O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
The first step is admitting you don’t know.
In all Twelve-step Programmes, the first three Steps are:
- We admitted we were powerless over This Thing and that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first Great O Antiphon condenses the first three steps into a prayer for wisdom. From the beginning we admit that we don’t know what to expect. We need wisdom.
This antiphon echoes this Eastern Rite Prayer, used at the beginning of all services in that tradition:
O heavenly king, consoler, spirit of truth, everywhere present and filling all things: Treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come, dwell within us and cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O good one!
Notice that the antiphon says God’s Wisdom “orders all things”, the Heavenly King is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Why is it then that the Omnipresent King must be invited to dwell in us, the Omnipotent Wisdom must be invited to come to us? Why are we the only part of Creation where God is Not? In the traditional story, it’s called "original sin" but that phrase comes with a lot of baggage: a good answer to think about is an addiction. Humans are addicted to the idea we can do it on our own. And over and over again we try and fail. The only self-made man (or woman) is either willingly or unwillingly blind to the presence of others and the action of God (these are the same thing, here). The only self-made man is delusional.
But, my! How we do love this delusion. America is founded on it - and we call it “the American Dream”.
Like drugs, it makes us feel strong and able to control the world around us. Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency creates in me a masturbatory fantasy that all I am is all a product of me, myself and I - even covering up the presence of the drug! Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency leads each who partakes down the path to Solipsism, the point that only I exist, all else is a product of my imagination. Eventually (quickly) it leads to the idea that I am God.
And then it goes downhill from there: Chaos ensues in and around the life of the self-sufficient man or woman who will admit no one as her equal. She becomes the center of her own universe, forgetting that there are, actually, other people here who are not extensions of oneself. Pain. Violence and abuse follow.
And in the end, insanity - both clinical and experienced.
And we see the product of this insanity around us: greed, abuse of power, selfishness, lack of love, lack of concern (and, more insidiously, self-interest disguised as love and concern). The world is now - and has nearly always been - falling into unmanageable chaos because of our illness.
Before I can utter the prayer of Wisdom’s Antiphon, I have to decide that there is, in fact, something greater than me. I have to admit not only that I am not all powerful - but that something else is. The first step is admitting there’s a problem: it’s not a diagnosis, but rather a confession. I may not know what the problem is, exactly. But I can easily see the effects. And having tried everything else, I’ve decided to give up and ask for help.
O, Heavenly King….
O, Wisdom from on High…
O, Wisdom from on High…
This is the first step.
We can not get to the virtue of Prudence - knowing when and how to act in the right manner - until we admit that we do no know, and need instruction. In another context, the scriptures urge us not to worry about what to say - for in the right moment, the Holy Spirit will tell us. Such is prudent speech, and such would be prudent action as well: not planned out, black and white thinking but in-the-moment choices for charity and grace. Not rigidity but openness. This flexibility and dance is the opposite of the uptight control of of the addict for whom any possibility of chance is a threat. It’s a mutual dance, however: as in rehab, one addict in denial throws the entire community off-balance.
Theologically it is also important: the NT stories are filled with people unable to recognise Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting someone else. This is especially an issue today. Most people are sure they know who Jesus is…
Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw” takes us on this road:
some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the runsome say He was a poet that He’d stand upon the hill
and His voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
that He spoke in many parables that few could understand
but the people sat for hours just to listen to this mansome say He was a sorcerer a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water He could make a blind man see
that He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
that He talked of being born again and raised people from the deadsome say a politician who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of galilee
He spoke out against corruption and He bowed to no decree
and they feared His strength and power so they nailed Him to a tree
The last verse is the most important to his song, but I’ll leave it off with this comment: when confronted with a bunch of people who claim to know who Jesus is, it might be better to ask him yourself. We are all addicted to our ideas of who Jesus MUST be - but I’m comfortable saying what I’ve always said on this matter: if only it is true that God loves us and *wants* to love us more, then ask… and you’ll know.
The prayer for wisdom is admitting we don’t know.
It’s the right place - the only place, to start.