Walk in Wisdom

Mieke Vandersall
Proverbs 9:1-9
Not So Churchy
May 18, 2015

Proverbs 9:1-6 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.

I wanted to start tonight by exploring a bit about the reason why models of God are our theme for the year. I might have been saying before this evening that images of God were the base of our exploration, but really upon further thought, it is the variety of models of God.

The thing is that in the Bible there are so many models of who God is. Perhaps the most common models that we are used to hearing about are God as loving or God as vengeful or God as forgiving or God as violent. These models of being in the world can contradict each other, to say that least, but the fact that they are contradictory does not mean that they don’t come from the same being, the same Sacred place.

We are spending time with models of God this year, because it is really important, how we talk about God. How we talk about God shapes how we think about ourselves. Just the idea of God connotes really strong feelings for some people, especially when various models of God have been used to justify violence and abuse in our own lives. God is powerful, and not because, you know, God is powerful, but even more powerful because of how the concept of God is used.

Not only this but I think, and have read about in books here and there to support my premise, that the models we use to describe our experience God, and know God, also reflect how we think about ourselves and how we treat others and the earth we have the privilege of living on.

I remembered after I broke up, or was broken up with, by an ex girlfriend, just how devastated I was. This was many years ago. I remember talking with a dear friend, I was saying that I just felt like God was punishing me, that I knew I wasn’t supposed to think that but it sure felt like I was being punished, for not being good enough, or faithful enough, or smart enough in my decision-making about relationships. The reality is that I was punishing myself, not being patient with my very self about the decisions I had made and the learning I was going through. God wasn’t punishing me, I was punishing me, but it was more…not my own doing, somehow, to think God was doing it, and if that I were a better girl, it would all get better. Thankfully I grew out of this temporary thinking pretty quickly, once I regained perspective.

I have another friend who this week was telling me of someone he knows who, at the core, believes that God is a vengeful God, a punishing God, and that he is spending much of his time in life trying to prove to God that he is worthy of God’s positive judgment. In the process he is engaging in really destructive behaviors because he just can’t live up to the standards that he thinks God has created, so he might as well do his best to fail. This is a lot of work, and just doesn’t have to be like this.

How we think of God is intimately connected and wrapped up in how we think of ourselves, and our responsibility to others and our earth.

This is why I believe that it is so important that we explore God as one who develops and changes, as we find in the stories in the Bible over and over again. If we are so connected to the models of God we use to describe our experience with the Sacred, these remarkable stories throughout history of how God has shifted gives us such freedom. I believe it is important to really search out the diverse stories we find in the Bible, and also speak our experience of how we meet God into the midst of them.

And so this year we have found a God who seeks us out whether we want to be sought or not, a God who experiences utter frustration and yet has determined that wrath and destruction are not effective or faithful tools for social change, and a God who comes to us in the body of a person, Jesus, and in that dwelling, defies all expectations. In this model God continues to search for us, be with us, in body form, and is never like we expect. God develops in how God interacts with people and the earth. There are more ways to describe and understand God than we can put on paper. And yet, it is a worthy exercise to witness to how we see God acting in the world.

We find in our reading tonight a particularly complicated model of God. We find one whose name is Lady Wisdom, or Sophia in Greek, as she is often called. We have talked about her before, but I think it is worth bringing her up again, in particular as we explore models of God.

“There [actually] is more material on Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures than there is about almost any other figure. In all of these books only four persons have more written about them that Wisdom. Only God (under various titles), Job, Moses and David are more treated in depth.” From all of what I have read, Western society has chosen to ignore her. She is too ambiguous. She is too loud-mouthed. She doesn’t fit neatly into simple discussions of humanity versus divinity. In a word, she was confusing. (Pg. 15)

In the chapter before what we read tonight we have this image of Sophia as a co-creator with God, adding a third creation story to the other two we already find in the Book of Genesis:

She tells us that she was “set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth,” she says, “when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth…When God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep...when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker.”

This Wisdom character, she is powerful and she is a co-creator, and that at first glance, means that God is not one who acts alone. God, in this story, is not a model of God who acts alone. God acts with people, in this case the character of Sophia, who was there from the beginning, from before the beginning even. God is not that far away, solitary dictator that pulls strings on his lonesome. We have Jesus, who also acts with God, and hangs in the very strange balance of being God and human. I believe, that Wisdom, Sophia, is in the same ballpark of Jesus, and that Jesus, even, is an embodiment, a manifestation of Wisdom. Linguistically, Jesus, in the New Testament is referred to as Wisdom as well, the Wisdom of God, the Sophia of God.

And so way back, thousands and thousands of years before we met Jesus in the embodied, fleshy, skin, blood and bones manifestation of a person, we have Sophia, who, like Jesus, sets tables for all to gather around. In the reading today, after she was a partner with God, we have her creating a banquet house, getting on her hands and knees with her workers and placing seven pillars in the ground to give it a good foundation, and then setting a table within it. She slaughtered her animals, and mixed her wine. She works alongside her servant girls and she calls all of those, all of us, who are simple, without sense, to drink the wine of wisdom. Like Jesus, Lady Wisdom might just be both divine and human, and the line separating the two is quite thin, if existent at all.

So we have this very human who gathers community, but we also have this character who transcends the line between human and divine. One book I read says that: in the biblical mentality, there exists a whole range of intermediary figures who are not quite God, but who are definitely not human. Sophia, [the Greek word for Wisdom] is one example of such a figure. But she is not the only one….The question, “Is Sophia God?”  will be posed by the reader in any case, even though the Hebrew tradition itself would not understand such a question. If one asks the question nonetheless, the answer will probably come out something like “yes and no.” [1]

This in-between Sophia character is very comfortable just as she is, with the gifts she has to offer, and that, I think is so stunning of a model. She has a loud mouth, and goes yelling, heeding, from place to place, asking us, bidding us, to come in and eat at her table. Is this proper behavior for a woman of her day? You and I both know that it isn’t so much proper. And yet she doesn’t care, and she knows so deeply she has a gift to share and so she risks it. This is the figure that is a co-creator with God, yet a human with us, who knows how hungry and thirsty we all are, and invites us in to be fed. This is the figure who knows that she has a gift to share and isn’t afraid to tell the whole wide world about it and welcome everyone into the hospitality of that.

Just last month we told the Easter story, of the women who found Jesus’, the Wisdom of God’s, empty tomb. When the women met they encountered a God-human figure who defied all expectations, and asks us to do the same, and then tells everyone that they can do it too. There is a theme around the telling part. There is a theme around the part of knowing that we have a gift to give, that this gift is very fleshy and human, and even just our very bodies, and sharing it.

Sophia isn’t only a co-creator with God, and in her most human form a loud-mouthed figure completely convinced of what she has to offer the world, but she also has with her hands stretched towards the heavens and half with her legs planted on the earth, straddling in between times and places.

Sophia, Wisdom, isn’t only a figure with a flower-child like name, but also is the embodiment of wisdom itself. What is wisdom? It too is hard to put our finger on, but God knows we all need some of it.

It far exceeds intelligence or book smarts, but just as she is Divine and human held in the same hand, wisdom is heart and head in the very same hand, too. Wisdom itself is a large and open table where all might sit. Wisdom is slow cooking. Wisdom is a bouquet of spring flowers. Wisdom is a woman who knows that all of us need shelter, space that can be not only protect us but also be a deep, deep sense of home and belonging, a home that we are called to share with others. Wisdom is not steering clear of healthy conflict, in vulnerable and honest and open ways. Wisdom is the good news that laying aside our immaturity is in the end the way to go, in the end is the way to a fulfilling and long and satisfying life. Wisdom is filling out a pledge form and claiming this community as your own. Wisdom is the spiritual practice, and when I say practice, I mean practice, of learning how not to gossip so much, and loving yourself enough so that you don’t need to feel facebook competitive of others, of knowing what deserves your worry and what is simply wasted energy that won’t solve anything. Essentially wisdom is practicing grace, and forgiveness and compassion—for yourself and the world around us.

Wisdom, is the open table, the belief that we are all, even God, changing and creating, it is knowing that we have a model of God who defies all expectations, even the expectations subscribed to us and that live so deeply in our hearts. Wisdom happens when we pray for and help create and all the while wait for the miracles of new life in the midst of rubble, and then celebrate them when they find us.

You see, Lady Wisdom does actually give us a gift. The gift of her very self. The gift is Wisdom herself, and the gift is also our very selves. We are called to share this gift, not to shove it down people’s throats, or guilt people with it, but simply to share it.

At our Spiritual Practice of Noticing Group, we spend time alone in a common space that we are all share, at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, or the MOMA, this month Inwood Park and next month doing Hurricane Sandy Relief work. Our pattern has been that we are quiet for awhile, leaving our cell phones behind, and either look at plants, or artwork, or whatnot. We come back and then we show each other what we have noticed. I don’t usually spend a half hour or 45 minutes in a single exhibit or room in the Botanical Gardens. I am amazed at the things I personally notice, these moments of creation before me, that I wouldn’t notice if I were up to my usual way of going to these kinds of things—in a more drive by kind of strategy. Instead I notice how my heart is stretched and my head confounded when we went to the Jacob Lawrence exhibit at the MOMA. I notice the protective arches with plants that on the ends of their stems drip like stalactites, that made me feel protected at the Botanical Gardens. And then I am so amazed when my partners in this practice notice so many other things I never would have noticed myself. This, I can’t help from believing, is one way to live into the ways of wisdom, of walking in insight. When we do this together I notice how little I notice, and how much I need others to help me. I also notice that in order to know God, I also need others to point out where God is, to point out where all the little miracles are bursting through the surface. I need others to point out to me where they see creation. This is Wisdom, knowing that we can’t go it alone, that we miss out on so very much when we try by ourselves.

Living in the way of insight, knowing Wisdom, finding the heart and head connection can only come when we practice it, can only come when we try over and over again, and can only come when others accompany us on that journey.


[1] From Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration by Susan Cole, Marian Ronan, Hal Taussig, copyright 1986, Shed and Ward, pg. 28.