How Do We Grow in Wisdom?

How do we become wise? The quickest answer is: through experience. This experience begins early in life. Several years ago I was at a first birthday party for a little boy named Brian. He was sitting in his highchair smiling as his mother set a small birthday cake in front of him. Then she lit the candle. Before anyone could stop him, Brian had reached out his chubby little hand to try to grab the flickering flame. Ouch! Immediately he began to cry. Experience. It can be painful at times.

But experience can also be wonderful. We meet someone in the first grade and soon we become friends. And through that friendship we experience warmth and joy and fun. Over time we come to realize how important friendship is in our life. And we decide to do things that nurture such relationships. That’s good experience leading to wisdom.

But wisdom doesn’t automatically come with experience. It presupposes we are attentive to our experience and we reflect upon it. I’m reminded of William Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.” He’s implying that powerful emotions can overwhelm a person, making it impossible to communicate at the time. The poet needs distance and reflection to give birth to a poem. Similarly, powerful experiences can overwhelm us too, so we often need time to reflect on what has happened to gain wisdom from them.

We grow in wisdom not merely through our own experience, but through the experience of others as well. Isn’t this one reason many of us love to read or go to movies? Through a book or movie we can experience what it feels like to be at the South Pole or on a battlefield without actually being there. Recently I saw the wonderful film Lion. It tells the true story of a little boy in rural Indian who gets lost in Calcutta and is eventually adopted by a couple in Australia. I gained much wisdom about wholesale poverty, the evils of human trafficking, as well as the incredible love parents can have for their children.

Jesus was a very wise person. How did he get so wise? Through experience (his own and others) and through his pondering and prayer. One day the 12-year-old Jesus gets “lost” in Jerusalem. His frantic parents finally find him in the massive Temple and give him a serious scolding. Jesus meekly leaves Jerusalem with them and goes back to Nazareth where he “advanced in wisdom and age” (Lk. 2:52).

Wisdom requires reflecting on our experience.

Like all wise people, Jesus was extremely attentive to experience. The multitude of images he uses in his teaching demonstrate how much he paid attention to the world around him. He must have watched his mother baking bread and became fascinated by the magical power of the unseen yeast. He wisely concluded: There’s more to life than meets the eye. How did he learn the potential disaster that could happen if you pour new wine into old wineskins? Maybe by his own experience.

Jesus learned much from the experience of others: farmers, fishermen, shepherds, housewives, Roman soldiers, Samaritans, children, widows, servants. What a good listener he must have been. Good listeners are usually wise people.

I offer two questions for your reflection today:

+ Think of a someone you believe is wise. This person can be living or deceased, someone you personally know or someone you’ve met in another way. What are some reasons you think this person is wise?

+ How and where did you gain your own wisdom? Notice, I’m assuming you are wise. After all, you’re reading my blog, aren’t you? (Hee, hee!) What are some of the “bits of wisdom” you have gained over the years? Would you be willing to share a “morsel” of your wisdom with us?

The song today is called “Wisdom Song” and it is sung by Laura Woodley Osman.

Do you have any response to today’s reflection and/or song?

PS: A big thank you to Gayle C. for inviting me to speak on hope at St. Christopher’s Parish in Rocky River, OH on Saturday. Another big thank you to all the men and women who came for the day. I enjoyed my time with you very much! And thank you to seminarian Joshua who handled my technology needs throughout the day!

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  1. Janet Ashe on March 13, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for this inspiration this morning. Love the song. Such a great way to start this Monday. I down loaded this song so I can easily have it in time of need.

  2. Debra Tomaselli on March 13, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for your inspiring words and music. I love the way you give us pause about being wise and learning from others who are wise. Friends of mind told me about Sunflower Seeds and every post has been such a delight. Thank you for your writing!

  3. Patty on March 13, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Thank you, Sister, for sharing your wisdom with me/us.

  4. Bobbi on March 13, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    My Mom always said go to church and life is hard enough, don’t make it any harder for others.

  5. Frances on March 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    The sentence “But wisdom doesn’t automatically come with experience” is something I’ve seen watching my children grow through the years to adulthood. Each experience is a learning opportunity. Some people learn more easily than others, and become wise in the process. It doesn’t happen all at once. I pray to the Holy Spirit for my adult children, to give them awareness, strength and wisdom .

  6. Shirley on March 13, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks Sister for your wisdom. I just love your blog, I look forward to Mondays to see what Sunflower Seeds will bring us. Loved this song too!!

  7. Tom Turner on March 13, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I’ve learned from past snow storms in New York to get the shovel out of the garage and place it next to the side door BEFORE the storm hits. Seriously, though, I love the blogs and music. Look forward to them at the start of each week. Thank you, Sister Melannie.

  8. John Hopkins on March 14, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Tom Turner, you are a wise man! Big storm about to hit us here in Massachusetts, and what did I do about an hour ago? Put the shovels by the front door! Thank you, Sister Melannie! By the way, excellent “We Are Tansformed” piece in “This Day.”

  9. Mary Beth Pettek on March 14, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us last Saturday! It was wonderful to meet you in person and to be inspired by your hopeful and hope-filled thoughts, not to mention all the meaningful quotations you shared with us!
    Hope you’re able to enjoy the snow today from inside!!

  10. Lise LeTellier on March 14, 2017 at 10:50 am

    So true. To be truly wise, we must reflect. I think in today’s world we don’t take the time to reflect. We experience, we move on, perhaps learn something, but if we don’t reflect with the eyes and ears of God, we may not learn what is intended and become wise. We may, instead, learn anger, bitterness, revenge, fear. So thank you for adding this song to your already thought provoking blog, which reminds us to guard against these things and to take the time to reflect, so we can become sons and daughters of God. Snow Days are a good time to take the time to reflect. Thank you.

  11. Susan on March 15, 2017 at 8:07 am

    “Least said the soonest mended”
    I found that this little bit of wisdom will serve us well in life.

  12. Lorna on March 17, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    My aunt used to tell me “if you pray why worry, if you worry why pray?”
    It has stuck with me for many years but it is still a struggle. Another good one I used with my boys, “This too shall pass.”
    Love today’s song,

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