by Eric Santillan

In high school or college, first year students are called Freshmen, second years are called Sophomores, those in third are called Juniors; and those in fourth are called Seniors. I could understand the words “Freshmen”, “Junior” and “Senior”. But what does Sophomore mean? For a while, I thought Sophomore meant “second year”.

I just found out some weeks ago that the word SOPHOMORE has very interesting origins.

It has been thought to come from the word “sophisma,” which means an “acquired skill, clever device, method”. This in turn comes from the word sophizo, “to become wise, or to instruct.” This makes a lot of sense. After a freshman year where you probably had to learn the ropes, you become a sophomore–someone who has acquired a skill, is no longer a rookie, has become a little bit wiser.

But there’s also another meaning to the word which makes even more sense. Sophomore is also a play on the words “sophos” (wise) and “moros” (fools). To be a sophomore then is to be both wise and a fool. It is a wisdom tempered by foolishness, which actually makes it the best kind of wisdom. It is our sophos that gives us pride–the kind that pushes the boundaries of our skills and abilities, the kind that builds up our identity and self-esteem. But too much of this sophos can become our undoing.

It is our moros that brings us back to the ground. It keeps us hungry, makes us humble. And humility is the mother of all virtues because it is the real fount of real wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

We know, we are wise, we have become good at what we do, and we have acquired some form of even expertise (which in this day and age is really just a form of skill that we have more of versus the rest of the population). In fact, we get paid for this knowledge–it is called a JOB. We have sophos.

And yet we find ourselves in stupid situations; events where we can’t help but tell ourselves, “now, what was I thinking??!” We are moros.

Brent Blair, a professor of Applied Theatre in the University of Southern California says that the words “theatre”, “therapy” and “theology” all come from the same root: theo — the divine. At its core, we live our lives with wisdom, made all the more special because we know we do not know everything. It is wisdom precisely because it allows space for the divine. Theatre, in its original form, was about asking the big questions and not having answers, but just putting it out there for discussion. Therapy is about healing the interior human being– someone who in large part cannot be placed in a box but is mystery. Theology is having a relationship with the mysterium tremendum – the Greatest of all Great Mysteries.

Life is about this mystery. On the one hand, confronting this mystery can bring despair. It is difficult to surrender to the unknown. It is difficult to accept the moros in our sophos. It is difficult to accept that the first half of life was all about acquiring sophos, but that the greatest wisdom is that we are moros. When we accept this, then we are ready to live the mystery and the mystical in the second half of our lives.

Because in this life, we are really not freshmen. Not really Juniors or Seniors.

We are sophomores.

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