The death of a Beloved provokes incalculable emotion which words cannot adequately frame. When we say farewell to our Beloved, our sense of loss can be likened to an invasion of the soul, inexplicable, lingering, transformational in its finality.
Death’s confounding ambiguities move some of us to invoke the consolations of Faith. Our belief in God and in a life hereafter assuage our emotional vulnerability and cauterize the wounds of loss.
Others fall back on resentment and find some value in cynicism. They rage against the dying of the light, driven by disbelief to embrace nihilistic pessimism.
Whichever way we respond, our understanding of both life and death is but a blink of an eye in the overwhelming mystery of creation and our place in it.
Knowledge Is Insufficient
Clearly, our knowledge of life and our control of reality are vastly limited, our grasp of creation simplistic, our hold on history’s lessons precarious, our ability to learn all too shallow.
We want events - and people - to make sense, to be reasonable … like us. We want to live comfortably in logical, step-by-step, cause-and-effect patterns; no fretful detours, no close calls, no demanding intellectual challenges. We want simple, reassuring outcomes. We want to say, "Aha! That’s it. I got it!! It makes sense to me. No sweat; I see the answer clearly and cleanly."
In other words, we want life on our terms. No trouble; no worries or anxieties; no pain, no strain. But any reasoning adult knows that "answers" (what few there may be) to suffering and pain, to anguish and loss are never found solely within the precincts of human knowledge.
What more do we need? What solace suffices? What consolation is enough? What manner of emotional or intellectual support satisfies?
In my judgment, we need the Gift of Wisdom, which is a way of knowing beyond knowledge.
The Gift Of Wisdom
The Gift of Wisdom re-aligns our thinking, eases our wounded hearts and calms the strident wonderment of loss. It does not banish pain but it illuminates our reasoning and opens us to a perspective about the mystery of creation and death -- and all reality -- which is beyond human logic’s limited categories.
We do not naturally possess the perspective or the insight to manage life’s disquieting confrontations. The loss of the Beloved overwhelms logic and stifles reason. We need help beyond our limited human capacity for understanding. We need help beyond the self. This is Wisdom’s first lesson.
Wisdom’s second lesson is that the perspective and insight we truly need arise only out of the experience of personal pain … be it mental anguish, emotional loss, spiritual confusion or physical suffering. The pain we wish to avoid is what we must first accept.
Only personal pain can effectively interrupt the discordant self-absorption and wayward energy of our errant egos. Only personal pain can reveal to us the stark simplicity of human nature’s true condition.
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom’s paradoxical insights begin in our weakness and vulnerability. Wisdom knows that the arc of every life is unpredictable. Rather than curse life’s unpredictability, Wisdom’s next lesson is that we accept – with humility -- our innate fallibility.
We do not rebel nor indulge the fallacious facades of rage. We do not curse the inevitability of pain nor reject the contradictions of ambiguity. Wisdom reveals to us that when we are weak, then can we also find strength – if we look with humility.
In Weakness, Strength
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom requires, and flows out of, the acceptance of fallibility, humility and forbearance which pain and loss foist upon us. These virtues are alien to the puffery of our unrestrained egocentrism, alien to our instincts of denial and avoidance. They mute the trumpeting of faux self-sufficiency. They move us to admit (even in the exhausting silence of persistent grief) that vulnerability to the unknown -- not control or power or strutting pride -- is our true human condition.
And it is in our weakness that our strength resides … waiting.
Wisdom knows and accepts the fact that we cannot control events or people. There are times we cannot even control ourselves as individuals or as nations. Indeed, history reveals our propensities to endless wars and mindless violence, to indulgence and indifference.
Our race has a cavalier disregard for truth-telling. We partake of needless gamesmanship, of chic discourtesies, of disregard and dismissive indifference for one another on a colossal scale. We even put the lives of our children – born and unborn – at politically correct risk … and mask our duplicity and our readiness to kill by calling it a “choice.”
Wisdom’s message should be indelibly clear. Human error and endless self-absorption are testament to humanity’s need for virtuous principles and priorities by which to live.
The Gift of Wisdom instills in us new categories of judgment and new definitions of experience. It inspires in us the ability and the willingness to look at life with the inner eye of Faith even – or especially -- in the midst of pain and confusion.
In the Judeo-Christian view, the Gift of Wisdom arises from our relationship with God -- and from the strength of character and belief which Faith and its moral perspectives promote. Today, however, the mere mention of God or moral self-restraint often elicit a smirk of ego-driven condescension.
The Gift of Wisdom is further inspired and made specific by the life and example of Christ Who Himself felt pain and sought to avoid it. But He also brought a divine perspective and the promise of resurrection to the mystery of death and life renewed.
Even so, our Faith must still struggle to accept death’s painful deprivations. But our struggles are not without a purpose which is, Wisdom insists, greater than our ability to explain or comprehend with tidy clarity.
So, the Gift of Wisdom does not expunge pain or ambiguity, nor meet the demands of reason or common sense. Rather, Wisdom adds the essential gravity of Faith, which includes sanity, stability and a healthy dose of reality.
Wisdom says we always – always – have a choice about how we will behave and how we will integrate our vulnerabilities into the development of our character and maturity. And Wisdom tells us that tantrums, even when they feel good, are for the immature.
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom introduces us to new categories of knowing and understanding ourselves. These categories go beyond pain and suffering… to the core of one’s identity as an individual. Thus, the purpose of pain is to uncover one’s yearning self, to open the quavering, guarded soul within the sufferer, to touch the wounded heart beyond the suffering, to reveal us to ourselves with no cosmetic pretense, to usher us into the reality of who we truly are -- and who we truly can be.
The Gift of Wisdom presents us with a new world-view, with a set of perceptions which transcend our rational limitations so we may gradually penetrate our heart’s facades and respond to our soul’s deepest, now-exposed needs.
And it is here -- in the unguarded borders of heart and soul -- that our vulnerability becomes our strength. It is here that our character is forged; here that a New Moral Reality is revealed; here that Faith becomes not merely belief but a personal surrender to Life Itself – to God, and to the challenges of living with virtue’s choices as our cognitive map.
Nonsense . . . Sort Of . . .
Some deniers scoff at these ideas, dismissively pointing out that nothing exists outside their own choosing. If they don’t approve of something or cannot exploit it to their satisfaction; if it does not please them or suit their particular urges, it has no currency or value, no credibility or importance.
Such a view is contrary to all that is, in fact, logical and rational. This view coronates self-interest while encapsulating the individual in the sterile domain of his Preening Ego. Sophisticates may prettify nihilism and deniers may seem to flourish, but the facades of excessive pride do not have the moral stamina which Wisdom and its principles quietly offer.
Beyond Faith . . . To God
The Gift of Wisdom becomes central to the life of Faith even as pain lingers. For pain causes us to reflect and to learn, to seek to understand and, hopefully, to believe --- and that is its value.
The Gift of Wisdom brings insights into Truth which people who demean Faith simply cannot - or will not – ever understand.
Because the origin of Faith and the source of the Gift of Wisdom is, of course, God. Even if pain lasts and our spirit weakens and we are made numb by the searing realities of loss, God abides. Therefore, we shall abide as we persevere and develop our relationship with God … a relationship enlivened by the Gift of Wisdom, by His Wisdom.
Dealing with God is hard and humbling work. God is not always forthcoming or as readily apparent as we might wish. But as we grow in our relationship with God, we become wiser and humbler and more mature -- about ourselves, about others, about Life Itself, which is always a mystery to us all.
Yet, as we grow in age and wisdom, we also grow in other virtues such as patience and perseverance, fortitude and prudence, hope and love for truth, understanding and generosity … and the courage to be kind to others, but always kind with honesty and humility and truth…. Above all else, truth.
And as we grow, the Gift of Wisdom inspires us, and we are more and more caught up and involved in the cycle of God's mysterious love, which is the ultimate and overriding truth which every believer pursues, the Mystery behind life and death -- and beyond.
Finally . . . .
Years ago, when I was struggling with a crisis, I sought the counsel of a wise elder, a mentor of many years. In desperation, I said to him, “I feel as if I am drowning under the weight of my problem.” He said to me, “Perhaps so; perhaps you are drowning, but let your Faith always remember that God is the sea …”
Despite the loss of our Beloved and despite endless periods of grieving, life still awaits.
This world is a beautiful place, made even more beautiful by the life and love of our Beloved, now part of Life’s Mystery. And as we begin again to live -- as we reach out again to Life and pray for the Gift of Wisdom -- our loved ones can, if we choose, be glorious gifts to our needy souls, ever friends to our striving hearts.
And Wisdom speaks clearly to our good will and says to us, each and all:
“Let us earnestly and humbly embrace our loved ones and tell them they are loved.
Let us be kind to others.
Let us embrace our own lives with the years we have ahead of us --- for, despite travail and pain and the mystery of life itself, living is meant to be a grand and loving event for us all…”
So may it be …. for us all.
Spero News columnist Daniel Boland is a practicing psychologist.