The Pursuit of Wisdom: A Podcast Review of Becoming Wise

November 11, 2021
Title: Becoming Wise
Broadcaster: On Being
Narrator: Krista Tippett
Start Date: March 18, 2016
End Date: July 15, 2019

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a fair garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” – Proverbs 4:7-9 

One of the most meaningful classes I have taken in my time as a seminary student at Western Theological Seminary was a class on Wisdom Literature in the Bible. In it, we focused on books in the Old and New Testament that belong to the literary genre of Wisdom Literature—books like Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and much of Jesus’ teachings in the gospels. The rabbis who called for the people of God to pursue wisdom sought to lead those who would live in relationship with God into a posture of knowledge and obedience in order to seek the wisdom of God.  

As I completed this class, I was eager to find ways to keep this learning alive. I had learned about so many beautiful parts of scripture concerning wisdom: scriptures that spoke of wisdom as something that ought to be pursued, as a personified being who calls out to us from the streets of our cities to heed her words, or as a path which guides our way to God. It is a through line of scripture that runs from the Old Testament right into the core teaching of Jesus, and I wanted to hold on to my awareness of it. So, I began to look around for resources to stay integrated into this theme.  

One such resource that I came across as I hunted for a podcast concerning the topic of wisdom is a delightful podcast called Becoming WiseBecoming Wise is a podcast by Krista Tippett, a creator who publishes several podcasts under the larger umbrella of her production company, “On Being.” Born out of a book project by Tippett, Becoming Wise is a series that focuses on providing insights from some of the world’s most visionary writers, thinkers, religious leaders, inspirational speakers, and wisdom seekers.  

The content of each episode is an interview between Tippett and a guest that centers around the theme of growing towards wisdom. The opening phrase which Tippett uses to open each episode sums the show up well. She says, “I’ve had hundreds of big conversations, and my conversation partners share wisdom I carry with me wherever I go.” By welcoming the audience into snippets of those conversations, Tippett allows her listeners to share in those experiences of wisdom that she has found in others.  

Each of the short episodes present four to ten minutes of brief conversation between Tippett and notable figures like Desmond Tutu, Brenè Brown, John O’Donahue, Maria Popova, John Lewis and more. In addition to the incredible list of guests, one of the best things about this podcast is its short format. Each one can be listened to in the breaks of a day. While you brew your morning cup of coffee, you can listen to Shane Claiborne talk about the New Monastic movement and how reclaiming abandoned spaces is an intricate part of his “Simple Way” of existing. While running errands, you can hear Father James Martin talking about how all people have been given a vocation by God to pursue, whether that is the vocation of a parent or a pastor. Or, if you need a short break from homework, you can hear Brenè Brown’s reflections on wholeheartedness and how hope is intrinsically related to times of struggle. The use of this short format helps make these thinkers and their wise insights accessible to a wider group of people.  

“Tippett intentionally crafts an atmosphere where seekers of wisdom can hear someone suggests another way to exist in the world.”

If you find yourself hungry for more than just the brief content of the episodes, there are many that are available in longer form as well. Whether it’s through recordings of the broader interviews, or through other podcasts like On Being, Tippett often leads those who want to hear more of the conversation to other areas where they can engage with the topic in more depth.  

Each episode seeks to give the listener exposure to wisdom. Tippett intentionally crafts an atmosphere where seekers of wisdom can hear someone suggest another way to exist in the world. This is sometimes religious, sometimes spiritual, sometimes about business, and other times about beauty. But they all lead the listener into the sphere of wisdom.  

As Christians, this should be a familiar space for us—or at least the pursuit ought to be familiar. We are called to be seekers of wisdom. Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Proverbs, Job and others are all examples of wisdom literature in which we receive the explicit mandate to pursue wisdom, as in Proverbs 4, which says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” 1 

Books like Proverbs paint a picture of wisdom as a being who is out there in the world, and the people of God are called to go out and seek it. They portray wisdom calling out to us like a siren at the gates of our lives. Wisdom can find us when we are young, with words that are simple enough for even a child to read, but with thoughts that are deep and wide enough to grow with us as we mature and hunger for deeper truths. Even as they are very accessible and welcoming to the to the seeker, they are somehow elusive, mystical, and ethereal—in a word, intriguing. 

“Only when our minds are free to wander can we find the paths wisdom lays out for us.”

The wisdom literature in scripture provides truth, but it is truth set within an artistic imagination and a willingness to stretch what the mind thinks it knows. As Ellen Davis says in her commentary on the Proverbs, “The sages understand that living the moral life requires that we continually strive to exercise a truthful imagination.” 2 Only when our minds are free to wander can we find the paths wisdom lays out for us.  

Becoming Wise provides just such an imaginative space for us to pursue the truth. It allows our minds to wander through the thoughts of another, and it brings wise people into our sphere who can stretch our imaginations and make us wonder about the assumptions we’ve made about the world.  

If you’re looking for a way to be challenged, to be exposed to some of the wisest people both alive and passed on, and to pursue the path of wisdom as we are called to as Christians, I would highly recommend Becoming Wise as a podcast to try in order to supplement that pursuit. It is a well of wisdom that can break into even the smallest moments of free time in our very full lives. I have found it to be a valuable resource as I continue to look for ways to engage the theme of wisdom as it is revealed in scripture, and in the lives and words of wise people around me.  

About the Author
  • Jackson Nickolay is originally from the North Woods of Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior, but has lived in Holland, Michigan for the last 6 years. He completed a Master of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary with a focus on worship design. He has a passion for living into the dual vocation of an artist and a minister and finds application for these callings in worship music, embodied scripture, theatre, writing, and liturgical arts. He is married to Hannah Barker Nickolay who also graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. Together with some close friends they run a small liturgical arts company called Wayfolk Arts, which focuses on crafting liturgies, scripture enactments, prayers, songs, and blessings for small and large ecclesial communities. Jackson is also the co-host and co-founding member of the Podcast No Script, a weekly podcast which centers on unscripted conversations about theatre's best scripts.

  1.  Proverbs 4:7. All quotations from the NRSV Translation  

  2.  Ellen F. Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 1st ed., Westminster Bible companion (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 19.  

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