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Columns

June 2, 2012

Waiting for the wisdom of old age to kick in

I keep waiting for it to kick in, the legendary "wisdom of old age." Hey, I've met the age qualification. What's holding things up?

Well, what's wrong is that I've forgotten what Aristotle said about wisdom. To begin with, he said, there's no such thing as a wise young person. Youths can be intelligent, quick-witted, amazing agile at juggling language and ideas. (Look at how they handle electronics!) But they can't be wise.

That's because true wisdom is keen thought, PLUS the accumulated experience of years. Without both present and reinforcing each other, says Aristotle, don't expect to find wisdom.

Well, drat! I've met the age requirement_but at the very time my mind's going fuzzy with Parkinson's. Guess I've missed the boat.

Well, if I've missed out on Aristotle's wisdom, I'm still eligible for the kind promised by God, given by God as a gift. Last Sunday Christianity celebrated that promise on Pentecost: the guarantee that, as we journey homeward on our pilgrimage, we'll bolstered by the Holy Spirit's steady presence, and by a set of gifts, if we're willing to ask for them.

The number and definition of these gifts vary among Christian denominations, but the idea remains the same. They're usually numbered as seven. But before thinking about each of them in turn, we ought to spend some time defining "gift."

Any gift, from any source, has three necessary qualities. First, it has to be freely given; otherwise, it's not a gift, but a payment, or maybe a bribe. Second, it's got to have some real value. If it doesn't have value in itself or at least to the presenter, then it's not a gift; in fact, it's a kind of insult. ("Here, take this trash; it's worthless to me.") And third, it has to be unearned by the receiver. If it's owed somehow to the receiver, then it's something other than a gift_again, maybe payment for services rendered.

It might be good to pause here and think of examples of gifts; see if those three requirements don't apply. Then, after a deep breath, starting listing God's gifts to us. Excuse me: to you.

And here's the starting point: God doesn't owe you a thing. Every precious thing from that Source was freely given--and undeserved.

About 14 billion, 500 million years ago, before the Big Bang, God (the name we give to Infinite Love) existed alone and complete, without a need outside the Divine Being. Except perhaps something that, for lack of a better word, can be called a need.

God is Infinite Love, and love must have an object. And so the fuse was lit and God created the entire universe, which has been exploding outward in all directions and still continues to spread as a universe with a trillion galaxies.

One of those trillion galaxies is ours, the Milky Way; inside it, as in the rest, are billions of stars, one of which is our sun. Oh, and you and I? We crawl the surface of one of the specks of dust that circle that tiny spark of light.

So: God's first gift to you is the Universe itself, in which you have such an infinitesimally tiny place.

But God has given you a second gift: your own existence. Your being here is based on a chain events starting at the Big Bang and continuing through the rise and evolution of life forms on this tiny planet (all under God's creating hand); through the rise of life here to the level, so far, of creatures of weak intelligence and flawed will; through successful begetting across thousands of generations; until you arrived on the scene.

Hold it! All the above wasn't an overture to your strutting onto the stage. It all would have happened without you; and the world, in all its beauty and complexity, would be just the same if you weren't blundering around in it. That's God's second gift to you: that you are.

And the third gift: Seeing that human's journey home was way off track, God did a divine intervention in your dysfunctional family. God so loved you as to enter your foundering species, take on your very nature, and lay out the way home, the way of universal love, the way the Way of Jesus.

And a fourth gift: Jesus' promise that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, would lead you home, strengthening us and illumining the way with still more gifts: of WISDOM to recognize that all in your life has meaning only in light of your relationship with God; UNDERSTANDING, to grasp how profound that relationship is; KNOWLEDGE, to comprehend how your life fits together with its one goal; COUNSEL, to advise yourself and others on the best way home.

And then there is FORTITUDE, the strength to choose good over evil, even at great cost; and DEVOTION, deepening love for the Being who so loves you; and AWE OF THE LORD, to growing awareness of the Being is who brought all us tiny dust mites to be.

Forgive this tiny dust mite, please, as he squeaks as loudly as he can, "How great Thou art! How great Thou art!" (That squeak won't carry far in the Universe's vastness. But it will be heard.)

Jim Atwell is a Quaker minister who worships in Cooperstown.

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