versa.
Therefore, the question is, “Does religious obligations or ethnicity excuse a lack of neighborliness?
Apparently, Jesus sees no excuses While the religious practices and codes observed by the priest and the Levite are legitimate, they are not a good reason to avoid meeting the need of a neighbor. A man is lying injured on the side of the road near death and in desperate need of assistance.
In Jesus’ view, the law was given to teach two major principles: Love God and love one’s neighbor. The idea that Jesus had coined a new ideology when he said that all the law and prophets is founded on those two commandments is mistaken. He was actually pointing to the Torah where the Hebrew people are specifically instructed to love God and neighbor—to show mercy, care for the needy, and to be hospitable to the alien. Thus, to use the purification rules as a purpose of avoiding giving aid to a wounded man, in fact, violates the Torah.
Which of These Three?
However, a rush to judgment condemning the priest and the Levite works against the story’s moral. Remember, the story is about mercy not about bias or religious prejudice. The priest and the Levite had legitimate reasons for not stopping and helping.
It did not matter to the Samaritan; no matter what he did he was likely to feel the discrimination and angst that his presence brought to the scene. Nevertheless, the Samaritan chose to overcome the barriers and to show mercy.
When He Comes Back
Jesus ends the parable by having the Samaritan take the injured man to an Inn, pay for his stay and care, and then says, say, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
Some have suggested that Jesus is making a reference to his return—the Second Coming. That is, when Jesus comes back he will care for those who cared for the needy, he will repay the merciful, and all the differences will be taken care of. I think this is a misunderstanding. Making Jesus into the Samaritan rejects of the facts—Jesus was a rabbi, a devout Jew. It is the Samaritan who promises to come back.
The Samaritan is promising to go the extra mile by stating that when he comes back down that road, he will make up the cost difference.
The reward, compensation for expenses in the relief of the needy, is not the point of Jesus’ parable.
The One who Showed Mercy
The question is who is the one who showed mercy? The lawyer could not say the word Samaritan, but he did get it. The one who showed mercy was the good neighbor.
Show mercy—adherence to the law is not enough.
Additionally, the implication at the end of the story is that mercy requires more than stopping to ask, “Are you okay.” Good neighborliness requires going the extra mile.
If we experience or offer mercy, we feel those words associated with mercy. Mercy conveys concepts such as, compassion, forgiveness, sympathy, humanity, understanding, benevolence, grace, and blessing. These are not abstractions. When we are in need of what those words mean, the true presence of love, of care, of an unconditional service to others are real and help humanity move forward.
As the words associated with mercy are expressed to in action, and as the Samaritan acted, there are no excuses. Even those among us who have no faith know that just being a law abiding citizen is not enough. Those people who left the safety of their cars to come to the aid of the injured that night I witnessed the head-on collision may not have stepped into a church for years—if ever. Nevertheless, they were quick to show mercy to be good neighbors.
When the Good of God expressed in acts of mercy the Samaritan has returned.
 Luke 10:25-37.
In our 52-plus years of marriage, Ann and I have shared our home with three different cats.
I have mostly been distant from them. It is not that I don’t like cats, it’s that I believe that once a human being takes on the responsibility for caring for an animal, a pet, the human being has a profound obligation to that animal—especially those that are unable to care for themselves due to their captivity in a home.
Our first cat came to live with us while we were in Alaska. When the Vicar’s wife said, “Wouldn’t it be nice for your daughter Cathy to have a cat?” A litter of kittens had been deposited on the Vicar’s doorstep. The one offered to our daughter was a silver tabby of no particular distinction. I said, “No.” The reason I said that is there were too many regulations concerning pets at Fort Richardson and it seemed to me an added burden to all the other burdens we were dealing with living there—mostly adjusting to parenthood. Needless to say, the cat came to live with us anyway and stayed around as we moved from border to border and coast to coast for nearly 20 years.
Not only was it a mean cat and in my estimation should have been put down the first time it attacked a guest in our home, the cat had special skills such as retrieving things thrown at it and bringing them back to be thrown again and jumping through my arms as I made a hoop—it was a natural thing for the cat, it was actually attacking me.
I warned people to leave the blasted animal alone. Few took my advice. The cat attacked our daughter and one time brutally attacked a baby sitter.
I had to bring back to life when it contracted pneumonitis by shoving pills down its throat with the rubber end of a pencil. The elderly cat died of a stroke one day as it approached its food dish. I was grateful.
Then in New Mexico, Ann brings home a cat a year or so after that mean one died. It was a cute calico Ann named after a teacher with whom she worked. This cat liked to box and was very vocal. One day, when I didn’t wish to box with it, the cat snuck up on me as if I were prey and bit me on my bare bottom—I was in the midst of dressing after a shower. The cat knew immediately it had made a mistake. Running for its life it out raced me. I had to stop racing about the house when I realized I was naked—not a pretty sight. This hapless animal lived with us for 16 years.
Well, that’s that, I thought. No more cats, no food dishes in the kitchen, no litter boxes stuck away to prevent them from be offensive, and no more attacks from self-centered cats—all cats are self-centered and have little regard for the humans the allow to share their space.
A friend tells Ann there is a photo of a cat in the newspaper she should see. The local shelter publishes photos of animals in need of a home. So, Ann finds the photo and the next thing I know, we are on our way to the animal shelter to pick up the cat. It is a shaggy Maine-coon with a delicate face and coat that is often described as tortoise shell—a variety of blacks, browns, white, and yellow, almost a calico but not quite.
We have had this cat in our home for 12 years now. I need to be clear here, when a cat comes to live in one’s home, it is no longer yours; you are its house guest.
This cat is so self-centered it makes the other two look like paragons of charity and love for others. This Maine-coon cat demands constantly for personal attention. Is now diabetic—the cost of feline insulin is through the roof—and leaves patches of it coat around the house along with the largest fur balls I have ever seen.
The cat jumps up on the bed when I am putting on my socks and shoes and punches me with her paws demanding her head be rubbed and scratched. This cat will not let me read the newspaper and interrupts my meals—I am caring for the animal alone while Ann is in the hospital—and is a general nuisance demanding a new diet daily—she likes shredded fish one day, then the next wants a pate of a fish “medley.” There are four different dry foods available. I can never tell which one the cat will eat from day-to-day. I have threatened to throw it outside and let it fend for itself for a while. Maybe then, this cat will not be so discriminatory.
The upshot of all this is, when the Vicar’s wife asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if your daughter had a cat?” be firm and adamant. The answer is, “Ask my wife.”
Healing is a major theme of the stories of the Bible. In the Old Testament Books of First and Second Kings the prophets of God appear to have extraordinary powers to heal. Elijah heals the son of the woman at Zarephath. Later, in another story, Elijah’s disciple Elisha is well known throughout the region as a great healer. Most notably he heals the Syrian general Naaman by telling him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River.
Sick children create in us the most sympathy. Pictures of children with bloated stomachs and flies resting in their eyes are used to generate in us the desire to donate to agencies tending to the needs of the children who are afflicted by famine, war, and rampant disease. When I was a child the March of Dimes campaign spearheaded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt focused on the children who were afflicted with a disease then called infantile paralysis, which we now refer to as polio. The campaign was a huge success. Children were the reason for its success. Had the disease afflicted the elderly, no matter who were spokespeople raising funds to combat it, the campaign would still be going on with probably no cure in sight.
Thus, we are moved by the story of the child of the woman of Zarephath and then in the New Testament the widow of Nain who has lost her only son.
The story of the widow of Nain is particularly heart wrenching. In first century Palestine, a widow without any male support is destitute. Jesus encounters this woman and he knows she is now in dire straits—she has lost more than son, she has lost her own life and future wellbeing.
Jesus says to the widow, “Do not weep.” She must have been stunned. How can she not weep? Her loss is devastating. She knows that her future is on the bier being carried away to be buried and lost forever.
Nevertheless, Jesus has compassion and uses this event to demonstrate the power of love and God’s own wish for the world to live despite its preoccupation with death.
I have known people who have been brought back from the edge of death. I have seen people who have been diagnosed as terminal defeat the prognosis and live on for years afterward, but I have never known anyone resuscitated after dying and brought to life on the way to the grave. However, while that is not my experience, I have no doubt such a miracle has happened.
Of course, we can explain the miraculous healings of the Scriptures with a post-action analysis based in twenty-first century knowledge of the healing arts and sciences. The child Elijah heals was likely resuscitated by some form of CPR. Possibly, Jesus recognized that the son of the widow of Nain was in a deep coma and could be revived. However, in the story, Jesus does not touch the man. He touches the bier on which the man was carried. In an earlier story of the healing of the Centurion’s servant, Jesus does not touch the servant.
Something is happening in these stories for which we may not have an explanation.
In today’s medicine such things occur. Doctors cannot explain the sudden positive change in a person’s illness. What has happened is beyond the medicines they have prescribed.
Possibly, it is the power of prayer. Many pray for the sick, the despairing, and the needy, all the time. We often pray for them even when we are not aware we are praying. It is our sense of hope that we raise to God and in that hope we pray unaware we are praying our spouses, children, and friends will recover from their afflictions. Sometimes it is a desperate hope and in other times it is our expectation. Regardless, faith helps us to have the courage to pray for healing, for revival, for a new chance at life.
Much of healing depends on the person being healed, or the expectation of the parents, relatives, and friends. If we do not expect healing, none will occur. If we do not see a sudden change in the physical condition we may think that our prayers are wasted. Much of whom and what we are hangs about us when we face terrible and life-threatening illness.
The question for me is, “What constitutes healing?” For the physician it is the successful application of a therapy, for family members it is the restoration of the beloved to full and normal life activities. For the ill it is the absence of pain. However, therapy, hope, and prayer may not bring about the good effect desired.
Healing may be an acceptance of the tragic nature of life itself. We are born as organic beings. That means we are part of the earth and the cycles of the earth. While some, because of accident and predisposition, do not experience the full cycle of life, most are born, cared for, mature, live fruitful lives, age, and then die. Nevertheless, all living creatures and things are subject to the reality of biological and organic being. If this is true, what then is our hope?
In the healing instances found in the Scriptures, the one offering the healing or the chance for life, exercise their faith in the power of God to bring to reality that faith.
Of course we will not encounter Elijah or Jesus in the flesh. Their earthly existence is now history. Nevertheless, we encounter the faith of Elijah and the compassion of Christ in our own willingness to be healed. The healing we seek includes getting better physically, but the true healing we need is the healing of our hearts and minds. In reality, some illnesses cannot be healed—we waited too long to see the doctor and the disease is chronic and its course cannot be altered, or it is the disease’s lethality is too far advanced, or there is no known cure for the disease. Thus, there is a need to seek a different healing.
That different healing is of the soul. Remembering that Jesus had compassion on the widow of Nain and he told her, “Do not weep,” we seek that emotional healing of the soul. In the healing of the soul nothing can strike us down or prevent us from the hope that we will live and share in the resurrection with Christ. In that hope, we can quiet our brains, bring an end to the joylessness of life, and see the future as an eternal wonder. In other words, we are not floundering out in the storm but are safely on the shore no matter what life’s conditions may be.
Hear those words deep in your own mind and let them fill your heart. Jesus has said, “Do not weep.” In the kingdom of God all tears are wiped away.
On the joke page of the June 2013 issue of the American Legion’s magazine, there was this item:
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Often, I have heard people exclaim when someone has done something that is out of character or stupid, “He is so smart, how could do that?” My response has been, “There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom.” When I worked among Navajo teenagers, I found they had a difficult time learning academics but I also knew that among them was great wisdom—a wisdom to deal successfully with a harsh environment, to maintain a sense of personal emotional security while away from home in a boarding school, and a wisdom to teach me what truly works in life and what does not.
The Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament, describes wisdom in lively and substantial terms. We read of wisdom mostly in the Book of Proverbs and in the apocryphal books of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach Ben Jesus (or as it called in Latin terminology, Ecclesiasticus). The Psalmist writes of wisdom often. The most instructive of his words are:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
The early Christians held on to the Hebrew ideas of wisdom. They continued to read the Book of Proverbs and the other wisdom literature.
Wisdom in the Hebrew context is given a female pronoun. Wisdom is referred to as she and her. For example, in opening verses of the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs we read:
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand…
To me the idea that wisdom has a female attribute is very interesting. Or, is it the other way around; possibly wisdom is a female characteristic preeminent.
Several years ago I wrote a poem about wisdom. It is based on the first six verses of the Ninth Chapter of Proverbs:
Wisdom has built her a House.
To King Solomon, mentioned
in the Bible,
Wisdom was his love.
He was true to her and he fought,
struggled, and strove
To let her be his guide, but alas
it came to naught.
“How’s that?” You say.
“Wasn’t Solomon the wisest
of the ancient kings?”
Yes, with wisdom he would often lay
to soak in her beauty and her
In a futile hope to be like her and fly
wings of ecstasy.
How could he have gone wrong?
He knew that wisdom had built
her house of seven pillars
and she then called everyone:
The thieves, the merchants,
and the millers
to come to drink
her wine and
feast among the seven pillars.
She called the simple and the stupid
to her party. But, alas,
they were not to his liking,
the king did not wish to be
Those with whom he did not mingle,
He thought he was so very
clever, and his
cleverness made him tingle.
Yes, Solomon was clever, but he
was neither wise nor
He kept three hundred women
In his palace; some were wives,
many were concubines
there only for his pleasure.
Others were there to be a palatial
All together they were so much wiser
than he could ever be.
Numbers alone were not what
He faltered because he failed to
for the fact that
In their number they
became a giant WE
and that Wisdom, after all, is a
The female characteristic of Wisdom has been carried over into Christian thought by title Holy Wisdom and in Latin Santa Sophia. The word Sophia is carryover from Greek and the female names such as Sophie and Sophia come from the Greek and Latin terminology.
All of this gives substance to wisdom. However, in the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs we read that Wisdom is the first creation of God. Thus, we can say that Wisdom is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel according to John wisdom is “the spirit of truth” and changes gender. Additionally, Jesus refers to the Spirit of God as the Advocate. For example, also in the Gospel according to John, Jesus tells his followers,
The Spirit of God is the Wisdom of God. Whether the Hebrew Scriptures refers to Wisdom in the female or Jesus refers to the Spirit of God in the male context makes no difference. The ultimate reality is that we find wisdom only when, as the psalmist wrote, in the “fear” of God or better yet in the “awe” of God.
Wisdom does not drop out of the sky or hit us like a bolt of lightning. Wisdom is the result of prayerful meditation, thoughtful contemplation, and a willingness to hear God speak as we encounter the world.
In prayerful meditation tell God your thoughts, listen to the words that come from your brain and out of your mouth, do they work in the ultimate view of God’s saving embrace—that is, do the words you generate in prayer reflect the truth that “God is love.”
Wisdom is more than knowing. We can know the Scriptures by heart but if we have not absorbed the words in such a way as to generate in us a feeling that we cannot know everything without profound study, we have gained wisdom.
Finally, recognize that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Wisdom, of God comes to instruct. So many Christians want the Holy Spirit of God to levitate them, give them a secret language, and the ability to speak for God. However, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will bring wisdom based in knowledge. In that wisdom we build character. In that wisdom Christians endure prejudice, intolerance, persecution, and mockery. As the Apostle Paul observed in his letter to the Romans,
…endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
A principal Christian virtue is hope. We hope in wisdom, as our creedal statements remind us, to live in the hope of the resurrection with Christ Jesus.
Despite doubt, despair, and fear, Wisdom sustains us. Wisdom then, is hope and because wisdom has been poured into our hearts, hope based firmly in wisdom and love never fails.
If you have a Bible with the apocryphal writings, you have a complete Bible. If not, you are missing an opportunity to read some truly and inspiring ancient literature.
William Frank Bellais,180th Meridian and Other Reflections, 2012, The Owl Press.
 1 Corinthians 13.
Recently I bought an Apple Smart Phone. My new Smart Phone has a number of features, applications, and services not thought of just a few years ago. Except for the feature of notifications of new Email, Face Book, and Twitter postings, I like my new Smart Phone.
Initially, the notifications feature came with strange and startling sounds. These sounds bombarded me night and day, moment by moment, and often at inappropriate times. Because all this was new to me, I looked to see what the notifications were and found that most were for emails about politics, trying to entice me into some new project, or some way to spend more money.
Face Book and Twitter postings are also on my desk top personal computer and all of them can wait for me to read them—rarely do they generate any sense of urgency for me. I have solved the notification problem with all its strange sounds and inappropriate timing by fiddling around with the device. I do not need to be in continual contact with friends and family. Now I am at peace with my new Smart Phone.
The application my new phone I enjoy the most and the one that gives me the least annoyance lets me look at the night sky and identifies constellations, stars, and planets. It is a beautiful piece of work. The screen even sets up for night vision. Now that Saturn is so visible in the night sky these days, this is an especially valued application for me.
The beauty of the universe has long intrigued me. Sometime last year, probably last summer, I did a series of paintings of galaxies as I saw them from the NASA Hubble Telescope. Whether others like them or not is not important to me. Painting and capturing in my mind’s eye the beauty of the universe was my goal. The universe sparkles with a beauty that should entrance us.
My concern is that we will travel too far into space. It is not that I would want to prevent exploration of the universe; my concern is human beings will spoil the galaxies and their planets as we have the earth—we will find a way to mar its beauty and trash its Astro-scape. We already have space junk.
Psalm 148, as it is translated in the Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer captures for me the awesomeness of the space beyond this sphere—our island home, planet Earth. The Psalm is not based in the new found information of astro–physics and related sciences. When the psalmist spoke the words, he saw the earth under a great dome and above the dome the sun, moon, and stars moved over it. He understood that the waters of the heavens—rain and snow—were stored above this dome and God showered the earth from the water stores of heaven. Thus, the Psalm is based on a lack of knowledge but not a lack of awe. Understanding our place in the universe only recently has changed. Galileo was only pardoned of heresy a few years ago—the Church is very slow about such things.
We now know that we are only specks of dust in a vast system of planets, galaxies, suns, and moons. We are a part of a system that remains mostly unknown to us. In our new knowledge of the heavens, some scientist take delight in telling humanity it is not very important and human beings have a small and defined limitation in the overall scheme of the universe. In fact, they proclaim, there is no reason for humans to believe they have any special place in the overall scheme of this planet or the solar system of which it is a part.
This may be a true observation. Possibly, there is little human beings can offer or do to change the course of universal history. Planets may collide, the entire solar system may be swallowed up in a black hole, and meteor may strike the earth and eliminate all life except the cockroach. All of that is possible.
But, as the psalmist did millennia ago, we should sing, “Hallelujah.” We should sing, “Praise the Lord of the heavens.” In this beautiful Psalm, the author wrote of the animals of the sea, the beasts of the wild and the fields, the scorching sun, the tempestuous winds, the snow, and flood, and the elemental events of earthly living and then he sums up his response to nature with,
Let them praise the Name of the LORD,
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendor is over earth and heaven.
In my imagination it seems the psalmists loved creation. Loving the created order, he saw in it humanity as a part of creation and loved it too.
Love is the issue; it always is. When love of creation, love of the creatures of the earth and I suppose of the universe, exploration becomes a source of joy. Exploration of the earth’s unknowns, space unknowns, and even the unknowns of the human body can lead to full and fulfilling lives. Exploitation, on the other hand, leads to death of the planet, humanity, and all the living flora and fauna of the earth—except cockroaches.
Jesus commanded his followers to love one another as he loved them.
Love, in English, is all encompassing word. Love can include passion, friendship, or even simply a fondness for something; for example, loving Neapolitan ice cream, which I do.
Then, what does Jesus seeking for his followers in this commandment of his? Is he asking them to have a passion for one another, a friendship, just a fondness for each other? Additionally, does the psalmist’s love of creation fit into this commandment? Further when reading in the New Testament, when John of Patmos has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, is he suggesting the earth and the universe as it is should not be cherished?
The answer to the questions on the nature of love is, “Yes.” Jesus wants his followers to have a passion for each other, a passion to care about them more than they care for themselves. He wants them to live in community as friends, and he wants them to express a fondness for each other as co-workers on the way. John of Patmos in his Revelation writes allegorically. The new heaven and a new earth is a new way of understanding the nature of God and a new way of loving fellow human beings. The evidence of God is among us. He writes God is among mortals wiping away tears of fear, anger, and hatred with the love Jesus commanded his followers to express.
When we can no longer stand the expressions of hatred and despair infecting the world, we can look to the heavens, look to the fields, look to the forests, and instead of giving up we can praise God for the beauty of holiness that surrounds us. When we allow God to be among us hourly, daily, throughout the years we live, all tears will be wiped away and we will truly experience a new heaven and a new earth. It is not an empty promise.