She was small, petite almost, and walked with a stick. We both had cooling cups of coffee in our hands, both alone in a small Church gathering where everybody else seemed to know one another. Slowly we started to talk and there was nothing frail about her voice or her flashing eyes. She buzzed with an inner energy.
I meet many such women. They might look like the women you see them in a shopping centre, at the daytime movies, having a coffee mid-morning or catching a bus – retired, often over the first flush of life and occasionally into the next stage as well. They can talk family, cooking, gardening, politics and their faith with varying degrees of insight and fluidity, but there’s more to them than that. I call them Sophia women.
To address God as Sophia is to dig deep into the Old Testament, to move beyond all the words and images that call to mind the power, strength and assertiveness of a male world. There are references to Sophia in the Book of Wisdom, in Proverbs and in Ecclesiasticus. In all of them the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, is a significant naming of God in female language and imagery. For women who have tired of God images that don’t recognise the empathy, creativity and relational gifts with which they are gifted, Sophia comes with the breath of new life.
Every month or so some of these Sophia women I know meet to talk about what’s going on in their lives. It’s mostly ordinary stuff with an extra-ordinary edge. These women are serious about their spirituality. They are women of prayer, sometimes it’s formal , but more often the kind of prayer that punctuates a day. While some meditate regularly, others journal or read books by people like Richard Rohr or Joan Chittester. Usually alone, sometimes in a group, they nurture their God relationship. And, without exception, all of them live with a creative openness to the needs of others, whether it’s family, friends or the wider community.
While Sophia women are comfortable with their own womanliness they have moved beyond the boundaries of traditional ways of being Church – female style. They have a whole armoury of leadership skills. After all, they have weathered toddler meltdowns, teenage rebellion, money shortages, unfulfilling jobs, relationship hiccups and worse. Their people skills are formidable because they have learnt that not everyone sees the world the same way and it has led them to create strategies that open the way to on-going and loving communication.
Older women know what it is to feel invisible and sometimes that is painful. Yet a great gift of watching the birthdays mount is the space it gives to reflect on life’s experiences and begin to link it into a new and deep unity. There is something about Sophia women that feels like freedom – as though their attention to God’s voice as they hear it, their acceptance of life as it unfolds, has set them free to recognise their truth and to give it voice.
However that voice is expressed, whatever form it takes, there is something prophetic about it. Like Jesus as he moved among the people, it shows itself in nurturing, healing and compassion. Who knows, the grey haired woman ahead of you in the checkout queue might just be a modern mystic or a twenty first century prophet – a Sophia woman.