Wisdom, Understanding and Counsel

Is it significant that during these nine days of prayer for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit the first three are dedicated to the inter-related but often misunderstood gifts of wisdom, understanding and counsel? You won’t be surprised to learn that I think it is. Although I have been re-posting a series on the gifts of the Spirit that I wrote back in 2016 and intend to continue doing so, this morning I was struck by how pertinent they are to a debate going on in the political sphere concerning the behaviour of Dominic Cummings and his recent flouting of the government’s avowed policy regarding lockdown. It may be possible, therefore, to add to what I’ve already written.

Let me say at once I have no interest in arguing the rights or wrongs of Mr Cummings’ conduct here. That is not the point of this post. Instead, I’d like to invite you to reflect on why we begin our novena to the Holy Spirit by asking for these particular gifts. Wisdom is a quality we associate with God himself, of course, and most of us are aware that we are not especially wise; understanding is something most of us seek but don’t always attain; but counsel, oh, how happy we are to give others the benefit of our opinion or advice! With what speed do we rush to inform others of our insights or share our experience! How confidently we assert our predictions for the future! But if we have neither wisdom nor understanding, our counsel is worthless. We must be filled before we can give to others.

I think that is why the Dominic Cummings affair is relevant to what we are doing now. He is a special adviser to Boris Johnson and, as such, bears a great responsibility to ensure that the advice he gives is sound. It is easy for us to criticize politicians and their advisers but if we are not praying for them, and in particular, if we are not praying for them to receive the gifts of wisdom, understanding and counsel, we are not exactly helping, are we? We need wise government in both Church and State; we need understanding, and we need good counsel. This morning, may I suggest that we need to ask for these gifts not just for ourselves but for all whose conduct and decisions affect the lives of others — including those we find personally objectionable or unsympathetic?

Audio version


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A Day with the BBC and the Gift of Wisdom

Yesterday the community took part in some filming for the Pentecost Sunday edition of ‘Songs of Praise’. As always with the BBC, infinite trouble was taken to try to get things ‘right’ despite a noisier-than-usual A465 and various aircraft overhead, including a circling bi-plane. If we can take so much trouble with something that is, of its nature, ephemeral, why do we tend to be lazy about prayer and the things of the spirit? Is it because nothing much seems to happen in prayer, or not that we can see, anyway; and we do so want to be ‘happening’ people? Or is it that prayer makes demands on our faith and view of the world that action does not? In short, prayer, by its very nature, seems to contradict everything we believe about the wise use of time?

In today’s novena to the Holy Spirit, we ask especially for the gift of wisdom, but not wisdom as it is usually understood. Biblical wisdom includes elements of sagacity (judgement, discernment) but relies principally upon the closeness to God that the wise man or woman enjoys. It is, in an important sense, selfless because God is all in all. Openness to God doesn’t just happen, it has to be cultivated; and that can only be done through prayer. Benedict insists that every good work we undertake should begin with prayer. In the monastery we have the custom of praying before we begin any task, whether that be blogging, cooking, driving, working with the BBC or whatever. In that prayer, we ask that God’s will be done; his purposes achieved; his glory magnified. You could say that we are asking to be freed from the demands of our own ego so that there is room for God to operate. That is the wisdom we ask for today, and every day.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail