Summit Presbyterian Church
May 30, 2010
Wisdom 8: 1-4, 26-36
Rejoicing in the Inhabited World
The first question that comes to many people's minds when they hear this passage is "Who is She?" "Who is Sophia, or Wisdom, this female who has been with God since the beginning?" Priests and Rabbis, scholars and others have come up with many possibilities. Some say she's simply a metaphor for one of God's attributes: that the writer is playfully imagining the wisdom of God as a woman who created all things with God and still speaks to humankind. Others have said, she's not just a figure of speech, but a kind of angelic force. Historically, the church has claimed that Sophia is a description of the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ -- pointing to the Gospel of John who says that Christ, or the Word, was in the beginning with God and through him all things came into being. (Historically, the church has glossed over the very interesting fact that she's a female, but feminist scholarship is changing that). Others look at what she does and say this is a description of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In Jewish thought she's been identified with the Torah -- not just the law in the ten commandments, but all of God's instruction to us. But there's no "correct" or definitive answer to the question of "who is Sophia?" -- which is OK, because none of these possibilities keep us from listening to her. So I invite you to take your pick, choose your favorite, as we listen to Sophia speaking to us in Proverbs.
Sophia says that her cry is to all who live, and the writer of Proverbs says she can be found nearly everywhere: on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates in the front of the town. No one is excluded from her counsel because of their native intelligence or lack of it: simple ones can learn prudence; those who lack intelligence can acquire it. She tells us that she only speaks what is true, righteous and straight: that nothing wicked, crooked or twisted comes from her mouth. She says she was with God from the beginning of creation as a "master worker"; that she was daily God's delight, rejoicing in God's inhabited world and delighting in the human race. She then tells us, her children, to listen to her. She gives no specific instructions here, and surely her instructions are different for each situation. But she promises that if we listen we will be happy, or blessed; that if we find her we will find life; but if we miss her we will injure ourselves. If we hate her, we love death.
As we watch the catastrophe of Deepwater Horizon unfold, we may wonder: are we a people who love death and hate wisdom? Along the way towards this disaster, at different times and places, and at so many different levels, we see people closing their ears to the voice of Sophia. There were the men on the rig and their superiors who made the decision to use a risker type of cement casing because it made the "best economic case" (NYT, 5/26); then there was the decision to replace the heavy drilling fluid with lighter seawater; and there were the men performing the pressure tests and either misreading or ignoring the warning signs, decisions made under pressure to save time and money. But the directors on the rig and their immediate superiors are not the only ones who "missed" wisdom's voice; and we must admit her voice is often clear only in retrospect. There's the profit-maximizing drive of the corporate world, the leaders of British Petroleum, Transocean and Halliburtun (and all kinds of other companies) who treat recklessness as a virtue, especially when the risks are borne and the messes cleaned up primarily by others. There were the folks of the Minerals Management Service and their "cozy relationship" - Obama's words - with the oil companies that gave BP the waiver for an environmental study. There's President Obama, who has admitted that his administration was lax in regulation of BP; and there are previous administrations and congresses, especially the Bush administration, who courted the disaster by doing its best to undermine environmental regulations.
But we can't just point fingers at the immediate and most powerful players, although responsibility does increase with power. We must widen the circle of foolishness to include all of us: for we use oil as though there's no tomorrow. We fill up our cars and turn on our boilers and eat food which depends on oil-based fertilizers. Oil which we'll get from somewhere, whether it's the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska, Iraq or Iran, Nigeria, Mexico or Chad. Places that are even more vulnerable to spills and disasters, that have even weaker environmental regulations. Lisa Margonelli says we've been importing our oil and exporting our spills. Spills that will get worse as oil gets harder and harder to dig up. In the words of Michael Klare we're in an era of "tough oil" -- oil that will continue to spill and leak, even if we're very very careful. We may feel we have no choice - as we climb in our cars to go to work or the supermarket - and in the short run that's true. But most of us have been awfully quiet and complacent about the bind we're in and the danger we're facing. We shut out Wisdom's voice. (Michael Klare, The Nation, 5/18/10; Lisa Margonelli, NYT, 5/1/10)
And if we continue on this path of fossil fuel dependence, we'll see more injury, and more death. On the Deepwater Horizon we saw the tragic death of those 11 workers -- workers who have a tough job even when everything is going smoothly. We're seeing the death of fish and plankton, marsh grasses, oysters and crabs, brown pelicans and lesser egrets -- and much more death is coming towards us, in the future and hidden in the depths of the ocean. We see the injury faced by fisherpeople and all who live on the coast, many who will lose their livelihoods and who are still struggling from Katrina. And the Deepwater Horizon is only one piece of the picture: one piece of the death and injury to all creation that will rise as temperatures climb, ice melts, oceans warm and hurricaines intensify. Dependence on oil, and gas and coal also leads to death and injury in wars and violence around the globe, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Columbia and the Nigeria. Oil is not the only cause of these wars, but the drive to control oil has been has been behind much of the violence done in our name. We do seem to love death and hate wisdom.
And why is it? Why is it so hard for us to listen to wisdom, to choose prudence, to acquire intelligence? In the case of our fossil fuel addiction, profits and pleasures keep many people from listening. We may fear change, of not having enough if we listen to wisdom. We may fear judgement. Maybe we can't imagine the alternatives or feel inadequate to the challenge so we refuse to hear the straight truth that comes from wisdom's mouth. Perhaps it's confusion, because there are so many other voices clamoring for attention: so many lies and falsehoods that are nonetheless very attractive, from the advertisements that tell us our cars will bring us love, to the so-called skeptics who tell us global warming is a hoax and we can go on with business as usual. So we continue our alliance with folly and death.
But Wisdom cries out to us. Even in the midst of our collective foolishness, her call is inviting. She calls so all can hear. We don't need to be a member of the elite or go to college. We hear her voice in all kinds of places: in scripture and the teachings of the church, but also in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; in the articles and photographs of journalists who tell us what is happening in the Gulf, in arctic, and on equatorial glaciers. We hear wisdom speak to us in the words of the people who live on the frontiers of climate change and know the damage first had. We can hear her in the work of those seeking to harness energy from the wind and the sun. We can hear her in the voices of our children, who are often better recyclers than we are. Wisdom speaks so all can hear: those who are simple and those who smart, those who have intelligence and those who need to acquire it; those who do well on standardized tests and those who don't. Sophia is very democratic.
Sophia is also loving. She rejoices in the inhabited world: the ocean with their fish and their whales, their bacteria and their coral leaves; the caves with their bats and spiders; the mountains with every bird and tree; the cities with their people and their pets. She delights in us: not just the more virtuous among us, but the whole human race. She seeks to bless us with material comforts, yes -- riches and honor are with her, she says, enduring wealth and prosperity, if not the excess we know now. She seeks to bless us with happiness: happy are those who keep my ways, she says, happy are those who listen to me. And she promises life: whoever finds me finds life, she says - and obtains favor from the Lord. Listening to wisdom may mean sacrifice, it may mean change, it's not a guarantee of a suffering-free life. But it is the path of blessedness, for Sophia is God's wisdom. The same God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, who loves and forgives us, who has made us in God's image and who promises to be our advocate through the Holy Spirit.
So let's stop being so fearful. Let's listen to Sophia, to find ways to live and rejoice in this inhabited world. It will mean change: sharing more, using less. It will mean study and discernment, as we learn more about our world and how to care for it. It will mean standing up against some powerful forces, fighting for environmental legislation and regulation so that wisdom is given pride of place in the way we live and govern ourselves. It will mean justice, for Wisdom tells us: "I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice." Wisdom calls to us: will we listen? Will we choose life over death?