This post was originally posted on the Integrity blog.
It may be hard to articulate why, but I’d venture to say that most of us could tell the difference between someone who is knowledgeable and one who is wise.
One has collected many facts, and is able to connect them all in a way that is organized and thoughtful. They make good connections, or seem to have a plethora of knowledge about any given topic. They’re smart.Theyknow how to get things done and they are handy people to have around. They’re collectors of knowledge and facts and theories.
But someone who is wise….is different. They don’t just collect data and facts. They’re not just “smart”. They don’t have a library full of information at their mental disposal, and often times they even aren’t the most eloquent speakers in the room. The people who are really and truly wise…well, they are different.
They don’t collect something. They possess something.
What I think the wise possess is something far superior to knowledge, although I’m sure they have plenty of knowledge too. Their knowledge runs deeper though. They don’t just make connections; they are able to express and speak the truth of things in such a way that opens your eyes to a new way of seeing things, or perhaps hits you in the face a few days or years after the fact when you realize how utterly right they had been all along.
I think that wisdom doesn’t just call for a thirst for knowledge; I think it calls for a transformed way of living rooted in something totally other. Wisdom doesn’t seek things or facts. Wisdom allows one to see the world in truth. It allows one to enter into a contemplation of their existence in the light of truth, in the midst of the real world around them and in the hierarchy of God’s reality. Wisdom unfurls an understanding that the world and people around us are bursting forth with their own existence and goodness and life, and wisdom opens our eyes to see how utterly small and significant we are in the same breadth. It is a virtue that gently blows away the sand from our eyes.
When this sand of self is removed, wisdom has the ability to unravel the spirit of truth all around us. This looks like wonder in the world around and inside of us. I want to know and seek more because this wonderful world pulsates around me and beckons me, not because I want to stock my own intellectual treasure chest. I want to encounter. I want to behold. I want to distance myself enough to enter into the mystery of the realness and beauty and pain around me.
Dietrich von Hildebrand writes that, “Reverence is the indispensable presupposition for all deep knowledge.” Reverence is not required for knowledge. Anyone can open a book or acquire facts and keep them secure. Reverence doesn’t mean just wonder and thirst. Reverence means possessing that quiet, engaged glance upward, downward, and beside us. It means approaching the sacred and the everyday on our spiritual knees. It means taming the dragon of self pride that rears its teeth when we go to converse, and instead opening our eyes to the reality of what is truly there, whether it be the simplest part of nature or the crying person in front of us or the argument screamed from an enemy we can’t comprehend. Reverence means treating the world and the people in it and the God infusing it with the love and wonder which they are due.
Wisdom possesses this reverence, and when knowledge is spoken from a truly wise person, their words come from not a mere bank of facts, but from a heart and mind that are open to truth and are passionate about dwelling in it. Even if they don’t even consciously realize it: wise souls know and speak the truth because they love It.
A wise soul is a vast one. For “the soul grows wings, that is, the deepest inner transformation takes place, only if there is a real penetration of values and a real self-forgetfulness is achieved.” Wise souls seek the values and truths in and of themselves, because in forgetting themselves, they discover the paradox of finding themselves all the more.
I don’t know if knowledge and wisdom can exist apart from one another. They both have their place in us, and both of them can be wondrous gifts. But when suffering weighs down and our human frailty cannot comprehend, it is wisdom, not knowledge, that guides us to something greater.
For as Aquinas writes, “It is Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”