The Great Divorce — Energy from Wisdom

Ron Rolheiser OMI
October 22, 2000
Reproduced with permission

We are finding it ever harder to pass on our faith to our children. Perhaps the major reason for this is that today energy and wisdom are too separated from each other. What is meant by that?

Simply this: Time again, it would seem that the raw energy (colour, wit, beauty, health, intelligence, and eroticism) that drives our world does not come from the churches but from elsewhere. Hence we see a lot of energetic, colourful, healthy, witty, and beauty-filled life that is simply divorced from wisdom, that is, is cut off from all that holds the community together at its heart and from most of what helps us cope with the great questions of meaning, love, suffering, and death.

That is why something can be brilliant, funny, beautiful, healthy, and full of real energy and yet be unable to deal with the real issues of meaning, community, family, suffering, death, and forgiveness. We watch Seinfeld for fun, not for wisdom. The reverse, sadly, is just as true. Today we see a lot of wisdom simply divorced from raw energy, that is, lacking precisely any real connection to wit, colour, brilliance, beauty, raw health, and eroticism. This is why sometimes we can deal with the real issues of meaning, pain, death, and forgiveness and yet be unable to radiate any colour, energy, eroticism, or health. We go to church, it would seem, for wisdom, not to connect ourselves to the raw energies of the planet.

Such is our culture. Energy and wisdom mostly have different stewards: We never confuse Alanis Morisette with Mother Theresa, Jerry Seinfeld with John of the Cross, Michael Jordan with Henri Nouwen, Madonna with Mother Angelica. Neither do we ever put these all together into a composite of the face of God. As a result, for us, energy and wisdom are separated. Wisdom does not sufficiently initiate energy, just as energy does not sufficiently enliven wisdom.

So we look to different wellsprings for different things: We look to Mother Theresa to give us wisdom, but to Alanis Morisette to give us energy; we look to Henri Nouwen to explain our deep longings, but we look to Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Candice Bergman, and David Letterman to make us laugh; we look to John of the Cross to explain the mysteries of suffering and death, but we look to Michael Jordan and Marion Jones to show us raw health and the power and grace of the human body; we look to Mother Angelica to lead us in Catholic devotion, but we look to Julia Roberts, Denzil Washington, Brad Pitt, and Elizabeth Hurley to show us God's beauty as radiated in a grace-filled body; we look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to explain the meaning of sex to us, but we look at MTV, Hollywood, and our novelists to show us eroticism in colour; we read the lives of the saints to show us ideals of sacrifice, but we read People Magazine and watch the talk-shows to adore our celebrities; we look to our churches for rites of passage and to bury us, but we look to the entertainment industry to stimulate us and keep us alive.

When, as today, wisdom and energy are divorced from each other, God is our solace for the next life, but the raw joys, beauties, and colours of this world are our comfort in this one. We to look for wisdom and life in very different places, and we, and especially our children, become very divided and confused about the face of God.

What should God's face look like? Who and what should be included there? If Scripture is right when it tells us that all good things come from God, then God is the author not just of wisdom but also of energy. Thus God's face must include Mother Theresa and Alanis Morisette, John of the Cross and Michael Jordan, Henri Nouwen and Jerry Seinfeld, Mother Angelica and Julia Roberts, parts of the Catholic catechism and parts of Hollywood, MTV, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, Iris Murdoch, Anne Byatt, and John Steinbeck. The face of God must bring together both energy and wisdom since God is author of both.

Sadly, in our culture, we have too much energy that is not enough initiated by wisdom, just as we have too much wisdom that is detached from raw energy and colour. We see the former in our culture's lack of understanding of marriage, in the nihilism of Seinfeld, and in the cults of celebrity, physical health, and sexual attraction; even as we see the latter in the greying of our churches, in our incapacity to make our cherished values attractive to our own children, in the growing separation of the arts from the churches, and in the church's habitual attraction towards timidity, anti-eroticism, colourlessness, and humourlessness.

When our children have to choose between colourful energy and grey wisdom, I fear the choice, which is a false one, will not be a good one.