Seeking Wisdom in Thin Places
by The Rev. Jill Komura
Psalm 111; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Please join me in prayer: God, help us grow in wisdom as we ponder these texts and their meaning for our lives. May we continually turn to you in reverence, humility, gratitude and praise, seeking you daily in the thin places of our lives. Amen.
King Solomon took over the rule of Israel as his father, King David, was dying.
Today, Solomon is best known for two things: the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, and being wise. In his day, people came from all over Israel, and even surrounding kingdoms, to present to him their most difficult dilemmas.
It was King Solomon, who, when confronted with two women, both of whom claimed maternity of the same baby, suggested resolving the conflict by slicing the baby in two halves, and giving each woman half. This prompted the real mother to throw herself at the King’s feet, willing to let the other woman have the baby in order to spare the infant’s life.
Solomon, knowing now that this woman must be the real mother, then gave the baby to her.
Today, we still hear references to Solomon’s legendary wisdom: “Even the wisdom of Solomon could not resolve this,“ or we hear people longing for, “Solomonic wisdom” or seeking “Solomonic solutions.” According to biblical, though not scholarly, tradition, Solomon is credited with writing several of the “wisdom books” of the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and one of the secondary canon not included in our bible, but still included in the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Bible, called, the “Wisdom of Solomon.”
As modern day Americans, living with elected officials, whom we generally don’t view as “wise,” it’s very hard for us to understand how highly valued the quality of “wisdom” was in the ancient world, especially among leaders. Partly this was due to the socioeconomic and political structure of those cultures. If you lived in a world of overlapping and interconnected tribal and feudal networks, knowing how to behave toward all the possible gradations of family, friend, foe, or superior-inferior to you on the social or political ladder, was necessary to preserve not only your health, livelihood and well-being, but that of your immediate and extended family, your tribe, your nation, and possibly your allies, as well.
In addition, all those familial, economic and political concerns intertwined with religious traditions that emphasized strict compliance with particular rules of behavior in order to remain on good terms with the culture’s deity or deities. One reason for the growth of scholarly traditions in ancient times was the need for help in interpreting these myriad religious rules. So, in ancient cultures, where personal and community survival were all about maintaining right relationships of one sort or another, “wisdom” became an all-important capacity, especially for a community’s leaders. In that era, being able to trust in the wisdom of a leader like Solomon could mean the difference between the kingdom’s prosperity and its destruction.
In ancient Hebrew, the word “wise” (hhakham) refers to the ability to make difficult choices—to separate or distinguish between right and wrong action; between good and evil. In fact, the other words that frequently appear in scripture alongside the Hebrew word for “wise,” are the Hebrew words bin or binah, which mean “to discern” or to be “discerning.” So, the words “wise” and “discerning” were kind of a yoked pair, since at least in that culture, the whole point of having wisdom was in order to discern—specifically, “Given my choices, What should I say here? What should I do here?” Unlike the Greek understanding of wisdom, which is more speculative, Hebrew wisdom is less an understanding of mind, and more of the heart and will. Hebrew wisdom is more practical, intended to be used in guiding the behaviors of daily life.
Though we no longer live in a world of warring clans, there is always a sense of risk in our relationships. Developing this kind of “wisdom” could still be valuable.
What about Benny, in the Bagels From Benny story? Do you think Benny meets this definition of “wise?” The first time I heard the Benny story read, I actually thought of the famous line from today’s psalm: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”
Benny’s loving, inspired attitude toward God is definitely a motivator for his choices and actions. When Benny decides that his quick prayer of thanks offered up in Grandpa’s bagel shop is not enough to garner a response, he spends a day and night racking his brain for a way to thank God, and to let God enjoy the same bagels as the rest of the community. For weeks, he brings his gifts of bagels to put in the ark. He approaches the ark with trembling, addressing God as “King of the Universe,” concerned less about his own fears, and more that God might not want him putting the bagels in the same space with “God’s Special Book.” Is this illustrative of gratitude, faithfulness, reverence and humility? I think so. And as the story ends, does he encounter God in relationship and end up blessed with greater wisdom? Definitely. It should not surprise you that Aubrey Davis’ story, Bagels From Benny, is the modern retelling of an ancient rabbinical tale.
It’s worth noting where Solomon encountered God to glean his wisdom. “Thin places” is a term from Celtic culture, but the concept exists in cultures all over the world. They are places where the veil between the past and the present, the extraordinary and the mundane, is so thin, it seems to disappear. Thin places are where, sometimes only momentarily, the finite can be suffused with the infinite, the mortal becomes briefly one with the divine. In the Solomon story, the thin place was the young King’s sleeping dreams. In the Bagels From Benny story, the thin place was the synagogue, and maybe, the bagel shop.
Where are the thin places where you go, risking relationship and seeking wisdom? Is your thin place visiting with friends at Panorama C&R? Spending a day in the park with your dog, interacting with other dog-owners? Laughing alongside someone you just met in church? Do you go to the thin places of need in our community? Sidewalk Homeless Services; Senior Services of South Sound; the Thurston County Food Bank? Who do you feel is in need of the blessing of your thanks; your gift of bagels, of presence; of time? The story of Solomon’s dream illuminates for us the door God opens to all of us in our search for wisdom.
The door is open; the thin places await. May we all grow in wisdom! Amen.