“Wisdom! cries the dawn deacon”: listening in a different key
10/21/2016 § Leave a comment
Once again, I am delaying Part 2 of “Teaching our children about climate change” because something has arisen with some urgency in my mind. The next Climate Change post will be coming tomorrow! I think, however, that this post is closely akin to the climate theme, so I merely explain, not apologize!
I have long meditated on the following passage from Isaac Penington, in which he talks about why Friends refer to the liberating Spirit of Christ as “light”:
we call him light, because the Father of lights hath peculiarly chosen this name for him, to make him known to his people in this age by, and hath thus made him manifest to us. And by thus receiving him under this name, we come to know his other names. He is the life, the righteousness, the power, the wisdom, the peace, &c., but he is all these in the light, and in the light we learn and receive them all; and they are none of them to be known in spirit, but in and by the light. Pennington Works 1: 124
Reflecting on this passage, I have been led to raise the following question:
The experience of Light is central to our spirit language, and we know that the life that is in Christ is the light of the world.But is there another manifestation of that life for our time, which is being offered to us, in the needs and troubles of our times, for insight, for comfort, for challenge, for nourishment? Not to replace “light” but something that might be particularly important and tuned to our condition now?
This is not a matter of just finding an additional ‘metaphor’ for talking about or thinking about the divine life at work. It is, rather, enriching what we listen for, where and how we listen for it, as we seek to know and (in our measure) incarnate the life of God.
What kind of thing am I looking for? Well: “Light” is something that we have a visceral, personal, sensual experience of, and connects effortlessly and naturally with experiences like heat, fire, vision, color, clarity, and so on. Drawing power from this experiential root, “light” is also expressive of many kinds of spiritual and emotional conditions. Finally, quite aside from other cultural and historical associations, “light” is associated with the Divine Life, and with the person and work of Christ, throughout Scripture. Friends first called themselves the “Children of the Light.” What else has comparable resonances?
In pondering this, I have been led to meditate on Sophia, the Wisdom of God.
Learning from Sophia
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.
32 And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
34 Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
35 For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD;
36 but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.
Sophia. permeating the whole of creation, the delight of God, the comforter and companion of humanity, sounds a lot like Logos, the sense at the heart of the world. Indeed, it feels even more closely aligned with Christ as I have come to understand him, from the gospels, from Paul (that indispensable, irritating, mystical brother), from my own measure of experience, from you — from everything! It connects directly with the visceral, primeval experience of joy, such as children and aging children can feel in nature (and in some art): God’s creation still abounding, still at work in and through everything, delighting in us and in all. Thus it is a way to relate God’s many channels of revelation — nature (Creation), science, tradition, Scripture, personal experience— each enriching and hallowing the others.
Sophia has been often been used as a way to speak about the feminine “principle” in God, and that is an important viewpoint, because it allows many personal, human resonances. In addition, however, one can also feel Sophia/Wisdom in un-personated terms, as God’s active, energetic, creative, loving, yearning presence in His creation (including us) — God’s eros.
What are some of the lessons of Sophia that seem important for our present time?
• God loves diversity, This the astonishing, delightful, overwhelming message of life and the universe. God’s unity, embodied in Sophia, pervades and is expressed in this diversity. We love diversity, texture, novelty– this is the ground inside our love of the new and different.
• God loves growth and transformation;
• God sets us among the creatures, the earth, the seas, and the heavens, and it is in that system that our growth and transformation happens, including our spiritual growth. If we were not in this body, in this system, we could not grow towards the Light, nurtured and accompanied by (as Friends used to say) “adorable wisdom”;
• God loves the little things: Among all the great and astounding and heart-piercing things in this world, there are also as many or more small, simple, transitory creatures, objects, and events, and just as God is present in fullness no matter how small may seem his manifestation to us, so also the loving, appreciative wisdom of God is found in the mean and low as well as the high and impressive — and most of the essential processes of life are rooted in the little, the humdrum, the quickly ending things.
• God’s delight is in service and creation, and so Sophia is to be found at work there. This is the power of the Gardener of Eden, not the Commander of Hosts; Wisdom and Christ both teach us that this is where God’s heart resides.
• Transformation may require a loss, a dissolution of beloved forms, and the experience of crucifixion is part of the experience of transfiguration.
• Sophia teaches us about the play of creation.
The more I meditate on these things, the more challenging, scary, and exhilarating they seem. I exult at the realization that this is really the same message that the prophets taught, that the Light has taught, that the apostles of truth-force, and the eightfold path, have taught. I can see how the wisdom of God is indeed folly to the world, though it is the substance of the world as we know it — but not as humans want to see it. And Christians are called, like Jesus, to be fools in the world’s eyes, loving creation, loving diversity, loving the little things, loving service, called to accept the messages of Wisdom (which so much of our culture is designed to deny), and to walk more and more in the perfect freedom of the Light. In that wisdom, this vision of the divine is understandable, and even unbearably sweet:
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep. (Merton, Hagia Sophia)