Wisdom Calls

The Rev. Rachelle Sam, Dean of Community Life & Upper School Chaplain

Good morning.

Here we are at the beginning of a new school year. By now, you have looked at your upcoming assignments, set goals for the semester, and figured out how to use the Magnus app. You are well on your way to meeting new people and making connections. If you are a teacher, you have created password-protected zoom links, perhaps checked out what is possible on the new DTEN machines, and marked dates on your calendar.

September bids us to look forward, to welcome new beginnings, to open ourselves to the possibilities that are all around us. Like grace, September may come in odd and unpredictable sizes, yet it holds so much promise, so many expectations and hopes. Anything feels possible in September, if we keep looking ahead.

But honestly, it has been hard at times to look forward. I’ve spent most of the summer with my head turned backwards, reminiscing about the past, coddling old memories that seem more accessible now for some reason.

I hadn’t thought about Mr. Goodman in decades. See, Mr. Goodman owned our neighborhood store. And every time he gave me my change, he would say:

Now, don’t you take anyone’s wood nickels!

Sometimes, I would try to beat him to the punch, and say it before he could. But most times, I would emphatically tell him that there was no such thing as a wooden nickel—and then, dare him to open the cash register and show me one. No matter how much I laughed at this silly saying and protested, he kept reminding me each time I went to the store not to take any wooden nickels.

“Don’t take any wooden nickels” has stayed with me for a long time.

And, Mr. Goodman was right.

There are wooden nickelsand, I have taken my fair share of them.

There is the wooden nickel of comfort and ease that lures us into thinking that life is supposed to be easy, so when we hit challenges or steep hills, then we look for the exit or conclude that we must be doing something wrong.

Then, there is the wooden nickel of speed. Perhaps, said best by Ricky Bobby:
“If you ain’t first, then you are last. This wooden nickel makes efficiency the prizeand, what comes quickly rarely endures.”

The wooden nickel of certainty is the one that I tend to find in my pocket. You may have seen this one. It’s the one that only cares about answers and what one knows for sure, obscuring the importance of asking and refining the questions that frame our lives.

I wonder:

What wooden nickels may be in your pocket?

In The Book of Proverbs, an interesting character fills the frame.

To each one of us, she calls out: Get insight, listen to my instruction.

She shouts to us on the mountaintops and then she stands with us at the crossroads when we have no idea where to turn. And when we finally make it over the threshold, she waits for us to enter, to take the first step of our journey.

Who is she?

We can find her in ordinary places. She is on the Little Field, on Pilgrim Road as we get out of the car with our water bottle in hand and masks securely fitted. She watches us as we linger over the last practice problem. And when we are hungry and weary, she makes us a feast. When we need a resting place, she calls us to our true home, a house she has built of seven pillars. When we are with her we discover spaciousness.

“If knowledge is flour, she is bread.” (Austin O’Malley)

Who is she?

Mysteriously, she was there in the beginning. Before the heavens and earth came into being, she existed as one of God’s first creative acts.

Over and over again, we are counselled to never forsake her, to guard her, to treasure her above gold and rubies … and even above grades.

Lest you think she is a humorless bore, There are accounts of her playing with God’s creation as if she is a child opening up birthday presents.

Who is she?

She is Wisdom personified, Sophia, dressed up by our ancient poets who made Wisdom come to life with movement, expression, emotion. And though they portrayed her with such vividness, such realness, it seems that many didn’t see or hear her shouting at the intersections of their lives: “Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.”

WE too know what it’s like for wisdom to elude us. We are pulled in so many directions, Bombarded with so many voices. Overwhelmed by so much information ... until wisdom seems like a faint whisper, if we hear her at all.

As a society we are discovering that many of the answers that we relied on, much of what we took at face value will not work anymoreand, that feels scary.

Some of us are looking at what passed for truth, what passed as right relationships, what passed as justice and love, and discovering that we may have some wooden nickels.

What if the unraveling and uncertainty that we sense is a call, an invitation to search, to recommit ourselves to pursuing wisdom, to listen for her voice emerging from the cracks, to return over and over again knowing that the well of wisdom will never run dry.

Searching for wisdom is our call and practice. When we embrace wisdom, we touch the foundation of everything. We lay hold to the deep mysteries of the universe and discover the deep mystery of ourselves and everyone we encounter. We discover that everything and everyone is sacred--and, whom we have been looking for has been searching and seeking us out all along.

We will need the inspiration and the promise of Sophia as we start this school year. We will need it in those moments when no one else is watching and when we feel confused or frustrated by not knowing what tomorrow will bring. And, we will need Sophia to help us trust each other and to support each other as friends and classmates - that is what will allow our community to sustain itself in the midst of new and sometimes awkward starts and stops. And, we will need Sophia to stretch our imaginations and hearts beyond the Close so that we can reach out and walk alongside our neighbors in need.

In the coming weeks, let’s find opportunities to see Sophia at work. So that we can keep asking ourselves:

So who is wisdom to you?

And, where will we search for her?

Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.