God’s feminine side
6:12 Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. 6:13 She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. 6:14 One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. 6:15 To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, 6:16 because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.
There’s masses of stuff worth commenting on in these readings today. The connection between them all is Jesus’ return at the end of time but, although commentary says that that is what the book of Wisdom is ultimately about, it’s not much mentioned in this particular reading. Then there’s the connection between Wisdom from our first reading and the wisdom enjoined upon us by the example of the wise virgins in the parable – which boils down to something every Scout knows – ‘Be Prepared’. Be prepared, in this instance by the forethought to carry spares of whatever materials are needed to enable us to serve. In the deeper sense, and Jesus’ parables always have at least one layer of a deeper sense, be prepared for his return – you can’t cheat someone today with the intention of putting it right tomorrow – for supposing he comes tonight?
The Wisdom in the first reading is very different from this need for preparedness and it’s quite surprising. After all, we don’t often have readings from the Apocrypha, books which aren’t even included in some Bibles, so you might not have come across these verses before and they might seem quite odd to you. So that is where I’ve decided to put my focus today. The Book of Wisdom, talks about Wisdom as if she were a person, or even a deity. That seems extremely odd in a book of Jewish religious thought – which this book definitely is. Odd, both because the Jews were, as we are too, totally monotheistic, there is only ONE God. So where does this Wisdom come in? And then ‘she’? This in a culture where women were almost entirely without status. No woman could be a witness in a court of law, women couldn’t go about on their own and weren’t allowed to socialise in mixed company outside the family. All concepts of womanhood which Jesus noticeably refused to accept, including women among his close companions and giving Mary Magdalen the position of first witness to his resurrection.
Academics have given a lot of thought to this peculiarity of the book of Wisdom. Some have concluded that this personification of God’s Wisdom is a reference to Jesus – who hadn’t been born on earth at this point but then we often think of much earlier passages from Isaiah as references to Jesus so why not? But while I can see that we could conclude, that in a time when men were Macho and women submissive, Jesus could be seen to have some noticeable feminine qualities – but personally I really can’t quite cope with referring to Jesus as ‘she’. The other academic theory is that this is an early reference to what we now know as the ‘Holy Spirit’. That makes much more sense to me, God’s Wisdom, acting as our guide, our comforter. That the author of this book saw the Spirit as female is not so difficult. The Spirit is defined as without body so gender is not about physical qualities but about spiritual ones. And it’s certainly true that God has some very female qualities at times – qualities that definitely don’t fit with the ‘old man with a beard’ image that I received at Sunday School when I was a child.
There’s a passage in Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” That sounds like a mother speaking there. And then again, my favourite in Hosea: “When Israel was a child, I loved him…” He treated his child with loving kindness, teaching him all that he needed. And in Luke, in the parable of the lost coin .. Jesus compares God to a woman, who has lost a coin and searches everywhere until she finds it. These are all images of a God whose love for us has more in common with what we understand as ‘mothering’ than ‘fathering’.
If we purely think of God as ‘father’ then there is nothing wrong with that – it’s how we’ve always been taught to think in the past – but we may be missing something valuable. Because regardless of issues of gender, there is something in the passion of his love for us which is motherly. Nowadays, we recognise that men can have the same sort of love for a child as a mother does but we seem to be taking a long time to recognise that God’s love can be deeply motherly.
I found a quote that I’d like to share with you, when I went searching for what other people have said about God’s motherliness. This is an excerpt from someone else’s sermon on Hosea, but just this bit shows so beautifully what I mean, putting it better than I can: “During the winter of my fifth grade year, I came down with the flu. My memory is fuzzy, but I know that it started in the middle of the night, and instantly upon hearing the noises coming from my room, my mother was at my side. I remember the light being switched on, and my mom bringing a basin of water and a washcloth to freshen me up and cool me down. I remember her gentle touch on my feverish forehead.”
Then she compares that memory with how she thinks about God – ”If the touch of my mother’s hand on my forehead can be so soothing that I remember it these forty years later, how much more does the touch of the source of the universe have the power to heal our woes and hurts?” (from ‘Magdalene’s Musings )
So, going back to our reading today, and the feminine nature of Wisdom, which does appear to be referring to some sort of early, pre-Christian understanding of part of the Trinity – we can appreciate that God has an aspect which is really quite feminine in nature. We don’t have to go so far as referring to him as ‘she’ or as ‘Mother’ as some feminists and even a couple of recent Popes have done ; but we can appreciate the feminine qualities of a loving God who, male, female or without gender, gives us the passionately loving mothering which we need. So, particularly when we are hurting, when we are lonely, when we feel lost, when we feel small and vulnerable we can remember that God loves us with all the deep care, the attention and concern that a mother does and whether we call to think of God as him or as her, we can seek our God and be answered:
“Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her.” Amen
Matthew 25:1-13 The Parable of the Ten Virgins
Popes John Paul I & John Paul II – http://www.traditioninaction.org/HotTopics/a009ht.htm