As we approach our earlybird deadline, Paul Northup, Greenbelt’s Creative Director, shares some initial thoughts on Greenbelt’s theme for 2019, Wit and Wisdom.
Wit is a different way of seeing and reading the world; it believes in the subversive effect, the healing and relieving power of unexpected insight. Often uncomfortable, it enables us to see things more truthfully at the same time as feeling somehow better about them. Wit is not really about comedy (although it can be incredibly funny!). It’s about insight (which, of course, comedy often brings).
Wisdom, meanwhile, is something slower, more steady; something which, despite its often discomforting and disruptive power, is somehow more soothing. It also prompts us think of the power of the feminine. In our sacred (largely gender binary) texts, there is a long tradition of wisdom being personified as female. And this is a timely challenge for us in a context where power is still largely located and stuck within a binary understanding of maleness and patriarchy.
Wisdom is not a knowledge that is worldly-wise, jaded or even cynical. Instead, wisdom is a different form of knowing. It is not self-absorbed or self-interested or isolated. Instead, it is a source of experiential power grown for and available to others, for the good of the community.
Wit is about seeing things differently, more sharply, in a new light. Wisdom is the applying of steady, hard-won experience, patience and faithfulness to new circumstances. Both bring new understanding. And both wit and wisdom remind us of the possibility of “counter-power” – the potential for us to live differently to the status quo.
Wit and wisdom cut across all ages, too. There is a traditional cultural notion of wisdom belonging with age, but also a sense in which modern, western life seems largely to have lost this appreciation. Youthfulness and physicality are celebrated above most things. Of course, things are not that clear-cut. It is not that youthfulness is always unwise and the elderly all-knowing! Often, a youthful, uninhibited approach is by far the best one (after all, we are told that out of the mouths of babes and infants strength can come). But, as well as the quick-witted energy and insight of youth and those in their prime, we must learn to recover room for the wisdom of age to speak; the sort of seeing that is only possible through age and experience.
We need both innocence and experience. Wit and wisdom remind us of that. And Greenbelt is a great intergenerational space in which to explore this – together. A festival seems to be a great space in which to recover a sense of just how powerful and transformative both wit and wisdom can be. Where we live together with others, where we are re-made, young and old, together.
Wit and wisdom are gifts given for the good of the community – not for the ego of the individual. They remind us that we are not the beginning and end of our own knowledge; but that we depend on those who we live among to see differently, more clearly and live more generously. And God knows, we need to be able to see and live differently when it feels as if our traditional institutions – political, religious, economic, educational – are not really helping us (as much as they perhaps once did) to live justly, creatively and hopefully.
Greenbelt is a place where we leave old versions of our selves behind. Because of the wit and wisdom we encounter there. And that is our hope for next year’s festival, as it has been for the last 45!
There are, of course, many other ways in which the theme of Greenbelt 2019 could be interpreted. These are just a few thoughts to get the conversation going.