We often get our wisdom from books. There's a reason we return time and again to the same familiar books and authors. They're teaching us something, reminding us of truths we don't want to forget, and offering us possibilities for how to live our lives. In other words, they're creating a matrix of meaning that, were we to think of them this way, reveal the wisdom we live by.
While I was engaged in full-time ministry I didn't read a lot of fiction. The lives of my parishioners, and of others who came to my door for counselling, were fraught with difficulty. I saw a lot of pain. So it wasn't recreational for me to read about pain in the lives of fictional characters. And most fiction is about pain, one way or another.
Instead, I turned to humorists and essayists. James Thurber, E.B. White, Garrison Keillor, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris. They told funny and poignant real-life stories, prying gold nuggets from the potholes of life. The wisdom they imparted had to do with hope, and the ability not to take ourselves too seriously. I have lived by this.
Then I discovered the Jungians. Carl Jung himself, of course, but then Thomas Moore, James Hollis, James Hillman. I wanted to understand the deeper dynamics I saw every day in the struggles of my parishioners, but also in my own struggles. What's trying to be born in each of us through that which disturbs us, or stretches us, or inspires us?
The Jungians took the inner life seriously. The more conscious we can become of what's going on inside, the better able we are to cooperate with those soulful forces, and not fight them. Wisdom said to me, look not only to the light, but also to the darkness. It is a womb of possibility, and something's trying to be born, almost all the time.
We don't have to go on a great hunt to find wisdom. It's not on a high mountaintop, or at the end of some rigorous esoteric training. Chances are, we've already found it. Or it has found us. We have chosen our wisdom by the books we read. We know what we need to know, and we have treasured that knowledge wherever we've found it.
Take a look through your library, be it small or large, virtual or real. What books jump out at you every time? What have they been trying to tell you all these years? What have you been looking for? Wisdom is not found only in the sacred texts. It's even closer than that, in the books we're already reading.
Next week: Old Rites
My memoir, "Lost Rites: Leaving Church Land," is available as an audio book on my podcast, The Mystic Cave. Drop by, and be my guest.