What is a wisdom-keeper?
I learned this term from author William Powers, who uses the word "wisdom-keeper" to describe a friend whose way of life inspired Powers to seek greater alignment between his own lifestyle and his heartfelt desire for ecological justice and peace. The word wisdom-keeper is “a Native American term for…elders who ignite deeper questions in us," writes Powers.
Wisdom is knowledge born of many experiences in a life lived from the heart. A wisdom-keeper is a person whose accumulated experiences have taught them to live well and whose presence invites others to discover their own wisdom.
I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from many wondrous and wise people over the years. My recent trip to Arizona jogged some memories of wisdom-keepers I met during my year in Tucson as a Young Adult Volunteer nearly twenty years ago.
Rev. John Fife, now the Pastor Emeritus of Southside Presbyterian Church, has been one of my wisdom-keepers. One of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, John shepherded Southside Church during years in which the congregation hosted thousands of Central American refugees who fled warfare and death squads. By the time I arrived in Tucson in 2002, the advocacy work of John and other conscientious people of faith focused on undocumented migrants entering the U.S, and he continues to be actively engaged with this effort.
One day when I'd been helping out at the day program for migrant workers hosted by the church, I was lamenting the difficulty of peace and justice work. I complained to John, “How do you keep at it? Don’t you get tired or frustrated? It’s so hard!” (Such drama after only a few months' effort!).
John gave me his characteristic grin and replied with words I've never forgotten. "Well," he said, "God doesn't call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful.”
I stared back at him, blinking. Young, privileged, and deeply influenced by our success-glorifying culture, I never imagined the endurance it took to change policy and culture.
Of course, John and his many collaborators wanted successful outcomes! But after years of effort, John had learned to source his motivation in something much more profound than the momentary success or failure of a particular action.
His comment inspired me to consider my own motivation. Why was I engaging in peace and justice efforts? If my goal was to feel successful, my endurance for these efforts would be short-lived! But if my goal was to remain faithful to the One who called me to love my neighbor, perhaps I'd be able to stick with the work a little longer.
I've kept John's words in mind, along with his conviction that we need communities like the church to help us stay the course of faithfulness. "That's why I'm here every Sunday morning," he said to me that same day. "I need to be reminded what my faithfulness is all about."
My work as a spiritual director and church pastor is rooted in the awareness that people need deep community to sustain any effort to make a difference in this world. That's one reason I'm offering the Resilient Spirit Story Circle on Oct. 28 at 4:30PM Pacific, to open the gift of deep community beyond the bounds of the church I serve. One of the best ways to discover sustaining community with others is through sharing our life stories.
This month, the Story Circle theme is "Favorite Saints." We'll be celebrating people dear to us, some who have passed on, some who are alive, whose lives have inspired us with their beauty, truth, and goodness. This includes the wisdom-keepers who have nudged us to question stuck paradigms and old beliefs, so that we can live differently, more aligned with our deepest values. There are still spots left for participants in this event, so if you enjoying hearing and sharing stories of wisdom-keepers, mentors, and saints, click HERE to sign up.
Who are your wisdom-keepers? They might be teachers, community leaders, ministers, counselors, spiritual directors--those who have developed their calling to help others learn and live wisely. Or they might be the next door neighbor, the local mechanic, or your favorite barista or bartender. Your wisdom-keepers are those who inspire you to ask questions, explore new possibilities, and shape your lifestyle to live wisely and well.
What stories do you have of people who have raised a question for you and inspired you to make a change in the way you live your life?
I'd love to hear your story! If you can't join us for the Story Circle, you can always email me or get on my calendar HERE to learn about more ways I can support you in telling your stories.