Way back in ‘the olden days’, when I was in Grade 3, we had a Bible story book that pictured God as a portly, white bearded old man, sitting on a cloud. Even though I don’t think it’s operative in my life, the image persists – God is old, male and distant.
The way our imagination pictures God is a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s all we have. As a post Vatican 2 woman I’m not comfortable with Old Testament passages that equate God with manly things like kings and battles, thunder and lightning. Images and experiences like this have coloured the way God has been packaged for our consumption. My feminine need is for a God image that is more rounded, gentler and more reflective.
Passages from Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Baruch and Wisdom have been passed over when it comes to Sunday liturgies and Scripture study. Yet these are the books of Scripture where God is named Sophia, the Greek for wisdom. In poetic language God is manifested as female, giving direction to life and intimately bonded in God’s creative presence. Sophia is pictured as light, as the breath of God, as a woman sitting by the city gate, and delightfully, as a child at play.
I feel comfortable naming God as Sophia. It’s not the title that is important, but how it represents a way of understanding and relating to God that is more appropriate to my gender. Wisdom implies roundness: the sort of wholeness that comes from experience and inwardly integrating that experience, seeing the connections, gradually moving the endless walls and screens we put up to hide us from God. When I approach the mystery that is God using Sophia imagery it gives me the freedom to do so as a woman.
My favorite Sophia image comes from the book of Proverbs with its opening picture of a woman sitting by the gates of the city ready to welcome those who approach. On the heights overlooking the road, at the crossways, she takes her stand; by the gates, at the entrance to the city, on the access-roads. . . . Prv 8:2
Her sitting in the street and at the city gates is particularly significant. While the power center of public life was the city square, if you wanted to be where it really mattered, then you headed for the city gates. Except if you were a woman!
I am constantly heartened that the writer of Proverbs has Sophia in a place where she would not have been tolerated. She wasn’t a trader, she was not permitted to rule on knotty religious or legal issues. So she was just there – greeting people, listening to them, a compassionate but challenging presence in a male-centered environment. Sounds like women in the Church today.
Recently US Cardinal Raymond Burke suggested that the Church has become too feminized. This same Church calls itself a community of disciples – disciples of Jesus who taught that God is nurturing, healing and compassionate. He wept with the bereaved, had compassion on the down-trodden and enjoyed the company of women and children.
I want to belong to a Church that not only follows Jesus, but that accepts that discipleship and giftedness, male and female, comes from God, the Giver of all Gifts. It’s nothing to do with gender, even though I do call myself a Sophia woman.
You might like to read my small book of reflections for Sophia Women, FindingSophia. Click to access it as a PDF.