January 6 was Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child in Bethlehem. I use this occasion each year to spend a little more time than usual meditating on the first four chapters of the book of Proverbs, which I call the “wisdom” chapters because they speak specifically of the value of wisdom and the benefit of gaining it. Admittedly, years ago when I first began reading through the book of Proverbs monthly (there are 31 chapters, after all), I hurried through these first four chapters because I thought they were really boring.
But then something happened. A movie came out in 1995 called Mr. Holland’s Opus, staring Richard Dreyfuss as the protagonist composer/teacher Glenn Holland. In a touching scene where he learns his wife Iris is pregnant, Glenn Holland tells her that he is not opposed to her pregnancy, he just needs time to get used to the idea. Then he relates the story of when the music of John Coltrane first hit the radio waves and music stores. “I hated it, I mean I really hated it. I just didn’t get it,” Glenn tells his wife. But then, he says, he decided to really listen, and try to figure out what made Coltrane’s music so popular. “And after a while, I couldn’t stop listening,” Glenn said.
The next time a new month rolled around and I began Proverbs all over again, I decided to do the same thing as Dreyfuss’s character did because I definitely wasn’t getting these verses’ message. There must be some value to these words that Solomon felt were so important to write, which have survived thousands of years, I thought. So I read, thought about, and reread these four chapters over and over again, both collectively as a whole as well as singularly verse by verse. This was probably my first experience meditating on Scripture, although I didn’t know it at the time.
The results in my life, over time, have been dramatic. As I pictured wisdom (personified) wandering the streets and open squares in search of receptive listeners (Proverbs 1), I began watching for God’s language calling out to me throughout my ordinary days. The effects of this were imperceptible at first. But ever so slowly, as I persisted, I began to connect the idea that paying attention to God’s wisdom as illustrated in the Bible and living my life according His purposes gave my life direction and meaning, and actually made me feel content and happy. Really, wealth, reputation, etc. aside, what more can anyone want in life?
These days following Epiphany, I thank God for those curious Magi, whose imaginations God harnessed to not only deliver their precious, prophetic gifts, but who also left us an historic example of a persistent, thoroughly human yet subtly divine quest for God’s wisdom and ways to live it out in our lives. Our journeys will surely be fraught with uncertainty, but one thing is sure:
“‘You will seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart,’
says the Lord.” —Jeremiah 29:13