|by Tom Bohache|
|Divine Wisdom, a Gift of Spirit
In preparing to return to school this fall, I've been reflecting upon the importance of education, which brings up for me the notions of wisdom and knowledge, two concepts that seem to go together. They are, however, quite different, since knowledge refers to something that is acquired, while wisdom is innate and not easily learned. This is why many of the world religions prize Wisdom not only as an endowment of Spirit but even as part of divinity itself.
When imaged as a manifestation of the Divine, Wisdom is usually considered as female energy. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, Hokmah (Hebrew for wisdom) is portrayed as a feminine dimension of the one God; it was She who assisted at creation and was later identified with the Torah. She is featured in Hebrew wisdom literature (the books of Proverbs, Job, and Wisdom) as the One who searches diligently for human relationship and invites all people to a holy feast; She is endowed with special compassion for the human creature and passes on her gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment to men and women. In Christianity, this part of God is called Sophia (Greek for wisdom); many New Testament scholars believe that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels of Matthew and John as the personification of Divine Wisdom. During the patristic period (3rd through 6th centuries), the Holy Spirit was often given these characteristics of Sophia, but, because of the "patriarchalization" of the Church, the female quality of deity was lost. Recently, feminist theologians have reclaimed Sophia as a way of undoing centuries of male-dominated biblical interpretation and theology.
Asian religions value Wisdom also. The Hindu concept of prajna (Sanskrit for wisdom), exemplified by female goddesses, was adopted by Buddhism but, because of Buddhism's non-theistic quality, was imaged as female energy (yin). In the indigenous religions of China, Korea, and Japan, this prajna is personified in the figure of Kuan-Yin, the goddess of compassion who interacts personally with humans, presides at childbirth, and is a special protector of women. One folk legend from Japan (where She is also known as Kannon) tells the story of a woman who had a special devotion to the goddess and would visit her temple in the hills nightly to pray and meditate; the woman's husband, misunderstanding her actions, believed she was going away each night to meet a lover. In anger, he ambushed her one night as she was returning from the shrine and stabbed her to death. When he arrived home, however, his wife was right there and had no recollection of an assault; after discussing the wife's activities (which perhaps they should have done in the first place!), the husband returns to the place of the attack and sees a trail of blood leading to the shrine of the goddess. Entering the shrine, he discovers that the statue of the goddess has scars showing evidence of his attack. This story has become valued in Asian women's spirituality as an example of the way the Divine protects women and carries their oppression in Her very self.
In our quest to access our authentic selves through Spirit, I believe that Wisdom must be reclaimed as a part of divinity. Wisdom can enter our consciousness and give us new ways of understanding life, new attitudes toward being in relationship, and new appreciation of the workings of the universe. Wisdom can hold for us the compassion we need and the stamina to stand up to oppression, for Wisdom can take our struggles to Herself, just as both Jesus and Kuan-Yin are believed to have done.
For Further Reading on Wisdom:
Judaism: Asphodel P. Long, In a Chariot Drawn by Lions (Crossing Press, 1993) Christianity: Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom (Fortress Press, 1994) Asian Religion: Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to Be the Sun Again (Orbis Books, 1990) Asian Religion: Grace Ji-Sun Kim, The Grace of Sophia (Pilgrim Press, 2002)
The Rev. Tom Bohache, Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth, is a speaker, teacher, and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 11 August 12, 2005