A week ago, my husband and I returned from a weeklong trip to Italy. Today I want to show you a picture I saw in Italy and tell you a little story.
The Duomo di Siena (Cathedral of Siena) is filled, from floor to ceiling, with art. There are statues, paintings, hand-illustrated choir books… and the floor is a giant mosaic of marble. Throughout the enormous cathedral, there are dozens of images depicting Bible scenes, allegories, prophets, and symbols. My favorite, though, was one of the first that can be seen when entering the building.
This is the Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom.
If you look up this image online, there are a few things that vary in its analysis, but I’m going to explain it the way our guide, a resident of Siena, explained it to us.
At the top of the image, you see Lady Wisdom (or Virtue). To her right is Socrates, revered at the time of the image’s creation as one of the wisest philosophers. To her left is Crates of Thebes, a philosopher who gave all of his riches to the poor and lived on the streets of Athens. We see Crates throwing over his worldly possessions in favor of the book that Lady Wisdom offers him. Among rocks and thorns below, you see others making their way uphill to pay homage to Lady Wisdom. At the bottom, right, we find Lady Luck. She is beautiful, and reaching her would be trivially easy. But see how unstable she is, with her right foot on a sphere and her left on a boat in the sea, its mast broken. She holds a sail, so the slightest gust of wind would throw her over. Finally, at the center of the foreground, we find a tortoise.
The tortoise is a symbol of Siena. A tortoise may move slowly, but it moves with purpose. The one in the image above symbolises the slow, steady climb toward wisdom. The journey is neither easy nor quick, but it is worth it in the end.
In the business world, we talk about the good/fast/cheap triad. We say that a task can be executed in only two of the three ways. Something that is both good and fast will be expensive; something that is fast and cheap won’t be good; and something that is good and cheap will take a long time.
How often do we settle for the convenience of “fast and cheap” in our daily lives, rather than leaning into the “good?” I can tell you that fresh, handmade Italian pasta is not as effortless as dried, ready-to-boil pasta, but it is so much better. A meal that lasts three hours and several courses, shared family-style as dishes and wine are passed from hand to hand, is a much better way of getting to know your friends than a 30-minute eat-and-run fast food lunch date.
While our culture pushes us toward greater efficiency and progress above all, take a moment to consider the human cost of all that progress. Consider how you might cultivate the example of a tortoise in your own daily life… not because it’s in this image on the floor in a cathedral in Italy… but because slow and steady is the path toward wisdom.
Proverbs 1-9 is our very own “Mountain of Wisdom” passage. Solomon begs his son to pursue Lady Wisdom and turn his back on Lady Fortune, for Lady Wisdom holds the keys to a well-lived life. I encourage you to go read these chapters in their entirety, but for now, here’s just a snip:
13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
And the man who gains understanding;
14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
And her gain than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies,
And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand,
In her left hand riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who retain her.
19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
By understanding He established the heavens;
20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up,
And clouds drop down the dew.
21 My son, let them not depart from your eyes—Proberbs 3:13-35, NKJV
Keep sound wisdom and discretion;
22 So they will be life to your soul
And grace to your neck.
23 Then you will walk safely in your way,
And your foot will not stumble.
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.
Do you have a story of life change? We would love to hear it. Let us hear how God is transforming your life and the lives of those around you through the power of Christ. Drop us a line at [email protected] or submit a form using the button below! We’ll get in touch and work with you to share your story.