Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T.S. Eliot (from Choruses from the Rock)
Later this month, I will be bringing home Stefan from Bulgaria. He is eight. He has some receptive language (in Bulgarian) and no known expressive language. He has been institutionalized from birth. When I first met him, he was five, and he greeted Ana and me with gentle pats and hoots. When I met him again on the official visit trip, this past January, he was able to demonstrate hand-over-hand instruction, as when he wanted me to open my water bottle. He will join our little family and begin to learn what his home is.
Our salvation is spoken of in terms of adoption at times. And many (perhaps most) people have an unrealistically rosy picture of adoption, and I suggest, of salvation, too.
Adoption is violence. It is the disruption of some kind of status quo. Perhaps the status quo was horrific. Perhaps it was merely oppressive or simply banal. But our expectations of the possible are conditioned by our experience, and we humans are remarkably adaptive to awful situations.
But (done by loving people and for the right reasons) adoption can be good violence. Christ did great violence to the Gates of Hell. We enter the kingdom following the voice of the Good Shepherd, but this does not mean the road is easy. It is narrow, and it is hard. The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence.
And I wonder if we (especially in comfy America) are really interested in a violent salvation.
We do not like to have our world shaken. Yet this is one of the things Christ promises (literally, in the Olivet discourse). And we realize, upon following the Shepherd into the sheepfold, that we are in a strange place surrounded by strangers. Many of them are strangely kind. But we do not yet know them. It takes time to get accustomed to the light, after being in darkness. It takes a long time to become part of the family. It takes time to learn a new language, a new culture, new foods, new music (or perhaps, music for the first time). We do not love well. Yet, if our hearts are following our Father, we want to love well, and try not to get discouraged when we fail. And we fail.
And what do we learn?
We can gather information about our new home. Names, dates, facts, data.
We can, eventually, synthesize this into knowledge of the new place. How to do things there. What things can be done there.
But if, by the grace of God, love takes deep root, we may become wise in the ways of our new home. This is never quick. It is never easy. But it is the most important. And it does not necessarily depend on the other two.
Ana loves us, her family. She may have no (or extremely limited) information about us, her home, her school (she got a 4.0, but made minimal progress on her IEP goals… oh the US public schools…). She has very limited knowledge (lip smacking brings food, fussing might get extra snuggles). But I believe – and I have been told by those holier than myself – that she has wisdom.
She has the wisdom of waiting.
She has the wisdom of trusting.
She has the wisdom to love the sounds, smells, and motions of God’s holy temple.
She has the wisdom of taking the Eucharist, even though she will spit other food out of her mouth.
Will Stefan attain to wisdom? He is more able than Ana, he will likely be quite good at assembling information and synthesizing knowledge in his own ways. In time, he may be adept at these things in the more conventional Western ways. But I pray most of all that he will have the wisdom to love.
And I must pray that for myself, as I gird my loins to undertake the violence of an adoption pickup trip, with its interminable waits at clinics, embassy, and airports; with nights I expect to be long and uncertain; with meals that are utterly alien to this young Bulgarian who must eat, but has never tasted his country’s delectable food; with a hole in my heart for my family at home, to whom I am bringing a stranger who only I have met.
It will not be by might or by power, but by the Holy Spirit. And I ask for the one thing God has promised to give: wisdom.
Lord, have mercy.