Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lady Wisdom

Scripture for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost includes Proverbs 1:20-33; Wisdom 7:26-8:1 (in lieu of the psalm); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Lady Wisdom greets us today from two places, one the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, the other the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, from the library of books known as the Apocrypha, a collection of writings not included in the Old Testament though they sound as if they could have been. A reading from the Bible and a psalm of praise from the almost-Bible, both speak of God’s wisdom as a lady.

What kind of lady? Not a lady to the manor born. More Sojurner Truth. Or Susan B. Anthony. Or Joan of Arc. Golda Meir. Eleanor Roosevelt. Or, if you prefer more subtle candidates but with long arcs of influence, Emily Dickinson. Marianne Anderson. I’ll stop. (I wonder who you would name?)

For sure, she’s no shrinking violet. She cries out in the street, in the squares she raises her voice; at the busiest corner she cries out, and she is confrontational. She takes no prisoners: if you don’t pay attention to her in good times, she will not run after you in bad times. Ignore her counsel day by day, and when disaster strikes her voice will be lost to you in the storm of panic.

Think of the flashpoints in our world where extremism erupts into violence. Where is Sophia, Lady Wisdom?

Think of our recent political conventions. Did you notice her there?

What fascinates me about this biblical figure is how she pre-figures Jesus Christ in the New Testament. She is a flawless mirror of God’s activity. She transforms all around her. She can accomplish everything, taking ordinary people and making them friends of God and prophets of God. And she is not limited to one culture or one nation: she spans the earth from pole to pole. She re-orders an unruly and wayward creation. She shakes up complacent humanity.

All of these are things that will be said of Jesus Christ, when we step across into the New Testament.

“Who do people say that I am?” he asks his disciples, as he exhibits Lady Wisdom’s clever way to get a bunch of men to fess up what they themselves are thinking. They report what they’ve heard in the streets and villages, answers that show how people are groping for the truth, recognizing the holy but stumbling as they try to name it.

“But who do you say that I am?” he asks, wisely posing a question to knock on the door to their own awakening. Peter’s dart hits the bulls-eye: You are the messiah, the holy one of God.

It has been said, tongue in cheek, that the order Jesus then issued is treasured by many Episcopalians as their favorite commandment: not to tell anyone about him. Evangelism? Ooh, not us!

It was not them either, until he had taught them who he is, what he must undergo, and what will become of him. Peter promptly scolded him for sounding so grim, such a spoil-sport. Which was evidence of a sort that Peter was slowly catching on that Jesus was forecasting not just his own future, but theirs.

And ours, lest we miss the thrust of his teaching and have nothing to say to people regarding him. For this is the one who shows us how to set our minds on divine things as well as human, transforming all around him, making us friends of God, even prophets of God who can look deeply into human experience, name the divine within, and make plain the claim God has upon us.

Which includes our tongues, insists St. James. Very much includes how we speak of God, of one another, and of ourselves.

I love James’s plain way of speaking. He knew the voice of Lady Wisdom. She spoke through him, and her subject is faithful truthful speaking. This is what our world most needs to hear modeled and practiced by politicians that they may lead us without deceiving or dividing us, by religious leaders that they may use their leverage to overcome prejudice and violence, and by all of us ordinary types that we may be open to wisdom, put out fires, bless and not curse, and help one another bear the fruit we are meant to bear.

How will you immerse yourself in wisdom, this fall?

Will you set yourself a goal and a simple pattern to encounter Lady Wisdom and Master Jesus in Bible reading? Try “Forward Day by Day” as a manageable pattern, or a chapter per day of a Gospel?

Is it time to join or re-join or start a small group to help feed your spirit? Talk to me about that. Perhaps a group that starts by reading a spiritual classic and parallels that mind-work with the heart-work of prayer?

The counsel of wisdom is always within reach, closer than breath itself. What are you hearing?