Wisdom and Folly
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Jesus told them to keep awake.
At age 26, author, journalist, and long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad gained national attention when she swam 28 miles around the island of Manhattan. Four years later, she nearly quadrupled that effort by swimming 102 miles across open ocean from the Bahamas to Florida. In 2013, on her fifth attempt and at age 64, she became the first person confirmed to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.
These accomplishments required grit, skill, and bravery. Nyad has exhibited all these strengths in another way too, by detailing her life-long confusion and shame beginning at age 14, when she began to be sexually assaulted by a trusted swim coach.
“My particular case mirrors countless others, ”Nyad writes. “I was 14. A naive 14, in 1964. I don’t think I could have given you a definition of intercourse.” She explains in vivid, heartbreaking detail the times her coach violated her trust and her body, robbing her, forever, of her childhood. For years, she kept the secret. Finally talking has been the profoundly healing medicine for her and for us.
We seem to have awakened to the widespread sin of sexual harassment and sexual abuse this fall. So many stories have surfaced under the #MeToo. Four in 10 working women report experiencing sexual harassment within any two-year period at work (Scientific American Blog, “Do Sexual Harassment Prevention Trainings Really Work?” 11/10/17). One-in-six American women have been the victim of rape; people who are transgender are sexually assaulted at a much higher rate than females who are not trans. (See “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics,” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)
What causes this behavior and what can be done about it? As the nation brings its attention to finally listen and respond to the victims we in the church are also challenged to awaken to our role in perpetuating this problem. The Bible contains many names and metaphors for God, yet Christians historically have claimed to know and proclaim God as a single gender.
We heard God proclaimed differently this morning in our first reading. “Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her” (Wisdom 6:12). Here God goes by the name, Sophia (Greek for wisdom). She is “the fashioner” and “mother” of all good things and:
. . . a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all. (Wisdom 7:22-23)
These are, of course, female attributes of God. How does it change our relationship with God and each other when God is viewed through a feminine lens? When we over-emphasize masculine traits of the divine, many women, transgender, and intersex persons feel less-than, that their voices and bodies don’t matter as much as men’s, that God’s image is not in them. Male images of God are often associated with power, authority, and judgment. When used exclusively, they most often create an image of a punitive God.
“Female images of God suggest something different. God is the one who gave birth to us and all that is. God wills our well-being, as a mother wills the well-being of the children of her womb. God is attached to us with a love that is tender and that will not let us go. And like a mother who sees the children of her womb threatened and oppressed, God can become fierce.” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, 11/8/17)
According to theologian Marcus Borg, “When John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus, he could just as well have said that Sophia became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus. Jesus is the Wisdom/Sophia of God incarnate.”
In an age when we are bombarded with information we desperately need more wisdom not simply more knowledge. In just the past ten years, there is a resurgence in wisdom research. The scientific method, society’s most useful tool, is finally being used in pursuit of society’s most hard-won prize. At the University of Chicago’s Center for Practical Wisdom, multi-disciplinary teams of psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists ask themselves what is the way to the good life? How can we teach our children to integrate emotion and intelligence; be open to a broad range of perspectives; navigate uncertainty; learn to take their time, be more empathetic, and consider the common good?
Sophia is smiling. There is a re-awakening to the spirit of Sophia today. Is it amazing in our eyes? Today’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) invites us to go even further down this path.
In Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, he told a parable about five foolish bridesmaids and five who were wise. At first glance, they look the same. All ten came to the wedding; all ten have their lamps aglow with expectation; all of them, presumably, have on their bridesmaid gowns. Jesus prompts us to stop and reflect, how do we choose between what is foolish and what is wise when the oil in our lamps is running low?
Did not all ten bridesmaids prove themselves to be foolish—five because they would not share the extra oil they brought, and five because they thought the groom would not accept them if their lamp was empty? Jesus dire warning to the disciples and to us is to stay awake – to be ready for what is at hand, to be engaged with his presence, as the presence of the kingdom of heaven. Yet, very soon, the disciples too will fall asleep in the garden of Gethsemane.
What they are trying to quantify at the University of Chicago, Sophia has taught us from of old. We all stand in need of grace. We who are foolish become wise as God in Christ Jesus dwells in us. This is how we gain admittance to the wedding feast and join the party. We who are male and female and transgender, find unity despite our diversity in becoming one with our creator who goes by many names but whose one unchanging attribute is defined by love. You are beyond the metaphor of male and female; you are a child of the Resurrection, a creature of Eternal Life. As Paul courageously puts it, “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is the beginning of wisdom for us, for our children, and our society. It is for the healing of victims of violence everywhere. It is the spirit of awakening to which we are now called. The spirit of Christ/Sophia awaits us.
The Five Virgins – a poem by Thomas Merton
There were five howling (or scatter-brained) virgins
To the Wedding of the Lamb
With their disabled motorcycles
And their oil tanks
But since they knew how
A person says to them
To stay anyhow.
And there you have it,
There were five noisy virgins
But looking good
In the traffic of the dance. (but well-involved in the action of the dance)
There were ten virgins
At the Wedding of the Lamb.