We preachers and proclaimers know the secret of the elephant and the rider. It’s very hard to steer an elephant, especially if the elephant has made up her mind. The emotional brain is like an elephant. The rational brain is like the rider. If the emotion is activate, it will direct the rational. We proclaimers try to tap into the emotion, the elephant. It’s much more apt to go in the direction we want it to go.
Are these graduates now the givers of wisdom? They certainly have knowledge, and have pieces of paper or sheepskin to verify it. But do they have wisdom? What would these givers of wisdom proclaim?
My daughter told me that her mouth hurt because her wisdom teeth were coming in. I said that she will soon be smarter than me, since I had two of mine removed years ago. I already can’t do the math problems she can do anymore.
Today’s scripture proclaims, “Does not Wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand. Beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out (she proclaims) ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.’”(Proverbs 8:1-4).
Sophia is the name given to Wisdom. She appears a good bit in the book of Proverbs. She is also prominent in the book of Sirach. She is the closest thing the Hebrew Bible has to the Holy Spirit. It’s no accident that the name of the heroine in The Da Vinci Code is named Sophie. Throughout the Hebrew Bible Wisdom is feminized. What would it mean if the church throughout history had identified God more explicitly in feminine imagery—feminine energy? How might the church have developed differently? Somehow by the time we get around to John’s Gospel, Wisdom is no longer female, but male. What’s up with that? That’s a question for a different sermon.
Today’s scripture is a proclamation by Sophia, Wisdom personified. In the book of Proverbs, especially the first nine chapters, Sophia is a main player. She is the wise one. In a literary sense, the first nine chapters are instructions for young men. Sophia is one of the great teachers. She makes prudent choices and encourages people to live ethical lives. Her foil shows up in chapters seven and nine. Another woman who can seduce and confuse. Some have even called her Dame Folly. But here, Sophia proclaims her role in life, in ethics and even in creation itself.
Throughout the year, we have provided Proverbs to ponder at the top of each Sunday’s bulletin—little proclamations from this book. They are about ethics, morality, the seduction of money and comfort, and the constant struggle to embrace wisdom and not folly disguised as wisdom.
In today’s scripture reading, Wisdom proclaims her presence. “on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads…beside the gates…at the entrance of the portals.” In other words, Wisdom is everywhere, if we just pay attention. Wisdom is listed here as the architect of creation. Even John Calvin affirmed this truth: “Wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of God’s glory. You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system in the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.5.1)
In a world where stupidity seems to be everywhere, it’s awful good news that sister Sophia, Wisdom is everywhere, too. This is the conscience trying to break through. It is the calm thoughtfulness not seduced by the easy intoxicants of intolerance and narrow-minded nihilism.
Lots of people speak for God these days. Sometimes Wisdom is present, sometimes Wisdom is missing in action. God is invoked in congressional campaigns. God is trumpeted in pious ways to show how one is more pure than another. God’s name is used to fight wars and to make enemies. But somehow, Wisdom does not lend itself to such abuse. Wisdom is an intuitive posture of truthfulness. Wisdom is a propensity to see things clearly. Wisdom is an ability to discern right from wrong. It’s an ability to see through the facades of those who use religion for personal gain. Wisdom gives life and points us in the right direction. Could you imagine our political, social and even religious landscape if Wisdom was our leader instead of tired and combative Dogma?
The poetry of Proverbs reminds us that Wisdom was created by God at the very beginning (8:22). She witnessed all of creation and worked alongside God as a master worker (8:30).
Most of us are familiar with the famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel where God stretches out his finger toward Adam to impart life. What most of us don’t realize is that in the crook of God’s arm is Sophia, creating alongside God.
We all have human wisdom. Call it intuition, call it life experience. Wisdom often exists beneath our consciousness. In a secular sense, wisdom is the sum of our experiences, the perspectives and insights that are part of our core being. Why can’t this form of wisdom be seen as an aspect of God’s presence in our lives? As we are innately wise, so are we innately connected with God. We are wiser than we know. Sophia lives within you, between you.
I think of divine wisdom when I consider a letter by a catholic colleague of mine DawnMarie Vihrachoff. She has written to Pope Francis to use his Solomonic wisdom to save the life of a Salvadoran mother. I think she personifies Wisdom as she proclaims (on change.org):
Beatriz is a young wife and mother of a one year-old son in El Salvador. She is pregnant. According to her doctors, due to a genetic defect, the brain is not growing and the baby has no chance of survival. Her doctors also say that Beatriz’s Lupus, and other medical complications related to it, will kill her if she carries the pregnancy to term and gives birth. She is now 26 weeks pregnant and her doctors warn that each day she continues the pregnancy her health will continue to deteriorate.
In most countries, Beatriz would be able to follow her doctor's advice and have an abortion to save her life. But, because any type of abortion is illegal in El Salvador, this isn't an option. For Beatriz, being forced to continue this pregnancy is not just awful, it's a death sentence.
Despite pleas from El Salvador’s Minister of Health on her behalf, Beatriz has been denied the care she desperately needs. If she is not allowed to end her non-viable pregnancy, Beatriz is likely to die, which will also leave her 1-year-old son motherless and her husband a widower. Beatriz has now gone through every legal avenue in her country to save her life -- including pleading in person before the Supreme Court for the right to live and be a mother to her son -- and has been denied. Her last hope is for Pope Francis, who has the moral authority to direct her country’s officials to allow her to live, to intervene on her behalf.
I’m a lifelong Catholic and I’m also the mother of a four year-old daughter. I can’t imagine my government and my church sentencing me to death and my child to a life without a mother. I believe the only right course, the only course in keeping with my faith, is the one that preserves the life at stake -- that of Beatriz. I’m pleading with the Holy Father to help her and uphold the moral truths we share.
El Salvador’s policy will not save any innocent life, but it may well take the innocent life of a mother. There is nothing Christian about such a policy. Please help save Beatriz -- for her, for her family. She has done nothing wrong. Let His Holiness show the world that the Catholic church is an instrument of God's mercy by coming to this young woman's aid.
What do you proclaim?
What wisdom do you possess?
What wisdom do you wish to impart?
Remember, you have companions on this journey, those who call you out to be the person you are called to be.
You may proclaim that a law is unjust.
You may proclaim that you are a Christian not by the words you say, but by your actions of compassion and mercy and fairness.
You may proclaim that all is not lost and that we have friends in each other.
We may proclaim God’s praise through music.
But you know truth. You can humbly and powerfully share it with a community in need.
We all need the Wisdom who doesn’t spout platitudes, but gets deeper and sustains us during the darkest nights of our souls. When we are feeling lost and alone, remember that your wisdom is connected with a Wisdom that has been there since the beginning of creation.
I have been to many hospitals in this past week. When I go there, people often look to clergy to impart wisdom or to proclaim healing. I am often awestruck by the medical machinery. I find that I can best respond not by imparting my wisdom, but connecting with that wider and wiser presence that is there sustaining us all in the dark nights of our souls. I remind everyone of God’s sustaining presence and the power of love to see us through.
Sophia urges us forward. She calls us to claim our own true selves. She sets us free to become the child of God we were called to be. Sophia wants to be our playful, joyful companion. And as we laugh and dance and release those healing endorphins, we open ourselves to our creative powers. And just like at the beginning of time, we create. And sister Sophia is right there. Like always.