She is the transparent nothing that pervades all things.
She is the breath of God,
A clear emanation of Divine Glory,
No impurity can stain Her.
She is God’s spotless mirror
reflecting eternal light
and the image of divine goodness.
Although she is one,
She does all things
Without leaving Herself
She renews all things.
Generation after generation She slips into holy souls,
Making them friends of God and prophets . . .
(Wisdom of Solomon 7:24–27)
When we tell stories we build on common knowledge. If I were to tell you, I met with a friend and had lunch at Vic’s Pizza, it’s on capitol way, in that building that what used to be the Tea Lady. I’m using familiar, if historic, landmarks to convey a place and space to you. Our stories, even when it’s a new story, are often rooted and based on familiar facts, common experience, and known stories. If I wanted to tell you about a new friend I met, I might tell you a story about them that relates to something that we did together, to help to gain context for how cool this person is.They like the same kind of things that we like, they may be new, but they are also familiar.
The writers of the New Testament, particularly the Gospel stories that tell about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus rely heavily on the familiar themes and stories told in the first testament. Jesus himself draws on these stories, which was, really, the only testament for him. These were the stories, proverbs, writings that he studied and were the foundation for his ministry. So, when the Gospel writers wanted to tell the stories of Jesus they looked to the stories of the first testament as the foundation and framework, the context for the stories and teachings of and about Jesus. When we read about the birth, life and death of Jesus, we are doing do through the lens of the First Testament. And just like when we read a sequel in book series, it doesn’t make much sense without having read the first book, they build on each other. The same is true for our biblical stories.
Of course, following the canonization, the process to decide which books would be in the Christian Bible, and as the history of Christianity has moved farther and farther from its Jewish roots, some of these connections and framework have been lost. There are entire books and writings that are not included in the bibles in our pew. And, as they say, the ones who write history, the ones who tell the story, the ones who decide which stories are important, are the ones who get to decide what is history, and what is passed on.
For our Christian story, and Christian history, it has been men who write story and write the history. Women’s experience, women’s voice, women’s history has, for the most part, been erased and forgotten. I imagine the scripture that I shared was new to many, if not most, of you. It is from The Wisdom of Solomon, and is part of a section that is referred to as The Book of Wisdom. It is attributed to King Solomon, but it generally considered to be an anonymous Hellenistic Jew writing sometime in the late first century BCE.
It speaks of Holy Wisdom, a figure of the feminine Divine. These writings celebrate the attributes of Holy Wisdom, also known as Sophia, as an embodiment of the Holy. This Divine Feminine of Holy Wisdom appears in sections of the book of Proverbs, along with the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirah. They are part of what is considered the Apocrypha, non-canonical text that are mostly ignored and never appear in our protestant lectionary.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the Rabbi that translated the scripture I read, writes in his book; The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, part of the reason why these revelation texts of Holy Wisdom aren’t taught in our communities, is;
“First because Wisdom is a woman and women haven’t fared well in the Western religious tradition of the past three thousand years. While you can point out significant exceptions, the norm in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to downplay the role of women. One way to do that is to ignore the role of the Mother in creation and the life of us creatures. It is no small thing to note that Wisdom is feminine. The original language of the texts, both Hebrew and Greek, make this very clear: Hebrew “Chochma” and Greek “Sophia” are both feminine nouns. The authors of the Wisdom books took this gender specificity seriously and envisioned Wisdom as Mother, God’s consort and bride, the Divine Feminine through which the masculine God fashioned all creation.”
It is important to note, that this use of gendering for God or Sophia isn’t speaking to the specific gender of God or Sophia, but instead a “union of masculine and feminine a powerful analogy for the greater unity of all in the ineffable Godhead that transcends our imagination.”
But who is who is she? This Holy Wisdom? To seek an answer we look to Proverbs 8:
God is my Source, and I am God’s first creation.
Before time— I am.
Before beginnings— I am.
There were as yet no oceans when I was born,
no springs deep and overflowing.
I am older than mountains.
Elder to the hills, the valleys, and the fields.
Before even the first lumps of clay emerged— I am.
When God set the heavens in place— I was there.
When God fixed the sea’s horizon— I was there.
When God made firm the sky and set the fountains that feed the sea;
When God bound the ocean with shore, and the sand with sea— I was there.
Wisdom was God’s first creation. Considered by some to be God’s first child. Wisdom is beyond time, she was with God in the beginning, co-creating the world into being. You may notice the linguistic and stylistic similarities to the beginning of the Gospel of John.
In the beginning there was the Word;
and the Word was in God‘s presence,
and the Word was God.
The Word was present to God from the beginning.
Through the Word all things came into being,
Rabbi Shapiro writes, “Wisdom is the Hebrew Mother, Chochmah, who becomes the Greek Son, Logos,” The story used to foretell the coming of Jesus, borrows, adapts, and in some sense hijacks the Hebrew feminine embodiment of Holy Wisdom. We might presume that the Author of John knew his audience would be familiar with Chochomah, Wisdom, having an intimate relation to God the Creator and wanted to capture that symbolism in how he wrote about the relationship of Jesus to God. This intimate, relatable, in all things, through all things, tangibly familiar and feminine Wisdom, became a distant, masculine and heady concept in the Logos embodied in Jesus.
Proverbs goes on in detailing just who Wisdom is;
I was God’s confidant and architect,
a source of endless delight,
playing before God without ceasing,
rejoicing in creation,
delighting in humankind.
Wisdom is playful. She is God’s delight and she delights in life. She is light. In the first section of scripture that I read from the Book of Wisdom, it says that she is “God’s spotless mirror reflecting eternal light”. She is eternal light. She reflect and emanates eternal light.
Again from the Gospel of John, a familiar passage;
In the Word was life,
and that life was humanities light,
a light that shines in the darkness
and the darkness did not overcome it.
A light it coming. A light it here.
Embodied in Holy Wisdom, who is in and through all things.
Foretold and embodied in the person of Jesus.
And embodied and exemplified in us too.
Wisdom invites all who can hear her, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” Anyone, everyone, are called to embrace her, to welcome wisdom, to welcome the eternal light. From “Generation after generation She slips into holy souls, Making them friends of God and prophets…” Rabbi Sharpio writes, “A friend of God is one who dwells in Wisdom. A prophet of God is one who shows others how to do the same.”
We are called to dwell in Wisdom. It is not something you pray to, or something you choose, “you simply see Her and work in harmony with Her.” She is in all things and through all things. She is the way. She is the truth. She is the light. Again, sound familiar? Wisdom is the way to and the way of, she is the journey and the destination. She is a way of being and living. When we embrace Wisdom, we are embodying wisdom. We embody the light and hope that comes through Holy Wisdom.
The writer of John plays on this profound invitation as he tells the story of the human and divine person of Jesus. These themes and stories, told throughout time, passed through generations, speak of the same light. The more I study Wisdom the more I see and know the stories of Jesus in a deeper and more full way. There is a thread that carries through, illuminating along the way a deep and abiding Wisdom. Feminine. Divine. Wise. Saving. Empowering. Holy.
In these days of Advent, as we prepare and proclaim again the Birth of Jesus the savior, we proclaim again the presence of Sophia, Holy Wisdom.