Beginning in the third century there was a large movement within the Christian religion now known as the "Desert Fathers and Mothers". Thousands of people moved out into the deserts of Egypt and beyond to live in isolation or in small communities. They established a rule of life and practiced very disciplined spiritual practices marked by charity, silence, prayer, fasting, scripture reading and forgiveness.
Many of these men and women were sought out in order that would be pupils might "hear a word" from the hermits. The wisdom sayings of these desert mothers and fathers were collected and passed along through the faith.
It is often thought that religions such as Buddhism or Zen or Confucianism are wisdom religions. That is they are religions that have head scratching lines that are designed for the disciple to meditate on. Such as this classic wisdom saying from Zen:
"Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, "The flag moves." The other said, "The wind moves." They argued back and forth but could not agree.The Sixth Ancestor said, "Gentlemen! It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves." The two monks were struck with awe." - The Mumonkan Case 29, translation by Robert Aitken
Christianity, however, seems to have a reputation that is less interested in wisdom as it is in salvation. I have never been handed a tract that is Christian wisdom centric (If you are interested in helping me make these I would love to be in conversation with you!!!).
So in an effort to share some of the great wisdom in the Christian tradition into our collective consciousness and perhaps remind us all that Christianity has wisdom roots, here are a few wisdom sayings for today.
Some elders once came to Abbot Anthony. Abbot Anthony brought the conversation around to a set of scriptural verses. Anthony began from the youngest elder and ask each one what they thought the meaning of the text might be. Each one replied as best he could, some were eloquent and some where well educated. Others were stammering and still others tried to outwith their peers. Anthony said to them: You have not got it yet. Finally Anthony asked the oldest among them, Abbot Joseph, "What about you? What do you think this text means?" Abbot Joseph replied, "I do not know what the text means!" Then Anthony said, "Truly Abbot Joseph alone has found the way, for he replies that he does not know."
In a world where everyone "knows" and we do a lot of fact checking via our phones and Google, perhaps there is a deep wisdom in the humility of Abbot Joseph that we need to embody.
I don't know.