Joyce Rupp | REVIEW: Prayers to Sophia
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REVIEW: Prayers to Sophia

“A Nurturing God”

Prayers to Sophia
Reviewed by Sally Cunneen

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It came about, she tells us, through reading the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (in particular Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom). There she discovered that Wisdom (Sophia in Greek), was portrayed as a female figure, “a breath of the Divine…given to humankind to connect them with the divine.” She recognized that she had long been familiar with her presence and “Wisdom took on the shape of a trusted companion, yearning for my good, believing in me, blessing me with surprising elements of growth.”

Receiving this ancient figure into her heart, Rupp gains inner wisdom as she learns to quiet down and reflect on her experience. Illuminated by this feminine personification of the immanent divine, she discovers meaning in her simplest observations and daily encounters. First she has to realize more clearly one of Sophia’s constant concerns, our kinship with nature. Tracks she made in the snow on a winter walk that were completely obliterated on her return lead to the following insight:

I saw how fleeting life is and how much I do treasure the gift of it, the words of Psalm 90 came to me: “Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.”

The fruits of such reflections are helpful for her human growth, now increasingly integrated with her spiritual development. After all, the Sophia of the Wisdom Books represents the presence and action of God in the World-close to the earth and nature, marked by relationship rather than rule. Rupp joyfully accepts this female image of God and narrates her own story for the benefit of others, particularly Catholic women she meets in her wide-ranging educational and retreat encounters whose needs she knows so well.

Rupp chooses her images carefully, selecting simple visual metaphors to indicate the hidden processes of spiritual growth. She wisely includes some of its necessary negative aspects: A tree whose leaves fall one after another suggests the illusions we must all shed if we are to grow up. She touches lightly but clearly on her own hurts and disenchantments. Sophia assures her that the pain of wrestling with deep-seated anger, jealousy, and an unrealistic self-image is worth the cost, and she slowly learns to be grateful to her critics for leading “me to see parts of myself that I can so easily tend to hide.”

At first I was not comfortable reading these prayers to Sophia, though I often think of the divine as feminine. It is difficult to shift the imaginative furniture of imagination. Move over Holy Spirit, I thought; you too, Guardian Angel, and maybe even you, Mary, who have so often stood in for the divine feminine. But Rupp’s non-argumentative presentation is winning, and soon I could respond to her “Holy Midwife”, her “source of nurturance.” A useful stretching exercise for me, it may provide a longed-for image for many others which will make conversation with God easier.

The words of Rupp’s prayers are not pretentious, but sturdy and colloquial. The images are simple: A gate, a mantle, the seashore, and they relate to the ordinary feelings and situations so many of us share and might never think to introduce into a talk with God the Father. For example, addressing Sophia as “Companion of Life, Guardian of Death,” she confesses that “more and more I resemble an old gnarled tree, wrinkled bark, gray boughs, thinning leaves.” She asks Sophia to teach her to “befriend the wrinkles and accept the grayness.”