When I was a teenager, I started to read the myths of Ancient Greece, and pretty soon I stumbled over a detail that irked me so much that I closed the book, threw it under my bed, and instead did whatever teenagers do when they feel irked by the myths of the Ancient Greeks.
You may wonder what it was that caused the offense –because isn’t there so much in these stories that is offensive to our modern minds? Was it one the acts of betrayal, gratuitous violence, incest, trickery? Nope, nope, and nope. What irked me to the point that I lost all interest was that Athena was the goddess of both warfare and wisdom.
To my teenage mind –full of ideals about peace and pacifism and goodwill, it felt like wisdom would be to just have no wars at all, period. Having the goddess of wisdom be simultaneously the goddess of warfare simply rendered her a goddess-shaped Napoleon, and I wasn’t a big fan of him, either. And therefore, I felt justified in disregarding the ancient Greeks altogether and entertaining myself otherwise.
Now, given that my book about Greek myth landed under my bed, I don’t know enough about the topic to really understand why the Greeks made this designation of combining warfare and wisdom in one female (!) goddess. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack there, and if one of you knows, please find me at coffee hour and tell me all about it.
But I’ve been thinking, in these times that are ever-more polarized, and where so much is at stake, if maybe there isn’t something here that I missed. Because while getting into conflicts for the mere sake of it is certainly not an act of wisdom, neither is being conflict-avoidant. There are certain conflicts that need to be had, and others that need to not be had, and wisdom lies in knowing which battle to pick while keeping our integrity and our sanity. Reinhold Niebuhr best summed this up in his Serenity Prayer, of which the first few lines are probably familiar to you:
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
I’ve heard these lines so often that I don’t actually really hear them anymore, unless I really listen. And yet, in these times when so much is at stake, and conflict surrounds us wherever we turn, I do wish for serenity, courage, and wisdom –for myself, and for all of you.