This article will appear in the September issue of Roqueta,
Menorca’s English language magazine, as well as in the newsletter, Menorca Anglican.
If there is a wisdom to be found in the innocence of children (see last month), there is a different kind of wisdom to be found in those of advanced years. After some encounters with those in their first decade of life in July, lately I have been asked to celebrate the lives of those who lived into their ninth or tenth decade of life, and of three ladies in particular: Phyllis, Betty and Hilda. I regard this as a privilege, because I am usually invited to share with those who remain the intimacy of a relationship of love. I am also able to see how a long life – any life, really, but especially a long life – leaves its mark on those who have been touched and influenced along the way, and have benefitted from what can only be described as the wisdom of age.
The wisdom that comes with childhood is that of unfettered innocence, whereas that which comes with age is derived from experience. And the two are linked. The seeds that are planted in youth are those that are reaped during life. The inquisitive four year old may, in the fullness of time, bear fruit in the wise 94 year old – but the association is not inevitable. For many reasons, it is all too easy to mistake experience, or knowledge, with wisdom, yet they differ, because if we lose our innocent inquisitiveness, we risk stifling our need to learn and grow. And in any case, wisdom is more than simply knowledge, or experience: it is the product of the two combined with observation of the consequences of the actions of our lives. It is the willingness to absorb, observe and then take the risky step of uttering the truth. This is the prophetic voice in the tradition of Judeo-Christian faith: a voice of wisdom, that tells the truth about the consequences of present actions and failure to amend future behaviour.
Taking stock of the decades of life and pearls of wisdom of those who die with a full harvest of years, I am often inclined to wonder what seeds were planted in the children who grew into these adults? How were they tended by parents, peers and mentors? How far are we able to appreciate the harvest of a life lived fully? Do we have the patience, and self-sacrificial nature, to allow future generations to appreciate completely the wisdom of our own generation, and let go of the desire always to see results in our own times? There is definitely wisdom in that capability!
These lead to other questions about the seeds planted by our own generations. What seeds of life and wisdom to do we plant in our children? How do we prepare them for the ultimate harvest of life? Do we encourage inquisitiveness, wonder and mysticism? Do we teach them that knowledge alone is not wisdom, but needs to be refracted by experience? Do we engender an attitude that life is a process of learning that never ends – until we die?
As we pause to reflect upon the harvest of mature wisdom gathered in experience from the seeds sown in youth, we might remember the approaching season of harvest time, which we celebrate towards the end of September. Harvest is a time to be thankful for what has been sown and reaped.
It’s a good time to be thankful for four year olds, for 94 years old and the wisdom in each. The time of harvest reminds us of our responsibility to plant seeds of life in our own time that may be harvested well after we are gone. And we should remember that some seeds are not planted by us at all. They are planted within us by the one who creates us. We must be good stewards and good gardeners of all these seeds.
Personally, I will be giving thanks for the congregation of Santa Margarita, and the broader community in Menorca, both English and Menorquin, that have continued to sow seeds of inclusive, caring welcome. It may be better to give than to receive, but sometimes we have to learn to be gracious recipients as well. This community, especially the community of faith, will again be significant in our prayers of Harvest Thanksgiving this year.