O Sapientia -- Wisdom's Feast

Sirach 24:1-12; Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21; John 1:1-5; 14-15

On this Sunday before the feast of the Epiphany (Orthodox Christmas Day), I invite us to look again at the advent hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel and specifically at the second verse in the familiar translation by Henry Sloane Coffin (1916):

O Come thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh.
To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her way to go.

We sang the original Latin chant as our opening hymn. It is the first in the series of chants called the “O Antiphons,” and dates to the eighth century, C.E. (and possibly earlier). It begins with the call to Wisdom: O Sapientia. The United Church of Christ’s New Century Hymnal has this translation: “O Wisdom breathed from God Most High, your depths all cosmic bounds defy. Your might in gentleness holds sway; come forth and teach your prudent way.” The note at the bottom of the page suggests that “Sophia,” the Greek word for Wisdom, may be used. Then Wisdom becomes personified, as it is in the poems from the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books. Michael Dowd illustrates the importance of “personifying” deity – creating metaphors that help us understand the various aspects of sacred creation. Listen to these personifications of Wisdom from Sirach and Proverbs 8.

Those medieval monks were very likely onto something important when they put Wisdom first in their Advent prayers. The Scholars’ translation of John’s prologue tells us that

The divine word and wisdom was there with God, and it was what God was. It was there with God from the beginnng. Everything came to be by means of it; and without it not one thing that exists came to be. In it was life, and this life was the light of humanity. Light was shining in the darkness, and darkness did not master it. The divine word and wisdom became human and resided among us. We have seen its glory, glory appropriate to a Father’s only son, brimming with generosity and truth.

In the medieval world, the Wisdom of God was revealed through prayer, contemplation, and the natural world the people were so intimately involved with. So the monks prayed to Wisdom and asked that the path to knowledge be shown to them, and that Wisdom would help them to walk in that path. Wisdom then led to knowledge, which led to Christ, the ultimate revelation of God, and to the salvation of souls.

In the postmodern, twenty-first century, global world, knowledge does not come from wisdom. Wisdom does not come first – as indicated by the reversal in the twentieth century form of the medieval chant. In the postmodern world, wisdom is nothing more than accumulated knowledge. The more we know, the wiser we are, and supposedly the more likely we are to act after careful thought: with “prudence” as opposed to impulse.

The good news according to John is that we always have the power to join the program.

In The Universe Story, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry illustrate how new millennium physics teaches the wisdom at the heart of nature:

Without a sensitivity to primordial communication within the universe, the universe’s story comes to an end. That this is certainly the case with an individual organism we can readily appreciate in the case of the monarch butterfly. Climbing out of the pupal shell, stretching its wings in the drying sunlight, what other than the voices of the universe can that butterfly rely upon for guidance? It must make a journey that will cover territory filled with both dangers and possibilities, none of which has ever been experienced before. To rely on its own personal experience or knowledge would be a disaster for the butterfly. Instead it finds itself surrounded by voices of the past, of the other insects, of the wind and the rain and the leaves of the trees.
The information of the genetic material comes forth precisely within its interactions. That is, the monarch butterfly has little if any individual awareness of the difference between beneficial winds and dangerous winds until it finds itself confronted by them in reality. The winds speak to the butterfly, the taste of the water speaks to the butterfly, the shape of the leaf speaks to the butterfly and offers a guidance that resonates with the wisdom coded into the butterfly’s being. Such communication takes place beneath the level of language, even that of genetic language. It functions at the primordial reality of primal contact. The source of the guidance is both within and without. . . .

The butterfly lives in a seamless realm, a matrix, poetically in the palm of God/dess’s hand, not alien or estranged. Is it possible for us to find that kind of confidence, or trust in the nature of the Universe itself? Let’s take a moment or two to think about Wisdom, and our place in the Universe.

What kind of liturgy, or worship experience, would celebrate the kind of inclusive, nurturing community the butterfly knows without thinking about it?

I invite us to participate in a Communion – a Eucharist – that we might call Wisdom’s Feast. Eucharist at its root means to give thanks. Just like the monarch butterfly, who finds its way home every year by listening to the elements of the world in which it lives, or like the salmon, that returns from the sea every year, climbs the waterfalls, and lays its eggs in the rivers where the next generation continues the cycle, we can think of ourselves in connection to the universe in the same way. Matthew Fox says, “Interconnectivity is the heart of the Eucharistic experience: God and humanity coming together, God and flesh, the flesh of wheat, wine, sunshine, soil, water, human ingenuity, stars, supernovas, galaxies, storms, fireballs – every Eucharist has a 15-billion-year sacred story that renders it holy.”

Liturgy brings the people together to consider our place in the universe, to celebrate or commemorate our lives together, to become clear what our purpose is as a community, to strengthen ourselves for the task at hand, and to send ourselves out to continue our common work, transformed and in solidarity.

The following words from the prophet Isaiah and from the Wisdom literature of the Jewish tradition are an invitation to Wisdom’s Feast, to Communion: To celebration of the certainty of God’s love and protection – exactly what the Butterfly experiences as it finds its way to its breeding grounds high in the mountains of Colorado.

Institution

One: Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, “You that are simple, turn in here!”

To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and those who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without price, for our God calls us away from oppression and greed to a realm of justice and love [pour wine].

Wisdom orders all things well: First the grain, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear [break bread].

Wisdom has set her table. She calls from the highest places, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Come, for all has been made ready.”

 


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