Sophia Spirituality, Sophia in Proverbs, Goddess of Wisdom, Sophia Studies

Sophia Spirituality

By Elaine Guillemin

Who is Sophia? Where can I find Her? Who can She be for me?
Who can she be for women and men today?

Living into the text: Women’s experience and the tradition. “Women’s experience is the authentic touchstone to naming our own spirituality. Historically our religious tradition has been interpreted, celebrated, liturgized and ariculated by men. Our God language and images have been primarily masculine. Women are moving beyond the incomplete and distorted tradition to bring our own experience and voice into dialogue with the tradition. We take our experience seriously enough to discover and authenticate its truth. We honour our experience as women, and we struggle to understand how it is revelatory of God. When we enter into dialogue with our faith tradition and our scriptures, we challenge their patriarchal structure and theology.” (Wisdom’s Feast, Cady, Ronan, Taussig.)


SOPHIA: DIVINE FIGURE, POWERFUL SYMBOL, ROLE MODEL.

In the Hebrew Scriptures and in the apocrypha, Sophia, (personified Wisdom) appears in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch and Wisdom. In the apocryphal texts of Sirach, Baruch and Wisdom of Solomon, even more than in the book of Proverbs, the figure of Lady Wisdom appears as more than simply a literary personification of cosmic order, or a divine attribute. She is portrayed in language and themes which echo contemporary Hellenistic hymns to the goddess Isis.

As Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza has stated, ” Wisdom theology is inspired by a positive attempt to speak in the language of its own culture and to integrate elements of the “goddess cult”, especially Isis worship, into Jewish monotheism. As such it uses elements of goddess-language in order to speak of the gracious goodness of Israel’s God. Divine Sophia is Israel’s God in the language and gestalt of the goddess.” (In Memory of Her, 133)

Sophia in the tradition. “In the case of Sophia in the Hebrew scriptures, it must be acknowledged that She was not a symbol for the re-emergence of women within Hellenistic society. She was rather a lively image for the learning tradition itself , in Israel and in Judaism. As well, the society within which Sophia emerged was patriarchal, so that at certain points in the Sophia texts, She is part of an interlocking system of symbols which were used to confirm women’s subordinate place in society. (e.g. Proverbs 9 where Sophia is contrasted with the “evil woman”.)

However, because Sophia appeared at a time when the Jews were confronting their place in a Hellenistic (Greek) world, She can be important for an understanding of contemporary feminist spirituality. Sophia came into being because the wisdom tradition and Hebrew faith itself needed such a mythic figure to represent their response to the Hellenistic world. The people of Israel required some new perspective or orientation to the world into which they had been catapulted. Wisdom literature itself was an attempt to come to terms with a more complex world, and Sophia represented the human attempt not only to make sense of the created order but also to respond to the increasingly complex social world the people of Israel were experiencing. Sophia was the symbol which represented the Hebrew people’s attempt to relate to a new and larger world.”

Sophia as symbol

“Contemporary culture stands in analogous need of such a mythic figure who can express feminist spiritualilty’s response to the problems and possibilities of our day. Sophia bridges the gap between feminist spirituality’s need for transforming images and the demand of the biblical traditions that such images be congruent with their history and experience. Sophia can serve as the image, the “role model” at the heart of feminist spirituality, symbolizing as she does the connectedness between all things. As the female figure within the biblical faiths, Sophia integrates many of the advantages of the goddess into Jewish monotheism and New Testament Christology. Sophia can become a major connection between feminists and traditional churchgoers, between Christian, Jewish, and goddess-centered feminists, between historical and mythological worldviews, between the image of the hero and the imaged of the oppressed in history, art, and literature. ”

Sophia’s power.

“Sophia brings power to women who can incorporate Her symbolism within ourselves and thus experience an affirmation of every aspect of our being. Through Sophia we can claim power as our right, exercise it creatively, share it, and be sustained by it. We can be strong and independent in ways that are not possible within an exclusively male symbol system. Sophia makes her power available in the role models she provides for women. She presents women with a variety of models which we can claim for our own growth. As creator, as respected nurturer, as a strong, angry, assertive, and sometimes prophetic woman, Sophia provides us with an alternative to the traditional behaviours into which many of us have been socialized.” (WISDOM’S FEAST: Sophia in Study and Celebration, S. Cady, M. Ronan, H. Taussing.)

PRAYING WITH/TO SOPHIA:

.. SOPHIA: STRONG AND ASSERTIVE FEMALE.

In Sirach 24, Sophia is a strong, assertive female who is proud of herself. ( Sir 24: 3-4). Personified Wisdom describes herself as God’s first creature who played an intermediate role in the creation of all things. Wisdom speaks from the heavenly realm, telling how she came forth from the mouth of the Most High and dwelt in the highest heavens. “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High and covered the earth like a mist”. The symbolic “mist” refers to wisdom as the spirit of God (ruah elohim) which totally enveloped the earth.

“I dwelt in the highest heavens and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.” The pillar in the desert was the manifestation of God’s presence. Wisdom’s proper abode is therefore with God and she can be identified with God.

24: 5-6 ” Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss. Over waves of sea over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.” Yet, she wanders about seeking a dwelling place on earth. Wisdom finds a place in creation both animate and inanimate.

24:7, 8-9 “Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?” Wisdom’s resting place is a special abode on earth. God bids her dwell in Israel and she takes up her abode in Zion.

24:10-12 , 13-17. v. 12 “I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.” (NRSV) v.12 ” I took root among the people whom the Lord had honored by choosing them to be his special possession.” (NEB)

v.12″ I have struck root among the glorious people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.” (NAB)

v.13-17 “I grew tall like a cedar in Lebanon, and like a cypress on the heights of Hermon,I grew tall like a palm tree in En-gedi, and like rosebushes in Jericho;

Like a fair olive tree in the field, and like a plane tree beside water I grew tall.Like cassia and

camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume, and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance, Like galbanum, onycha, and stacte, and like the odor of incense in the tent.”

Like a terebinth I spread out my branches, And my branches are glorious and graceful. Like the vine I bud forth delights, and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit.”

In these verses, in rich poetic imagery of beautiful Palestinian flora, personified Wisdom describes the privileged position of Israel brought about by her active and special presence. Sirach is addressing the Jews who were enticed by Hellenism. He stresses that true Wisdom is to be found in in a special way in Israel, and in Wisdom identified as Israel’s Torah.

Questions to reflect upon:

What would it be like for women to begin to emulate SOPHIA, finding aspects of themselves that are worthy of praise, and glorying in what they find in one another?

What power would be present in women who were truly proud, who were not hindered by feelings of inadequacy, but calmly asserted themselves as strong, able, and deserving of respect?

Thoughts to ponder:

“What can happen when we become aware of Sophia’s divine power within ourselves?

a.. Our perception of reality is changed. We move from the periphery to the centre. We see ourselves not as subordinate but as full human beings. We know Sophia’s reality within ourselves.

b.. -Our changed perception of ourselves empowers us to find ways to value our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Through Sophia’s presence in our lives, what we think becomes important– what we feel becomes legitimate — what we experience becomes real. We refuse to be silent and invisible. We risk asserting ourselves in the world around us. We challenge the status quo that renders us subordinate.

c.. We affirm our own bodies. We celebrate ourselves as female.”

“The female power that we utilize, that we encounter and release in consciousness-raising, has a divine name. That power within us is Sophia, who “permeates all things” (Wisdom 7). The portrait of Sophia is unfinished- her image is never fully formed. That unfinishedness makes further development possible. We are called to flesh out her image, to work toward completing Sophia in our own lives.

The question we must continually ask is: How does Sophia address US today? What claim does she make on us in our day to day lives?”

SOPHIA: SOURCE OF NEWNESS AND GROWTH: PROVERBS,
BARUCH, WISDOM,

Sophia, with God before the creation of the world, herself the mother of all good things, is the source of newness and growth (Prov.8, Baruch 3, Wisdom 7)

Women can claim their own creative power – their procreative power in all its wonder and mystery, but also the power that is theirs to bring into being new ideas, new projects, new ways of working and being together.

SOPHIA: ANGRY PROPHET: PROVERBS

Sophia is an angry prophet (Proverbs 1,8) .

Following Sophia, women are free to voice their anger and impatience with those who wrong them, and who wrong the rest of creation. Women who claim their anger and direct it at the people/institutions who have sought to keep them invisible and powerless, can open untapped stores of energy and vitality within themselves. Anger redirected brings with it the possibilities of real change in our society and in our lives.

SOPHIA: WARM, NURTURING ONE : PROVERBS

Sophia is the warm, nurturing one. (Proverbs 3)

A tree of life, She provides shelter and nourishment. As a powerful, divine figure who not only creates and orders the world, but also provides comfort, shelter and nourishment, Sophia’s divine status demands respect for the work that women do to enhance life and promote growth.

 

Further Reading:

WISDOM’S FEAST: Sophia in Study and Celebration, S. Cady, M. Ronan, H. Taussing; Wisdom Seeks Her Way: Liberating the Power of Women’s Spirituality, Maria Riley, OP

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