Holy Wisdom – A Talk to the ‘Blackheath Wives Group’
In our reading we find one of the neglected themes of Scripture that has become important to me in recent years. Our first lesson told us about ‘Sophia’, or Holy Wisdom. I will hopefully be building on what Juliet was talking about when she came to your group a few months ago.
1 Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
Our first reading this morning uses some interesting imagery for God. God is Wisdom.
What of course I find most striking about Wisdom, is that the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures uses explicitly female imagery for God. As soon as words ‘female’ and ‘God’ start appearing in the same sentence, some people start to prickle. We think of what we may feel are the excess of ‘political correctness.’ This has nothing to do with political correctness. This is not about being modern, or even post-modern. This is not about new-fangled feminist thought. (Though I have nothing against feminism or post-modernism.) It is about looking at the images of God that we find in the Bible. It is about taking the Bible seriously. It is about taking the vastness of God seriously. Taking seriously God’s ‘un-pin-downability’ – that God is much, much bigger that any one image we can use.
The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus reveal divine Wisdom as feminine. The Hebrew word for Wisdom, ‘hokmah’, is grammatically feminine, and feminine pronouns are used to refer to wisdom.
In Ecclesiastes 24 we read:
Wisdom praises herself,
and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory.
And in Proverbs chapter 1, we read
Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice… Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you… Those who listen to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of evil.
Wisdom is a feminine image of God, just as Logos, God’s Word, is an image for God in the Gospel of John (traditionally read at the end of Carol Services “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”). Later in chapter 4 of Proverbs we are encouraged to
Get Wisdom; get insight. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her and she will guard you… Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honour you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a fair garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.
The Wisdom of Soloman, chapter 10, describes the works of God:
Wisdom freed a holy people and a blameless race
from a nation of oppressors.
She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord
and withstood fearsome rulers with wonders and signs.
To the saints she gave the reward of their labours
and led them by a marvellous road;
She was their shelter by day
and a blaze of stars by night
She brought them across the Red Sea
and led them through mighty waters.
She swallowed their enemies in the waves
and spat them out from the depths of the sea.
Then, Lord, the righteous sang the glories of your name
and praised together your protecting hand;
For Wisdom opened the mouths of the silent
and gave speech to the tongues of her children.
Other female images for God in the Hebrew Scriptures include Mother (Hosea 11.3; Isaiah 66.13), and Mother Eagle (Deuteronomy 32.11-12; Psalm 57.1). God is like a woman in travail (Isaiah 42.14), God is frequently ascribed a womb (Job 38.30; Isaiah 46.4 and 49.15) and God gives birth to her people (Deuteronomy 32.18; Numbers 11.12). God is both the master and mistress of the house (Psalm 123.2). God is a midwife (Psalm 22.9-10).
In Genesis 1.27 God is described creating humankind with the words ‘in the image of God he created them, male and female, he created them.’ The image of God is as much in women as in men. Women and men reflect God’s image equally.
Also the Sprit of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we, in Christian New Testament terms describe as the Holy Spirit, is the Hebrew word ‘Ruach’, which is feminine in form.
One of the Hebrew words for God, ‘Elohim’ is thought to be the combination of the female ‘Eloah’ and the male ‘El’. Another phrase, ‘El Shaddai’, usually translated ‘God Almighty’, could also be translated ‘the Breasted God’, the God who feeds her people from her breasts.
People often feel threatened by female descriptions of God. We feel that it could take away from our liturgical life. Disrupt our long-cherished pattern of prayer. Many of us are still smarting from losing some of our favourite prayers in the new liturgies, must the same now happen to our vision of God? And, after all, we may object, Jesus did teach us to pray ‘Our Father in Heaven…’
To consider, and embrace into our spirituality, Holy Wisdom, and other Hebrew Scripture images for God, will take nothing from our walk with God. It would, of course, be utter nonsense to try and stop using masculine images for God. But, if we take Scripture seriously, we must see that God has revealed his and herself, in many many more ways than just Father. Our vision of God can be enlarged. The only thing we have to lose is the limits we have set on God.
God is our Father, our Lord, our King, our Brother, our Friend, our Lover. God is a Rock, a Shield, a Fortress, a Strong Tower, a River. God is Saviour, Redeemer, Deliverer. God is a Consuming Fire, God is Power, Strength. God is our Mother, the one who labours, and brings her people to Birth. God is Wisdom.
These are just a few of the Biblical images of God. The Bible and the tradition of the Church has produced many more. St. Anselm, Julian of Norwich, and too many contemporary writers to list have used feminine imagery for God. As we journey deeper into God on our Christian journey, let us not limit God by limiting the metaphors and images we use. Let us drink deeply at the well of our tradition, and of Scripture. And let us grow in God, as we explore all of the images we find there.