May 14 2023 “Pitching our tent as Wisdom’s feet”
We have been reading from the book of Sirach for the past few weeks using the Woman’s lectionary. Sirach spoke to the Jewish people during a very dark five centuries offering practical counsel on how to live a virtuous life in the absence of prophetic guidance, seeking understanding, living with integrity, cultivating humility and self-discipline.
The prophetic voices had ended with Malachi around the 5th Century BCE, and there were none recorded until John the Baptist.
The Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539 and Cyrus allowed the Jewish Captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jewish leaders Ezra and Nehemiah attempted for decades to rebuild the temple and restore Jewish practices. They faced great conflict internally and from neighboring peoples.
Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic rule in the 4th century BCE brought Israel under Greek influence, conflicting with traditional Jewish practices.
In the 2nd Century BCE the Maccabean Revolt against Anticochus who attempted to suppress Jewish religious observances. The revolt was successful, and the temple was rededicated in the festival of Hanukkah. Once again, the Jewish people attempted self-rule.
Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, was written by Jewish scribe in Jerusalem around 180 BCE.
In 63 BCE Roman General Pompey intervened in yet another Jewish Civil war and established Roman authority over Judea. The Roman then Byzantine Empire did not end until 1453 CE.
Sirach, and other related books collected by the scribes during these 500 chaotic years were Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon. They provided moral guidance and spiritual wisdom to the Jewish people during a time when the voice of God had gone silent.
As we heard in today’s reading, Sirach through Wisdom’s female voice encourages us to seek guidance living an authentic life emphasizing the importance of observing the natural world, listening to the wisdom of elders, and cultivating a deep reverence with God.
Sirach provides us a complex understanding of divine wisdom through a female figure. The feminine image of God as Wisdom invites us to consider the ways the divine is present in our lives and in the natural world around us. Wisdom offers guidance and instruction described as more valuable than any material possession and as a primal source of knowledge and understanding.
In Chapter 24 of Sirach, Wisdom she, speaks in the first person and identifies herself as a divine creation, existing before the beginning of time. describing herself as a companion to God prior to the creation of the world intimately involved in the workings of the universe. This female voice is significant in the context of the scripture presenting wisdom as a divine blessing accessible by human beings through study, reflection, and meditation.
Wisdom and Sophia are embodiments of the Creator. They are described as feminine present from before creation who provide guidance and instruction to those who seek spiritual enlightenment.
Wisdom and Sophia represent the divine feminine, Wisdom stories are primarily found in Jewish and Christian traditions and is cited in Sirach, Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon.
Sophia, is a revealed in Gnostic Christianity and Jewish mysticism, where she is often depicted as a goddess.
Sophia is a more rebellious figure than Wisdom, who usually is portrayed as obedient to God’s will.
Wisdom is described as an attribute of God, Sophia is understood as a separate divine being, both are understood as distinct from and united with God. Both have strong prophetic voices:
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, from Proverbs, and Psalm 110. Fear can be understood as prompting us to question, seek answers, and dig deeper for understanding of the divine.
Proverbs of Ashes, Violence, Redemptive Suffering and the Search for What Saves us, by Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Parker.) Wisdom of Solomon:
“You ignorant people, how much longer will you cling to your ignorance?…. Pay attention to my warning.…Listen, I have some serious things to tell you and from my lips come honest words.…Accept my discipline rather than silver, knowledge in preference to gold. For wisdom is more precious than pearls, and nothing else is so worthy of desire.”
Sophia is not a name many people, other than biblical scholars, recognize, and that’s O.K. They sense her presence even if they don’t know what to call her. She’s the Divine Feminine who has been a part of our world from its very beginning. She’s bigger and more inclusive than any of the names people have called her over time. We might recognize Sophia as The Great Mother, the Provider, an archetype or great field of fertile energy. Gaia Earth. Our Matrix.
Speestra, Karen. Sophia – The Feminine Face of God . Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
Wisdom and Sophia are presented as a companions with the creator, we are invited to consider our own relationships with creation and the multiple ways the natural world offers us a window into the divine.
These female voices also invite us to reconsider our historical attitudes towards gender and power.
In the Wild Church tradition, we are learning to recognize the interconnectedness of all life cultivating a relationship with the divine that is grounded in our connections to the natural world. Honoring the sacredness of all life rejecting historical patriarchal assumptions, we seek to cultivate a more equitable just society that honors the voices and perspectives of all people and each aspect of the divine creation: twigs, stones, fish, fowl, stones, and primal elements.
Elizabeth Johnson, Catholic Womanist Theologian writes:
“The ecological crisis of our time is a call to undertake a journey of profound transformation, to reorient our lives toward the well-being of all creatures and the earth itself. We must learn to see the world as sacred, to recognize the divine presence in all things, and to cultivate a deep sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world.”
we must begin by reclaiming a more expansive and inclusive vision of God, one that recognizes the divine presence in all of creation and calls us to work for the flourishing of all creatures.”
(From “Ecofeminism and the Sacred: Engaging the World Religions,” in Ecotheology: Voices from South and North)
For Johnson, this wisdom voice is focused on social justice and ecological responsibility; she calls us to reorient our lives towards just and sustainable futures for all of creation. Her writings are characterized by a strong commitment to transformative change and a belief in the power of collective action.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal Priest, Theologian, and Professor the wisdom voice is often focused on issues of spirituality and the search for meaning and purpose in everyday life. Her writings, Learning to Walk in the Dark or An Altar in the World, offer us practical guidance to deepen our spiritual lives and connect more intimately with the natural world. She emphasizes the importance of being present in and with the world, fully engaged, and finding God in unexpected places and experiences.
Taylor points out that darkness was often the setting for humanity’s closest encounters with the divine. God appeared to Abraham in the night and promised him descendants more numerous than the stars. The exodus from Egypt happened at night. God met Moses in the darkness atop Mount Sinai to hand down the Ten Commandments. Paul’s conversion happened after he lost his sight. Jesus was born beneath a star and resurrected in the darkness of a cave.
“If we turn away from darkness on principle,” she asks, “doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance we are running away from God?”
“I am too religious for the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, and I get called new age, pantheist, witchy by the religious crowd,” she says. “Christian tradition is where I have gotten the teaching that has allowed me both to claim Christian tradition and to move out from it.”
Today’s Gospel might appear to be out of place in this season of Easter…. we are reminded of the Crucifixion in graphic apocalyptic language: an earthquake, resurrected dead walking around the city, and the tearing of the curtain in the temple. We know from history that there was a major earthquake near the time of the crucifixion, and there are historical references to the tearing of the curtain. You might leave the zombie apocalypse to your imagination.
It does not take much imagination in our own dark times as we read or watch the news.
Mass shootings beyond our comprehension, a pandemic of gun violence,
a civil war between the right and left, red and blue states,
Intentional personal and legal terrorism on BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and Immigrant nonwhite peoples.
National leaders bowing at the throne of white nationalism.
The image of the tearing of the temple curtain in the Gospel suggests embracing a deeper personal relationship with the divine.
The curtain known as the parochet separated the ARC from the rest of the temple. The Torah Scrolls were housed in a cabinet, called the ARC, think of Arc of the Covenant, and hidden behind the parochet from all except for the rabbinical leaders.
The Arc and scrolls represent the tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Jewish midrash suggests the parochet separates rational space from the irrational, or suprarational, reason from trust.
The tearing of the curtain in the temple symbolizes breaking down of human built barriers between us and the Holy, opening a renewed suprarational relationship of trust, between humanity and God.
Sirach reminds us that the natural world provides a refreshed experiential window into the divine. We are invited to embrace a more holistic interconnected vision of the world, to recognize the many ways in which God is at work in the world around us.
Wild Church emphasizes connecting with nature as a path deepening our spiritual practice and experiencing a closer trusting relationship with the divine. Wild Church encourages us to move out of our buildings and traditions to spend time developing a deeper connectivity in and with all of creation.
Feminine wisdom provides us a kaleidoscopic lens, new and amazing perspectives of the interconnectedness of divine creation and invites us to cultivate a deeper connection and interdependence with all of creation.
We can choose to cultivate a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives and participate as co-creators of a more love centered, just and equitable world, by honoring the sacredness of all creation and embracing a more equitable just vision world. Now is the acceptable time for salvation.
Let us together sit at the feet of Wisdom, let us be courageous walking in the darkness of these times, and let us together practice resurrection.