Friday, January 28, 2022

Wisdom as Questioner: Clearness Committee

'Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? Job 28: 12

‘God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.  And he said to humankind, “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”'  Job: 28:28

Job 28 is intriguing. There is an aspect of wisdom that is unknown, inaccessible, and mysterious.  Job 28  appears in the middle of the Book of Job, and functions as an intermission in the poetic drama. There's no reference to Job or Job's famously unhelpful friends. Only God knows the way to wisdom. Wisdom, for humans, is the fear of the Lord, understood as the awe or respect of God leading to obedience.

Seeking the truth has a way of exposing the naivete I have about God, people, and myself. Wisdom can serve as a self-critical principle, challenging our cherished beliefs and unquestioned practices. Can you imagine wisdom making us less aware, less reflective, less free, and more fragmented? 

A preference for seeing myself in a positive light or being in the right, is a tenacious enemy of clarity. I am sometimes blinded by neglecting to ask questions of myself, such as--why would I take this course of action?  

In Parker Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak, he discusses how a clearness committee equipped him with a vocational decision.* From the Quaker tradition, a clearness committee is composed of a small group who can be trusted to ask challenging questions throughout the session. They must refrain from giving advice. Only the one being questioned may respond. One of the hallmarks of this approach is the discerning and uncovering one's true motivation and intention.  

In this instance. a college presidency was offered to Palmer. The job was his if he wanted it. During the course of the clearness meeting, the group continued to ask, "why?" Why did Palmer want to be president of this college? The truth did not emerge immediately. The question of "why" had to be asked several times. There were periods of silence. Finally, in a moment of clarity, the answer came to him. The truth was uncovered. Palmer was embarrassed to speak the honest truth: Palmer was interested in the job because he most wanted his photo and name in publication. He wanted a public announcement of his new status. 

A clearness committee may not be right for everyone. I have greatly benefitted from spiritual direction. A third party such Spiritual Director who is trained in asking questions and listening, can offer great support on the journey to clarity. They too are engaged in this ancient practice; they are supervised, and observe confidentiality. Together, both Director and Directee listen to the Holy Spirit.*** 

1. Who are the people I can engage with an understanding to ask non-leading, advice-free questions for my benefit? 
2. In discernment, how can my faith assist me in discovering a third way? 
3. How can my true intentions and motivations be uncovered? How can seeing them assist in making wise, sustaining decisions.

*Find more information on Parker Palmer and his book at Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation
**Clearness Committee information is available from the Friends General Conference.
***Spiritual Directors International is a good place to explore spiritual direction and to look for a spiritual director.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Seeking Action Born of Wisdom

Wisdom is God's gift, but the way of wisdom is chosen. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Wisdom, the queen of the virtues throughout the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, is highly prized throughout Scripture. When the Apocrypha is included, wisdom appears in the text of the Bible almost 400 times.*

Consider the Epistle of James a New Testament version of wisdom. From its beginning, we are encouraged to ask God for wisdom. And here is the description of that wisdom: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of  partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." James 3:13-14, 18 NRSV

Without the capacity to learn and grow, life is dull, futile and even dangerous. Without a capacity to learn, how do I know about the wrongs of the past, or, take action to right them? But with wisdom, there is clarity.

God's wisdom can uncover overlooked, but significant aspects of my life. The way may not be easy to see, but it is there. I need to have the eyes of my faith opened to what I cannot see. The One who knows me also knows my limits and my gifts, what can be sustained and what cannot. My true gifts and values often provide the best guide.

Wisdom often calls me to seek out a new way. It may be a "third way," another option between two choices. Adding a third way is more inclusive of various factors. It gets me out of either-or thinking. A third way may be the resolution to refrain from the decision-making process for a time. This may come as a result of being too confused or depleted to make a sustainable decision immediately. 

The experience of spiritual direction is very beneficial in Christian discernment. It encourages me to go deeper in my  communion with God and my life with others. Its gifts and blessings encourage me to look beyond the temporary; they are meant for the long journey. 

More questions to consider in my discernment process: 

1. Ask for God's help in claiming-reclaiming your true values and gifts.

2. Is the decision an emergency? Must it be made immediately- or not?

3. What option can I sustain (not just live with)? 

4. What would a third way look like?

5. Who is most- and less- affected in this decision? 

6. What will work for deeper peace within? 

7. Which decision makes me freer and more open to the future?  

*When the Greek- written Apocrypha is included. See also Oremus Bible Browser. In most Protestant churches, the Apocrypha is considered secondary, and separated from the list of canonical writings. In Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Bibles, these books are recognized as Holy Scripture.

For further reading, consider Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, 2020. Especially helpful are Part I: A Time to See and Part 2: A Time to Choose.

Oldies but Goodies