Mothers’ Day is as good a time as any to bring to the forefront what may be the strongest female voice in the Bible. Today’s message will be mostly hearing and experiencing this voice.
It’s the voice of Holy Wisdom itself – Holy Wisdom herself, I should say. This is from the book of Proverbs, the book of ancient wisdom and virtue in the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Proverbs Holy Wisdom shows up as a kind of divine character or personification, and she speaks with this astonishing, vivid, powerful female voice. So, let’s hear some of what she has to say. But first, just for a moment before we hear this voice, let me invite us to pause and reflect about how we in our lives could use some wisdom. Where do we need to hear the voice of wisdom? For each of us, for our families, for our church, our wider community, our country, our world: What do we need to ask for wisdom about? What are the ways that we would really benefit from hearing the voice of holy wisdom right now?
Okay, so, let’s hear the voice of Holy Wisdom
“Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling? Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice? She’s taken her stand at First and Main, at the busiest intersection. Right in the city square where the traffic is thickest, she shouts, “You—I’m talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets! Listen, you idiots—learn good sense! You blockheads—shape up! Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well, I’m telling you how to live at your best. My mouth chews and savors and relishes truth – I can’t stand the taste of evil! You’ll only hear true and right words from my mouth; not one syllable will be twisted or skewed. You’ll recognize this as true—you with open minds; truth-ready minds will see it at once. Prefer my life-disciplines over chasing after money, and God-knowledge over a lucrative career. For Wisdom is better than all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. (Proverbs 8: 1-11 The Message)
Was that what you were expecting? The voice of Holy Wisdom isn’t just nice and modest and moderate. She’s in charge. And she’s going to tell you how it is. This makes a lot of sense, I think, because living by Holy Wisdom isn’t just a nice thing to consider doing if it’s convenient. It’s really a matter of life and death. And it’s a matter of soul survival. This is about practical wisdom as well as spiritual and moral wisdom. And when we think about practical wisdom – this is about doing things smart and well, while looking at the big picture as best we can. This is about living well, but it also sometimes can be a matter of survival. Because if we are fools who run afoul of Mother Nature, we tend to get schooled, sometimes in a fatal way. The examples are easy to come by. We could talk about climate change due to our greenhouse gas emissions. Or even just: At the Grand Canyon there’s been an uptick in tourists plummeting to their deaths because of people going to the rim and trying taking a selfie. Talk about “Pride goes before the fall.” (And you know where that’s from, right? “Pride goes before the fall”? The Book of Proverbs. That’s what we’re talking about here.) The wisdom we’re talking about here isn’t just nice sentiments, it’s about survival. So it makes sense for the voice of Holy Wisdom herself to say things like, “Listen, you idiots, learn good sense.” On the positive side of that, when we’re talking about practical wisdom, is that if we do live wisely, if we do live with a savvy harmony with Mother Nature, we tend to flourish and to flourish with others. The wisdom we’re talking about here is not only practical but also moral and spiritual wisdom. This kind of wisdom is also not just nice things to think about but matters of life and death and soul survival. When we run afoul of the sacred laws of right relationship with each other and with ourselves and with God, our souls tend to suffocate, and conflicts tend to escalate, and societies tend to implode, or explode. But, on the positive side, if we live in harmony with our souls and with each other’s souls and with the Holy Source of All Souls, there can be fulfillment, satisfaction, justice, peace. Now, it’s wise also to not misunderstand and over-simplify things here: bad things happen to good people all the time. But wise living bares the sweetest fruit given whatever circumstance outside our control.
So, let’s keep listening to Madame Holy Wisdom:
“I, Wisdom, live together with caution; I attain knowledge and discretion. Awe for Adonai means rejecting evil. I hate pride and arrogance, evil ways and duplicitous speech. Good advice is mine, and common sense. I am insight, power is mine. By me kings reign, and princes make just laws. By me princes govern, nobles too, and all the earth’s rulers. I love those who love me; and those who seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, lasting wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, fine gold, my produce better than the finest silver. I follow the course of righteousness along the paths of justice, to endow with wealth those who love me and fill their treasuries. (Proverbs 8:12-21, Complete Jewish Bible)
Now, in the next passage we’re going to here, we learn more about who this Holy Wisdom is, and how she relates to God. Prepare to get hit with a really epic scope here. (One note: “Adonai” is a Hebrew term for God, which means, “The Creator and Sovereign of the Universe”. It’s often used to avoid directly trying to pronounce the unpronounceable name of God which was revealed to Moses, YHWH. Christians often trample right over it and say Yahweh or Jehovah. But Jews are much more respectful about the Holy Mystery of what we call the “G” word. And while I’m on the Hebrew language, I’ll just share with you that the Hebrew term for Holy Wisdom here is “Hokmah”)
“ADONAI made me as the beginning of God’s way, the first of God’s ancient works. I was appointed before the world, before the start, before the earth’s beginnings. When I was brought forth, there were no ocean depths, no springs brimming with water. I was brought forth before the hills, before the mountains had settled in place; God had not yet made the earth, the fields, or even the earth’s first grains of dust. When God established the heavens, I was there. When God drew the horizon’s circle on the deep, and set the skies above in place, when the fountains of the deep poured forth, when God prescribed boundaries for the sea, so that its water would not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was with God as someone God could trust. For me, every day was pure delight, as I played in the presence of the Holy One, playing everywhere at all times on God’s earth, and delighting to be with humankind.” (Proverbs 8:22-31, Complete Jewish Bible)
Hokmah, Holy Wisdom, is born as the first act of Creation. It is with Wisdom that the Creator is able to create anything at all. Hokmah is God’s trusted fellow-worker in creation. Wisdom helps everything have the right boundaries and balance for the universe to work. Some people think about this as like the laws or principles of Physics. And you know physicists have found that the fundamental forces that are active in the subatomic and atomic worlds weren’t set at the moment of the big bang, but just a fraction of a second after – and they could have ended up slightly different than they are, which wouldn’t have worked out and the whole thing would have collapsed from the start. Looking at what we know through physics, we know that anything exists at all because of very finely tuned balances between forces. And we can see similar principles in how life works. Within organisms and between organisms, in ecosystems, we are able to exist at all because of proper boundaries and balances between things. Countless, countless forces that are fine tuned. There is wisdom knit into the very fabric of God’s Creation. This goes for our moral lives, and our spiritual lives. We need the proper boundaries and balance within ourselves, between ourselves, and with God. So this voice of Holy Wisdom is truly epic. She is the first band of radiance shining out from the Holy One. And I’m just so happy to share with you that when Holy Wisdom is personified in the Old Testament in this truly epic way, she speaks with a voice that doesn’t sound like Charleton Heston, but like Jessica Cerullo and Annie Charnley Eveland. And it’s also just so wonderful to hear the astonishing range of this voice. From power and might, to delight and creative play. For me, every day was pure delight, as I played in the presence of the Holy One, playing everywhere at all times on God’s earth, and delighting to be with humankind.
May Holy Wisdom have the last word:
“So, my dear friends, listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed. Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day’s work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of GOD’s good pleasure. But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul; when you reject me, you’re flirting with death.” (Proverbs: 8:32-36 The Message)
This is Holy Wisdom and Holy Word. Thanks be to God!
(Delivered Sunday May 12, 2019, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla. Gratitude to the strong voices of Jessica Cerullo and Annie Charnley Eveland.)