Proverbs could be compared to that era’s tweet. The verses in the book Proverbs are short, pithy sayings of advice that are universal truths. It teaches us how to behave. Each proverb verse length is short enough that it is comparable to today’s “tweet” regulated 140-characters or less in their message platform on the social media venue Twitter.
King Solomon, David’s son , gets most of the credit for writing Proverbs than anyone else. He gives us Divine wisdom through human telling. Legend has it Solomon wrote over 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs. One of his renown adages of wisdom was in solving the problem in the story of two women struggling over the claim of possession and motherhood to a baby (1Kgs. 3:16-28). Dating the book of Proverbs puts it at the end of Solomon’s life with him living in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Jesus’ wisdom is seen throughout his ministry interactions. He taught in parables to explain life and principles. The Greek word for parable is the Hebrew word for proverb. Some reading interpretations limit the meaning of Jesus’ parables to one single truth. However, there are many different ways to interpret parables. For example, the prodigal son parable has the traditional meaning of the wayward son coming home, with a possible one perhaps coming from the standpoint of the brother. Both tell a story about the relationship between man and God.
Proverbs 30:4 “tweets” or points to a description of Jesus who has gone to heaven and will come back again, the same one who established all the ends of the earth. Jesus is associated with wisdom and Proverbs provides the contextual background to this wisdom on how to successfully behave.
In seemingly “small” circumstances, Proverbs refocuses attention on the hidden moments and meaning of life. It’s an interesting balance to live in the moment yet anticipating the future. Scientists say humans are more wired for future prospection then living in the moment hence the moment gets lost in our planning.
Foolishness is tweeted or compared to wickedness (Prv. 10:23), not stupidity. And in wisdom, righteousness is not shrewdness. Usually I do not plan my day to fail, but of course, if I fail to plan my day then failure is the result. Proverbs 19:21 states that many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. While in grad school, my cohorts would say if you want to hear God laugh then make plans. Just before the above verse (Prv. 16:9) pronounces that the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes their steps.
But what if “failing” is part of God’s plan? Is it failing if God has a part in that plan? As much as I wish I could learn from my successes, I learn more from my failures. Fortunately, failure is never final, particularly when you learn from it. God uses failures to achieve His purposes. If it takes failure to bring about a greater purpose or plan for our life, then it’s not a failure, it’s a stepping stone.
Once in my late twenties, it became glaringly apparent how inept in our marriage we, as a couple, were in trying to figure out the mechanics of living. If ever I had a fault, and I have many, asking for help seems to be one of my greatest. It was during this period, I started to read a book entitled Passages by Gail Sheehy. I mentioned reading it to my mother. She recommended not to because she thought it better to be unaware of the pattern of life passages to come. I then asked her why she didn’t tell me life would be so hard which was way I picked up the book, to maybe be aware and therefore more proactive in avoiding some pitfalls. The consequences of our mistakes seemed to take so long to rectify or live down. She responded that since I hadn’t asked her those questions, she didn’t know what it is that I needed to know. On the other hand, she continued, I wouldn’t have listened if she gave unsolicited advice.
Perhaps there is some truth to that. While raising my kids, I would try to seize a moment that presented itself to share and hopefully without being too preachy (my cue that I was being preachy was the glazed look in their eyes). Those teaching moments came full circle for me. Almost a mantra I used to say to my children when they whined or complained was echoed back to me by them later in life when I responded similarly: “Life is not fair.” and “You can do hard things.”
I think of all the advice my kids hated to hear from me the most was: you are the company you keep, the books you read, the music you listen to and the movies you watch (Pro 13:20). It will determine where you are five years into the future.
Like other languages, the Hebrew language assigns grammatical gender to its nouns. It uses the female pronoun for “wisdom”. Considering that wisdom is referred to in the feminine is a bridge in patriarchal writings of the Bible. It may be semantics, but until I could read the Bible gender neutral, initially I got caught up in the majority of the masculine pronouns. God is not sexed, He is neither male or female. almost androgynous but better known as supra sexual. He speaks specifically against such a view in Numbers 23:19. Still, I was drawn to scripture despite what some of my female counterparts perceive as misogynistic writing. The traditions of that era are not oppressive. It’s the comparative interpretations between then and now that gets twisted, losing sight of the meaning or message.
Faith and feminism can nurture each other. Nurturing can be found in chapter 9 where feminine attribution to wisdom doesn’t come across so much as condescending but rather as complementary. In a nurturing nature, intuition plays a part. I read recently that industries on the cutting edge of growth are recognizing the benefits of intuition when making decisions. At this writing, many of the social media and technology CEO’s happen to be Indian. Indeed, these far easterners are learned in their fields but they, distinctively, couple it with their intuition, part, and parcel of their cultural upbringing of meditation or mindfulness. Co-Founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs was a big advocate of the use of mindfulness to reduce stress, gain clarity and enhance creativity.
Wisdom is a matter not only of the mind but the heart. It’s been said it is born out of suffering, like when a woman bears a child. It shows a way through the darkness the way the woman stands at the window holding a lamp. “Her ways are pleasant ways,” says Solomon, then adding “and all her paths are peace” (3:17). The Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine as is the church. Concurrently, is the word love used in scripture.
In another one of Sister Joan’s books, The Gift of Years aligns well with the presentation of Solomon words of wisdom. The subtitle of this book is “Growing Older Gracefully.” How I would have appreciated having Chittister’s book rather than Sheehy’s. Growing gracefully has a sense of hope and promises. But this preferred book was published in 2008, many years after I picked up Sheehy’s book.
Many of the possibilities of life are not available to me now (for example birthing more children, being a neurosurgeon, going to space). However, some limitations that evolve later in life can be liberating because it forces discovery of newer things (or going back to those things you postponed). Sister Joan points out at the end of each of her chapter two segues: the burden and the blessing to its topic. Refusing to look at things as only burdens substantiate that after all, whoever brings blessings will be enriched (Prv. 11:23).