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Day 33: Wisdom


Editor’s Note: To close out this Advent Blog series, Programs Director Emily Norton reflects on the gift of wisdom in the context of the Magi come Epiphany. She shares from her own experiences on how she has found this “sacred wisdom” throughout her past year. 

The Wise Magi of 2020

“Sacred wisdom.” 

These are the words that came to my mind when I was asked to describe the last two and a half hours of meeting with three individuals who I had just met a mere three months earlier and who were very much still strangers to me – I didn’t know their backgrounds well, where they grew up, what their faith journeys were like, not even what towns they lived in. It was truly a surprised blessing of 2020 that despite being a trio for years, this group welcomed me whole-heartedly into their monthly group spiritual direction sessions.  

The four of us were different ages, genders, races, faith backgrounds, and walks of life, all gathered around the virtual table of God. Each time we gathered, we started with a prayer and embraced a sacred silence, an invitation to listen to God. Out of that silence we would take turns sharing something that had been on our heart from the past month. After one person shared, there would be more silence so the other three could intentionally and deeply listen to what God might want to share with the person who spoke. God’s quiet messages could come in a whispered word, an image, a question, a metaphor, a scripture, etc. It is profound to collectively enter into a space of contemplation with others and hear what each person voices that they heard God sharing in the silence. As each person connects with the Divine within her/his own being, a sacred wisdom can be revealed and shared.

The sacred wisdom that I experienced that night in group spiritual direction (and each session the four of us have together), I realized was a lens God was inviting me to reflect on 2020. When, where and how did I experience God’s sacred wisdom throughout such a challenging year? 

The below poem I believe speaks such incredible truth to this reflection question.

“Wherever You May Look” – St. Catherine of Sienna
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky on page 191 in the book Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West

Wisdom is so kind and wise that wherever you may look you can learn something about God.

Why would not the omnipresent teach that way?

There are many ways God shares wisdom with each of us – it could be in personal prayer, time spent in creation, a child’s curiosity, through songs or scripture, words spoken by others…an unlimited number of ways! 

As I reflect on the wisdom God has shared with me this year, I am reminded of the scripture verse: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So many times, God was speaking to me through others.

During the early months of the pandemic, my roommates, and I gathered around the dining room table each Sunday morning and transformed it into our own home chapel bringing our candles, reading scriptures together, reflecting, sharing prayer intentions and sipping coffee from the same pot as a symbol of unity and “breaking bread” together.  Our reflections on the reading led us every time to social justice, dismantling systemic racism, current events and our personal actions. As Christians coming from three different denominations (as well as three different cultural backgrounds), we shared our differing perspectives and dialogued about our shared call to follow Jesus’s radical steps of solidarity, compassion and love through action. 

The dining room table transformed into a simple “house chapel” with a candle, shared coffee and “palms” for a Palm Sunday prayer service.

Where is wisdom in all of this? First recognizing God’s presence was truly alive in each of those Sunday gatherings with my roommates, and second recognizing the sacred wisdom God was sharing with me through my roommates, our dialogue and through the personal reflections that resulted.

I witnessed a similar pattern with calls with two college friends. At first we started to plan Catholic alumni retreat among our friend group, so our calls were filled with logistics and ideas. However, we soon were having monthly, multi-hour group calls where we were no longer planning or merely “catching up,” but being vulnerable with what we shared with each other – what we were struggling with, where we saw God in our lives, feelings of spiritual desolation, and how we were trying to cultivate a faith community amidst the pandemic. Sacred wisdom was shared in our laughter, our encouragement for each other in the trials, as well as our shared desire to connect to our inner child and to see the word with wonder and awe even amidst the suffering. 

One of the definitions of “epiphany” is “a manifestation of the divine.” 

As I reflect on 2020 and the Epiphany Feast Day, I am grateful for the many ways that God revealed small “epiphanies” to me throughout the year – surprised blessings and manifestations of the Divine that provided me with strength, comfort and joy. My spiritual direction group, my roommates and my college friends were just a handful of individuals that God sent to me this year as “Wise Magi.” They came bearing gifts of vulnerability, loving community, Divine presence and sacred wisdom.

Reflection Questions: How did you experience God’s sacred wisdom in 2020? Who were some of the “Wise Magi” in your life this past year?

Note: Interested in learning more about Group Spiritual Direction? The Shalem Institute is offering a virtual workshop in January 2021. I recommend it!

Former Programs Manager Emily Norton has worked at various local, national, and international NGOs, all of which shared her goal of serving marginalized populations and promoting social justice. Latin America holds a special spot in Emily’s heart, and she has studied and served in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, and Ecuador. Her time on mission living simply in an intentional community, focused on ministry of presence, and living in solidarity with the poor was transformational for her. Emily was a wonderful guide and advocate for Franciscan Mission Service lay missioners through the application process, formation, overseas service, and re-entry. Emily is a proud native of Portland, Oregon, and a proud Bucknellian (i.e. she graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA), who loves learning about different cultures, exploring new places, being active and going on spontaneous adventures.