Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, John 16: 12-15
Wisdom, God’s constant companion is found in the joy of play and learning.
Canada has been a nation at play over the past few weeks as we have immersed ourselves in basketball fever, as fans have accompanied the Raptors in the struggle and the glory as they have fought their way to earn the NBA trophy. Fans across the nation have erupted with cries of joy, unable to contain themselves in the usual Canadian way. One woman described her feelings in her head after the victory as both the taste of sweet ice cream and a brain freeze all at once. Is it because of the long gruelling winter we have endured, the trauma of flooding, the destruction of runaway fires, the helplessness of drought, the pain released through the MMAWG or the constant grinding down of divisive political rhetoric that has brought forth such exuberance from a reserved people? Who knows why, but it sure seems as though we have needed a reason to experience and express our joy in gathered communities across the nation, to rediscover the joy of playing.
This is also Father’s Day and many of us will be honouring the importance of our father’s and grandfathers in our lives, either in person or by pulling forward those memories of our dads that have shaped who we are today, hopefully lifting up those occasions where we shared moments of joy and companionship, and the values that have been instilled within our hearts and lives. As I reflected on my relationship with my Dad, Russell Melvin McKnight, as the youngest of 4 children, who of course had a bit less time with him than my older siblings, I remember some special times – the pleasure I found in being allowed to sit next to my Dad on the front seat of his old Chevy truck with the snow plough attached to the front, smelling the leather from the seats, watching the smoke from our breathe in the cold night air inside the truck as he ploughed out the driveway, shoving the heavy piles of snow onto the lawn into great mountains that would be great for sliding down the next day. Summer days find me rocking gently in the boat before the setting sun, learning to be quiet, fishing for bass, pike or whatever would nibble, letting Dad do all the messy work like taking the hook out of the fish and cleaning and deboning it for dinner.
Through his life which focused on his construction business and his family, Dad constantly instilled in all of us both the value of education and of hard work, rising before 6 every morning to make a big pot of porridge to sustain his work at the job site, arriving home promptly for the 6 pm dinner which Mom always poured her creativity into. Evenings were mostly spent in his office, sketching out new plans for another building project, crunching numbers, pouring over the drafting table, loving it when we asked for help for our own math homework. Mom assigned Dad the job of being the disciplinarian, a task he did not relish I believe, but one he executed with a strong sense of fairness and justice – enough that we held him in a certain awe and fear. Years later as a teenager, I was able to accompany him to the apartments he had built to work as a painter and then to go out the fancy new Harveys for lunch or the Star Diner where he tended to flirt with the waitresses. It is a skill (painting -not flirting) I value to this day, perhaps because it reminds of those good times with Dad.
One important learning I had from him in the last few years of his life when his health was beginning to fail and he seemed to slump into a mood of depression, was that it is important to reach out for help, to put aside a false sense of pride and to be able to accept the support and help from those who love and care for you. I share this as one of those negative learnings, for he was a proud man in many ways, determined to comply to the world’s idea of ‘success’ and did not handle well his own vulnerability as a man, nor accept that suffering was a part of being human, sometimes a necessary step in spiritual growth. Some of his helplessness in the face of disappointment and suffering has indeed helped to shape my own ministry and humanity as I try to provide a safe place for people to grieve and lament, to find new hope, to come to know that God is with us even in the dark times.
Who have been those people who have influenced your values, who have given you wisdom in living your life, who have shown you the way to discern what is right or wrong, what is fair or unjust, what paths lead to destruction and what paths lead to overflowing life which sometimes may erupt into joy?
The book of Proverbs is a wonderful book in the bible attributed to Solomon, the son of King David, designed to teach youth the path towards wisdom and knowledge. In chapter 7 and 8 which was read to today, we are given the description of two women, one called the strange or mysterious woman, and the second, the woman who epitomizes Wisdom, also known in Greek as Sophia. The strange woman is very attractive to those who are foolish and naïve, who can be easily drawn in and seduced. Her words and appearance are attractive and alluring, enticing people with her flattery, but whose paths are dangerous: “Her house is a path to the grave, going down to the chambers of death” (Prov 7:27). You may all know people that you see are walking on a path that leads to self-destruction or maybe even to harm others around them and you wonder how you will help them discover a wiser and more life affirming path in their lives.
The wisdom figure in Proverbs 8 stands in the public square, crying out to all of humanity to offer understanding, truth, discretion, words of integrity and justice. She hates pride and arrogance, the path of evil and corrupt speech. Her qualities are understanding and strength and although she offers wealth and honour to those who love her, her produce is better than fine gold and silver.
What is most important about this womanly Wisdom figure is her relationship with God – she is not God, but she was created by God as a helpful companion, always there faithfully working beside God as the cosmos and the world were being created or perhaps stretching back and then forward into eternity. Psalm 8 which we read today evokes that sense of wonder as we gaze up into the night sky, contemplating the universe, wondering about the Creator of such majesty and evoking a sense of our humble place in this universe and galaxy.
Imagine ourselves in these late spring nights, gazing toward the moon and stars and imaging how Wisdom is there as well, as an artisan, evoking our sense of delight and wonder in the beauty and interconnectedness of creation. The response that Wisdom has is sheer delight and joy! Taken from the Common English Bible – “I was beside him as a master of crafts. I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race.” (Prov 8: 30-31)
William Brown notes Wisdom’s childlike wonder, “Wisdom revels in a world that is made both secure and enthralling by God, a world of delight and discovery, a world of wonder. As any child develops most fully by playfully exploring her environment, so Wisdom actively engages creation in her delight. Wisdom’s world is more relational than referential: as God’s partner in play she is ‘beside’ the creator of all while beside herself in joy.” John’s gospel further develops this Wisdom figure as being embodied in Christ who relates to us through the Holy Spirit, sometimes called the paraclete (in Greek) by John’s gospel. The Spirit of Christ acts as our advocate when hard times come, accompanying us throughout our life journey to bring us courage, healing, strength and wisdom.
If there is wisdom in playfulness, then I witnessed wisdom in her full glory this past Wednesday evening as I attended Winnie’s first ever soccer practice with her Dad Micah– at age 2 and half! There were lots of children with their Moms and Dads in their local park in Vanier, kids scurrying about, chasing balls – their own and everyone else’s-tearing off with the balloons that were suppose to mark their station in the field, crying when they were overwhelmed, ignoring the coach who was showing them some new exciting skills – such as dribbling with your hands and then feet, shooting a goal! Winnie of course was often lured in other directions – by the play structure across the field or by the splash pad and its alluring puddles or by the table now laden with goodies. What was most important however was the playful companionship that she was enjoying with her Dad who was helping her to learn these new soccer skills and what it meant to be part of a team – the Dragonflies – a wonderful and appropriate name if there ever was one.
Wisdom was surely out there in that park as the volunteer coaches began this whole new adventure of sharing their knowledge of physical skill, team building and providing the space and time for Moms and Dads (and grandparents) to play with their children.
As our spring turns into summer and you plan for your days of vacation and rest, daily excursions into your neighbourhood or trips abroad, please allow your hearts and minds to be opened up by the spirit of play and wonder, for in those moments of exuberance and lightness, no doubt you will befriended by God’s own close companion – Wisdom! Surely as we create these moments of fun and memories that will shape us, we are needing the powerful gifts that Wisdom will bring. Go team go – bring the games on!
Singing MV 150 Spirit God, be our breath