Becoming Wise – What Might That Look Like?

imageKrista Tippett, in her book, “Becoming Wise – An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living,” thoughtfully tackles challenging issues that I find myself grappling with on a seemingly daily basis. The book contains wonderful excerpts of her conversations with folks who are finding their way along this journey of life and asking questions about how we might become wise while navigating the mystery and art of living.

Throughout my life I have come to know many smart people. But I know few people I would call “wise.” There’s a difference. Some are old and some are young. You know who they are. As I grow older and try to look more honestly at who I am truly becoming and who I want to become, I find myself increasingly drawn to these types of folks and the remarkable and larger than life conversations my interactions with them invariably spawn. My hope is that these conversations, these gifts, will not somehow provide me with answers, but will prod me to be more curious and self reflective. They might help me discover what questions I need to be asking to more fully and authentically become who I am meant to be.

One of those numerous conversations Tippett describes in her book is with Maria Popova, who is 30’ish, was born in Bulgaria, and has taken the Internet by storm with “Brain Pickings.” Popova is wise. She’s an “old soul” and her thoughts resonated with me.

Popova says she thinks “a lot about the relationship between cynicism and hope. Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. I try to live in this place between the two, to try and build a life there. Because finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving our situation produces resignation, of which cynicism is a symptom, a sort of futile self-protection mechanism.”

Popova continues, “But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine produces a kind of resignation, because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially to thrive, we need to bridge criticism thinking with hope.”

Popova provides some wisdom into our society’s almost insatiable need for immediate information and the false belief that what’s most recent or immediate on the Internet or Twitter is somehow the most important. With the Internet still in its infancy, we are continually struggling as a society to navigate that piece.

Perhaps in the wake of our country’s presidential election and a hunger for real wisdom, this has all taken on a more immediate urgency for many of us. How do we look at the big picture, beyond a new administration and all the uncertainty that will bring for those already on the margins of this country? How do we thoughtfully and purposefully build a life between cynicism and hope in this new post election world?

To me that bridge looks like, in the short term, developing creative ways to bring my own hope into tangible and real action to help protect the rights of my fellow Americans who face increased threats to their constitutional and human rights. It means showing up and being present. It means finding the wise ones. It means listening and asking tough questions of people in positions of power and authority. But it also means maintaining some perspective. Signing every online petition to ostensibly try and help stop all suggested crazy plans of the incoming administration really does not seem productive.

I am drawn to Krista Tippett’s acknowledgement of the importance of “gratitude” as something she decides to honor as a piece of what “wisdom” looks like. Being grateful has not come naturally to me, particularly the past few weeks. I continue to work at it, daily. Tapping into my gratefulness brings forth an underlying and surprising calling to be more curious about my own life, and how I might both intentionally shape it and allow it to be shaped. It is empowering at a time where it is easy to feel like so many things in my country and world are so wildly out of control.

Tippett artfully reminds us of all the Bible’s varied human experiences and where “the psalmist insists, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This faith piece to me is coupled with the mystery that accompanies it. Being increasingly more comfortable with the mystery in our world and not thinking everything needs an explanation has been emotionally freeing and  leaves more of me to be present, delighted and grateful.

At the close of her book, Tippett talks of the importance of humility as being the final virtue “to name and beckon here. It’s woven through lives of wisdom and resilience. . . Like humor, it softens us for hospitality and beauty and questioning and all the other virtues I’ve named in these passages.” She talks of a certain “lightness” that is part of the essence of wise ones. My father in law, a wise man and a pastor for almost 60 years, has told me one of the the reasons he is ablaze to believe in a God is the fact that man has a sense of humor.

Perhaps what struck me as much as anything about Tippett’s adventure into this mystery was her creative and beauty tiful use of language. As she admittedly struggles to wrap up on the last page of her book she uses words like “adventure,” “calling,” “delight,” “wonder,” “vastness,” “grace,” “beauty,” “healing,” “attentiveness,” “resilient,” “privilege,” “hope” and “love.”

Wise words.