Saturday, 17 December 2011

O Sapientia - A tale of two trees

The 'O Antiphons' are sung according to tradition, during the evening liturgy on the last days of Advent. Each one is a named attribute of The Christ, to whose coming the church looks forward with eager and in these latter days, heightened expectation

When you come to a new place the whole process of settling in involves you in myriad choices, some of greater consequence than others. Choice of schools for children, choice of supermarkets to shop in - one choice having possibly some bearing on the future and difficult to change, another frankly of little significance at all and as readily changeable as the weather patterns around here seem to be, and of course throughout a multitude of good folk all willing to offer their opinions of the best choice.

The Garden of Creation also offered its new inhabitants choices, like what to call that strange beast with the black and white stripes? Or indeed the one that slunk on its belly around your feet? I guess these choices weren't of great import, except getting across the road by the Gnu crossing doesn't have quite the same ring as Zebra. Certainly this new home was so abundant in life that I guess the man may well have been a little worn out and his choice facility a little degraded, late in the day . . . more's the pity.

At the heart of the Garden were two trees - that of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and that of Life, commonly associated with the Heavenly gift of Wisdom. Two recommendations came their way, one a Life giving Positive wrapped up in a Negative, the Other a deadly negative saccharin coated and shiny in appearance. Our common ancestor did not choose well, preferring to know-it-all than to be wise - and genetic inheritance being what it is, that choice continues to be made day in and day out.

My son loves Lego - he has a huge box full of it, hundreds of pieces. From time to time he'll arrange seemingly random pieces and proudly come to show me 'Look what I have made!' As his understanding of the world has grown,  what he declares he has made bears more and more resemblance to the model in his hands. In other words without an understanding of how things should be, without being able to See something that Is but is not present to the unaided eye, the Lego pieces and his models are utterly incoherent.

So it is with Knowledge - we live in an age when we know far more than in all of history - it is not impossible that the last generation has accumulated more new knowledge than all previous generations, such is the impact of computerisation on research - and Look what we have made! What are we building - we have no 'Idea'. We have no Wisdom - we cannot See.

Knowledge is Highly Seductive, if only we Knew more, so the story goes, all will be well. The book of Proverbs famously contrasts two female figures - one, Lady Wisdom the son of the writer is exhorted to seek. The other, in turn fascinating, seductive and deadly he is consistently warned against. I do not think it mere fancy to suggest that this second tempting figure is the personification of Knowledge.

In the chaos of the modern world this rush to the alluring arms of Knowledge is all around us - we see it in the appointment of technocratic governments in Europe - in the ceaseless race to find 'Answers' to the ecological devastation we are wreaking - in the unquestioning obeissance to 'The Expert'. We look for Salvation without any clear idea of what a Saviour might look like. [cf Germany in the 1930's]

Certainly as worshippers of Knowledge we do not want God - it is little surprise that Atheists are unswervingly Reductionist in their account of reality. Philosophical Gradgrinds, they pin the students of the world to the remorseless business of the acquisition of 'the Facts' that Save!!

Yet there is no attempt to ask - What is Life all about? Indeed such philosophising is ruled out of court - we, the blind are actively counseled to be led by the blind.

In these last days of Advent we await the coming of The Saviour

Christ the Wisdom of God 

'the Kingdom does not come by your careful observation'
it is not of Knowledge
The Wisdom of God will open the eyes of the blind

O Wisdom,
 coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.  
O Come, O Come Emmanuel

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to note that today, at least in New Zealand we mark the passing of Christopher Hitchens, one of if not the leading New Atheist

    Diverse and thoughtful Christian responses can be found on 'Coming Home' and 'Fors Clavigera' blogs which you will find links to alongside this piece