September 19, 2021, Gentleness Born of Wisdom by Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd

Gentleness Born of Wisdom

James 3:13-18

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

I am so grateful for the creative foresight that protected Assiniboine Park for the enjoyment of so many. It has been a particularly important place of retreat and socializing during our COVID lockdown. The ongoing planning and development of this park to keep it largely free and accessible has brought people of all diversities together. Diversity Gardens has a large section devoted to Indigenous plants, water and ceremonies of the First Nations and I have already heard drum songs dedicating this space to the Creator. We are blessed to be able to share this land with its original inhabitants. We are blessed to have the gift of time and ability to be here today. We are blessed by nature.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge awe of nature inspired his poem, “To Nature.”

It may indeed be fantasy when I

Essay to draw from all created things

Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings;

And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie

Lessons of love and earnest piety.

So let it be; and if the wide world rings

In mock of this belief, it brings

Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.

So will I build my altar in the fields,

And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,

And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields

Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,

Thee only God! and thou shalt not despise

Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice.

Under the sacred dome of heaven, we find our world opening to boundless possibilities and promises. For this brief time, we can bypass our stifling screens to see into the real eyes of one another and welcome background noise of birds and laughter without needing to push the mute button. We can step into the full sensory experience of life once again.

It may be surprisingly difficult as we learn how to be social beings again. After an engaging backyard BBQ with friends or a lovely evening on a riverbank watching live, outdoor theatre, I’m more tired than I used to be. It could be that I’m getting older. But I also think that I need to strengthen and flex my social muscles that have largely been dormant. As well, I’m needing to pace myself a little better and not pack my calendar so tightly. Spaces allow a gentle re-entrance, reflection between events and time to deepen what I’m learning—a time to listen to Holy Wisdom.

My goodness, do we ever need God’s wisdom these days. That was the focus of the Safe Reopening Committee’s prayer last week as we plan to return to in-person worship as safely as possibly. In our After Church Café last Sunday, we talked about how to have compassion for everyone on all sides of the vaccination debate. There was much wisdom in that call, connected with gentleness. Our reading from James tells us, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”

Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on this verse, “The only wisdom that interests James is the wisdom from above, which has nothing to do with having good ideas and everything to do with living good lives.”[1]

Wisdom is often connected with advice—we want to hear words of wisdom. But the wisdom that speaks the loudest is silent, gentle action. A few weeks ago, I watched a middle-aged man walking through a park with a garbage bag in hand, picking up litter as he went on his morning walk. He did it without fanfare or recognition, immersed in a mutual blessing with nature. He didn’t seem angry with the litterer. He just seemed glad to give back to nature even as he received nature’s blessing. This one simple action offered gentleness born of wisdom.

These days we need gentleness as much as we need wisdom. Every time we turn our head, we find frustrations and triggers. My partner Nancy and I speak a new mantra these days. When one of us is triggered, the other will say, “Breathe. Breathe.” And if we’re not too triggered by that point, we slow and deepen our breathing.

The Hebrew word for breath is Ruah—the same word for Spirit—the Spirit of gentleness, the Spirit of wisdom. As we breathe in Ruah, our cramped world begins to expand ever so slightly. If we’re outside, nature assists us with a gentle breeze that expands our senses to look beyond our little lives to a more expansive universe of love.

I invite you to look up at the endless sky and slowly breathe in Ruah the gentle Spirit of wisdom, listen to the chattering squirrels and slowly breathe in Ruah the gentle Spirit of wisdom,

feel the soft breeze and slowly breathe in Ruah the gentle Spirit of wisdom,

smell the earthy grass and slowly breathe in Ruah the gentle Spirit of wisdom.

Here, in God’s Creation, are the whisps of gentleness born of wisdom. In a child’s innocence lies the beginnings of wisdom. In an elder’s experience lies a lifetime of wisdom. Let us receive from one another even as we give God’s gentleness born of wisdom.

[1] “James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a: Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year B, Vol. 4, p. 89.