Tonight we begin singing the special sequence of Advent invocations known as the O Antiphons. (If you would like to know more about them and hear them sung, go to our main website here.) I love the fact that we begin with O Sapientia, asking for the Wisdom that comes from on high. A couple of years ago, I contrasted the way in which exposure to God’s wisdom tends to show up our own half-truths and shabby accommodations, our inability to live with real integrity (see this post). Today I would like to single out another aspect of Wisdom: the way in which the Wisdom of God fills the whole universe and holds all things in being.
There are times when, as individuals, we can feel completely helpless. Disasters, natural or man-made, remind us how vulnerable we are; economic forces beyond our control have consequences that touch the lives of us all; illness, bereavement, even a family row can destroy our sense of well-being. We can’t dodge these things, they are part of what it means to be human. Would you be very shocked if I were to say they are also part of what it means to be divine? They are not just points where the divine interacts with humanity. God is there all the time, in all of them.
Some people have a very strange idea of God. God is to be always what they desire. They get hold of some important attribute of God, for example that he is infinitely loving, and then decide that if God doesn’t ‘love’ in the way they think God should, then God either doesn’t exist or is somehow wrong (which is a bit awkward, if you think about it). The fact is that God transcends our ideas about what he is or should be. The language we use about God is itself inadequate (neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ can convey more than a part of what God is — try interchanging them as Professor Denys Turner often does, and you’ll see what I mean). We are left baffled and bemused, yet all the time the Wisdom of God is there, in every corner of the universe, involved in every moment of our lives, holding everything in existence, not a God afar off but a God close at hand, one with us in all things.
Tonight, when we ask the Wisdom of God to delay no longer but come and show us the way of truth or prudence (via prudentiae), we are asking God to transform our way of seeing so that it is the same as his. It is a dangerous prayer because if answered — and it will be, one way or another — it will turn our world upside down. It will knock us off our pedestal and ground us in God instead. To acknowledge our need of Wisdom is the first step towards attaining it.