From the Book of Proverbs:
Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away
from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a fair garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Proverbs 4:5-9 (NRSV) – February 24, 2014.)
My favorite thing in the Book of Proverbs is the personification of Lady Wisdom. Perhaps because of the further development of her portrait in Chapter 8, where she is said to have been with God in the moments of creation, “daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (vv. 30-31), I see her as young, slender, and athletic, her rejoicing being manifest as dance.
Many scholars have pointed out that in pre-Christian Judaism, wisdom (sophia) and word (logos) were nearly synonymous alternative descriptions of the creative and immanent power of God. Some have suggested that the Prologue to John’s Gospel could have been written: “In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God.” However, John — as either proponent or victim of patriarchy (or both) — chose to use word rather than wisdom because of this personification of Lady Wisdom. Perhaps John felt it would have been awkward to speak of a female figure “being made flesh” in Jesus, a male.
Several years ago, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City created quite a stir by exhibiting a crucifix displaying a nude female body as the Christ figure — Christa by Edwina Sandys. Parks Morton, the dean of the cathedral, said at the time, “Christa simply reminded viewers that women as well as men are called upon to share the suffering of Christ.” I think, however, that the sculpture did more than that. It challenged preconceptions and established theologies; it made graphically visible the inherent sexism in the notion that the Second Person of the Trinity is “eternally masculine” as some Orthodox theologians argue.
I’ve often wondered how the Christian faith might have developed if John had embraced that awkwardness and used the term wisdom, instead. He did not, but we still can. We can still “get wisdom; get insight,” and she will lead us “in the paths of uprightness.” (Prov. 4:11) Along those paths we still have much to see, much to learn.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.