It is nearly fifty years since my wife, Jill, and I moved to Western Australia. The plan had been for us to stay four years, but Perth made such an impression upon us that we never left.
We have so many vivid memories from those early days in Perth and one of those for me is of the beautiful Reflection Pond in front of Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia (UWA). The Memorial Seat that looks down the length of the pond from the eastern end bears the inscription: ‘Verily by beauty it is that we come at wisdom’. The motto of UWA itself is: ‘Seek Wisdom.’
In the season of Lent that will be just concluded by the time this edition of Revive is published, I’ve been prompted by a few things to reflect upon the nature of wisdom, within the context of a Benedictine concept of renunciation.
What is truly important in the journey of following Christ, and what should be renounced in order to pursue it more fully?
This Lent, I found myself reviewing the 2007 ABC Television series titled, The Abbey, about the Benedictine Abbey at Jamberoo in New South Wales. Next, I found myself deeply moved by the humble reflections on what is truly important by a dear friend who is struggling with the depredations of serious cancer.
Then, this particular Lenten journey was really brought into focus as I prepared for the wonderful commissioning service of Dr Marie Perry as the 12th Principal of Methodist Ladies College. The memento booklet for the occasion, containing the Order of Service, had already been printed when Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, found that he needed to undergo heart surgery, so I stood in for him at the commissioning.
Steve had already elected to preach on wisdom and we spent a few minutes chatting about what he had in mind. I’m grateful to Steve for this, because it caused me to reflect on how much wisdom literature there is in the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes) and yet, it seems to me, how little we seem to focus upon it.
But it is such a rich resource. Consider this, from the beginning of Proverbs: ‘…Here are proverbs that will help you recognise wisdom and good advice, and understand sayings with deep meaning. They can teach you how to live intelligently and how to be honest, just and fair. They can make an inexperienced person clever and teach young people how to be resourceful. These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated … To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord. Stupid people have no respect for wisdom and refuse to learn.’ (Proverbs 1:1-7)
‘Verily by beauty it is that we come at wisdom’, and ‘To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord.’
Beauty, and reverence for the Lord. Yes, this feels like a good pathway to wisdom and renunciation.
Rev Ken Williams, Acting Moderator of the Uniting Church WA