Please note I seem to have departed from the Revised Common Lectionary by speaking to the readings that I heard at church instead of working ahead. I am not sure where the readings this church used came from but the preacher spoke as if they were from the lectionary. I liked the readings and used them for reflection. The first reading was excerpts of Proverbs 8. The second (gospel) was either Matthew or Luke (which is puzzling because we are in Year B).
Last Sunday’s reading was about Lady Wisdom calling through the streets, nagging like a fishwife. Tenaciously reminding us to pay her attention, to not be seduced away from her. I actually went to church and listened to a sermon, where the preacher consoled us that even though this reading can seem insignificant and reads as “gibberish” (I disagree on both counts) it has a context. In the context Wisdom is the contrast to the evil seductress who has tried to entrap the naïve young man. At this point, caught between two female stereotypes and asked to inhabit the consciousness of a young man having to choose between them waves of depression rolled over me again. Because I have never read Lady Wisdom as the goody-goody slut shamer. I have not read her as an enemy or rival to the “other” woman in her desirability. I’ve read her as powerful, determined, active, voiced (oh so loudly and persistently) and desirable within her power and the beauty of her unflagging persistence.
I read myself as desiring her (of course) but also as being asked to watch and learn, to emulate her to allow her into my life and body, to allow her to move me to become part of her household; but not as a protection against other scary and impure women but because she herself is everything, demands attention- calls, commands and seduces.
So my response to the nagging call of that old Wisdom that I have successfully shut out of my life and heart for so many years? Learned deafness and a bunch of lame excuses apparently, because I did not even write my blog post on this beloved reading. As usual I regretfully turn my back on Wisdom. She is not for me. I do not measure up. I had a burst water pipe, a blocked toilet, extra hours at work, a transition, an opportunity to see my sons, visitors from overseas, and huge exhaustion and maybe a little bit of despair that my voice may be insignificant, unheard or plain wrong. I rationalised it thus “If wisdom is already calling, how presumptuous, how arrogant of me to chime in with my foolishness and twisted thinking. Wisdom herself will call to the people, I am not her.” Which is true enough, but riddled with the sort of defeatism Jesus (surprisingly) said God takes a dim view of which fits more ancient portrayals of God as well. I am not saying I am hellbound for my laziness and lack of confidence, just acknowledging that it is not respectful of my call.
Like a choir mistress, Wisdom is not interested in the fact that my voice is not as good as someone else’s and in no way approaches the purity and beauty of hers. She may sing the solo, but she needs many voices to harmonise and counter-melody and build up a roaring sound of a great festival of wisdom to roll through a more than ever foolish world and bring some hope, some hints of green in the cracks of the neoliberal façade, a beginning of a way forward, a dance beyond despair.
“You need to lift your voice, sing louder. Listen hard and then sing” she might tell me. I can rehearse what my voice will let out but at some point comes the time to voice it, to quit fear and dare to speak with her, sing with her and even to try to speak for her (trusting her not to ever be limited by the limits of my thinking). Beautiful, forgiving Wisdom who returns again and again and begs us to try harder; to take some responsibility for the relationship for a change.
And attempting to at least begin to acknowledge Wisdom’s claim on me, or at the very least my desire for her- I turn to the gospel. The gospel reminds me that the foolish man builds his house on the sand. Disposable, transient, novelty house- planned obsolescence, a huge waste of the labour and materials that go into building something that will not stand up to time and weather. The economy (oikonomia) is also like a house/household (I don’t remember all my biblical Greek, but oikos was house). I can see the foolishness of building the economy upon the sands of capitalism, upon the ticking time-bomb of exploiting the earth who will eventually kick back at us way mightier than we give this ball of minerals, gases and mystery credit for.
We build relationships on the sands of conspicuous consumption, of performative encounters online or of fear of ourselves and the desire to possess, manipulate, exploit another and then when marriage (for example) becomes a joke, more about dresses and flowers; cars and honeymoons than about people then we blame the queer community because of course it was “them” that undermined the sanctity of marriage (isn’t it nice that when I was searching for a link to this all I could find at first were arguments against the fundamentalists and sarcastic spoofs). Because we could never, ever, not-ever blame capitalism for doing that (apparently you need ironclad evidence to indict capitalism as opposed to the vague rumours needed to accuse gays). We can’t blame capitalism for anything (unemployment, austerity, despair, refugee crises, climate change) because it is such a foundation of our day to day life. It is the sand we have built our multi-storey home on for many generations and denial bids us to insist that it IS rock – steady, immovable, inevitable.
And then even where we see rock we blast it open in strip mining and fracking to take even more from earth, to build another gable on our capitalist mausoleum of denial build on shifting sands. It’s crumbling and we spray in some sort of polymer in the cracks and insist we can’t feel the wind and rain through them. We use anyone poorer and weaker than us as human shields to protect us from the cracks in our capitalist way of life.
We are foolish, but we have nice wine and beautiful clothing and 1000 friends on facebook who all felt jealous at the dessert we ate last night. Because friends of course are people to instil envy in, and life is about flitting around the globe as fast as possible sampling everything- food, wine, people, experiences, places and fuelling our narcissm with the well-roundedness we feel we have bought. And after all you know we are nice and charitable people and we sip “fair trade” coffee which means the workers may have been paid a tenth of a fair wage instead of nothing at all. And how would they survive if we stopped buying from their masters?
But now that I have constructed this dystopian vision of the society founded on sand where is wisdom? What is the rock we ought to build our society/home on instead? There are voices of wisdom advocating for compassion, justice, love, peace, sustainability, resistance. On the large scale, immense change is needed but on the small scale I hear wise voices each week at work when I think I am leading “group time” but the children demand that I change the written story I am reading them and remake the story more compassionately, more justly or with an idealism that only a child would have the courage to admit to!
When will we become idealists like children? When will we demand that that which is inevitable, which is written and already settled be rewritten to bring in what we know of compassion and of justice?
Does not Wisdom keep demanding that we follow her lead? Can we not let her begin a movement for change, for more solid values at the foundation of our society? “ Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her..” (Proverbs 8:10-11). Might be worth taking her instruction on board then.
Because I am adding the links, it’s taking me a couple of hours just to post the articles (additional time to actual writing) so with uni starting back I am thinking of reducing or eliminating links. Even though it can help me clarify my thinking to do them.