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Desperately seeking SOPHIA
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    I knew that God was neither male nor female, yet I also know God to be consistently described as male and referred to as "he" in Christian images and metaphors. Feminine pronouns and figures have rarely been used in speaking of God, even though, as I discovered, there are numerous references in the wisdom literature to Divine Wisdom a "she" and plenty of feminine qualities to describe "her."

     Many people think of wisdom as an "it" rather than as a "she." Actually, both of these approaches are accurate, because there are two types of wisdom in the Bible.

     Some passages speak of wisdom as a quality or truth to guide our lives. Here wisdom is presented as a "thing" - such as wise saying, proverbs, and moral exhortations. There are many other passages, however, that refer to wisdom as a person. It is here that the feminine pronoun is always used and is consistently reflective of the divine presence. This wisdom is Holy Wisdom: Hogia Sophia.

Prayer to Sophia

Wise and Faithful Guide,
you lovingly abide in my depths
and graciously guide my every step.
You lead me to ever stronger growth
and draw me more fully toward inner freedom.
I thank you today for the awesome ways
in which you constantly enter my life
as I pledge my life to you again.

This day I renew my life's purpose
of being faithful to our relationship.
I give you my openness
trusting that you will lead me on paths
that are meant to help me grow.
I re-commit my intention
to listen to you in all of life.

I promise you my daily discipleship
so that I may be an instrument of your love.
Most of all, I give you the loyalty of my heart.
May I do all in the circle of your wisdom
and learn from your dance of compassion
in every corner of this universe.

Source of Inner Luminosity,
thank you for being a loving radiance.
May the lantern of your perpetual goodness
always shine in me and through me.

                        -- Joyce Rupp

 
    Historically, the authors of the wisdom literature began this feminine reference to Sophia between 33 B.C. and 4-5 A.D.
There are four other figures who are mentioned more than Sophia in Jewish scriptures (the Old testament): Yahweh, Moses, David, and Job. Given this fact, it is quite incredible that so few know much about her. However, I do understand why she has not been recognized because I, too, had a difficult time discovering her.

     When I finished a draft of my book manuscript, I asked a friend who taught religious studies at a local university to read it. When she returned, she asked, "Well, is Sophia divine or not?"   

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 Icon closeup of Sophia

     I blanched because, after almost two years of prayer and study of the biblical passages, I still did not know if the references were simply personified metaphors for divinity or if Sophia was truly another word for the radiant presence of the Holy One.

     I was scared to respond: "Yes, I think she is more than metaphor; she is an expression of the presence of God." I still wasn't sure and I didn't want to lead anyone astray. It took me another year to be convinced that both "Sophia" and "God" were names for divinity.

     One of the marvelous descriptions of Sophia that convinced me I was not off on some heretical tangent was what Thomas Merton wrote about her in Emblems of a Season of Fury. "The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia ... Sophia is Gift, is Spirit, Donum Dei. She is God-given and God Himself as Gift ... sophia in all things is the Divine Life reflected in them."

     Another confirmation was seeing how the Book of Wisdom describes Sophia guiding the Exodus people through the wilderness: "She led them by a marvelous road. She herself was their shelter by day and their starlight throughout the night" (Wis. 10:17). This passage was clearly another way of speaking about the faithful God who "went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day ... and a pillar of fire by night" (Exodus 13:21). I was finally convinced that Sophia was truly another way of naming the divine.

How the treasure got lost

Sophia was not always lost. There are at least three major reasons why this treasure has been missing from our spiritual heritage.

    The early church knew Sophia well and prayed to her. But many Greek and Egyptian goddess cults still existed at this time, and there was concern among Christians that worship of Sophia would be associated with these cults. Some of the qualities ascribed to the goddesses were similar to Sophia's attributes --  particularly those of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, who was renowned for her wisdom and guidance. Fear of the goddesses was one reason why the early Roman church gradually disconnected from Sophia.

    At the same time Gnosticism gained popularity, an early Christian movement whose followers had special devotion to Sophia, crediting her with the creation of the universe. The Gnostics had an immense longing for the interior life and for the hidden things of God.

     Eventually they were charged with heresy, not because of their love for Sophia, but because they rejected the material world. In their passion for the interior life, the Gnostics valued only the spiritual and intellectual realms. They taught that Jesus was never incarnated, that salvation was to be attained only through knowledge of the inner self.

    This left the early church in a bind: they believed in Sophia , yet rejected Gnosticism. As the church distanced itself from the Gnostics, it also turned away from devotion to Sophia for fear of appearing to approve Gnostic beliefs.

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"Desperately Seeking Sophia"     Page 1    Page 2     Page 3    Page 4 

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