Mother’s Day Message

May 10th 2015

‘Searching for Sophia’

Proverbs 8:1-11

By Beth Henricks

Ruthie asked me several months ago to share a message today as she is visiting her son, Matt and future daughter in law in Seattle.  On first blush, a message on Mother’s Day should be easy as I have heard a hundred messages before about mothers and there is a lot of material to explore about this day; to reflect on, remember and offer thanksgiving for our mothers and for being a mother. I love the story of the young state legislator from Tennessee, Harry Burn who in 1920 had to make a vote on whether to ratify the new amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote.  The vote was 48 to 48 and Harry had to decide what to do.  He had been publicly against the amendment, but on the day for him to cast his vote, his mother Phoebe Burn put a note in his pocket saying Hurrah and vote for suffrage!  Don’t keep them in doubt.  I notice some of the speeches against.  They were bitter.  I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet.  She ended the note by saying be a good boy and put the rat in ratification.  Harry cast the deciding vote and the Constitution was amended.  Oh, the power of our mother’s influence.

Mothers Day has become a big holiday and big business - $671 million dollars was spent just on mother’s day cards and $20.7 billion was spent on mother’s day last year.  $1.9 billion alone was spent on flowers and for many restaurants it’s the busiest day of the year.  Clearly, the idea to create a day to honor our mothers back in 1914 has been a success.

All week long we have been hearing many moving tributes about mothers and reading about the sacrifices and encouragement that special mothers have exhibited.  On the surface, this is a joyful day of celebration and happiness.  And many of you feel this sense of joy today.

But mother’s day is way more complicated than what might appear at first blush or in the sentiments expressed in our Hallmark cards.  In this room, there is a full range of emotions and feelings about this day.  There are some that are still in mourning over losing their mother.  There are others that feel sadness in not having the experience of being a mother.  Still others are in deep pain over broken relationships with their children or their own mother.  Some here have had less than ideal role models with their mothers and are working towards breaking a cycle of hardship within themselves.  Some did not come to Meeting today because it would just be too hard to sit here and listen to a message about mothers day.

That is why I want to broaden our reflection of mothers to talk about Sofia today.   Some of you may have read the bulletin when you sat down and wondered about the title of this message, Searching for Sofia.  What in the world does that mean?  Others of you may be familiar with this concept of Sofia. 

Sofia literally means wisdom and is represented in a feminine way throughout mythology, Judaism and Christianity.  It is the ideal that we strive for in our lives.  It’s what a mother, a father, a student, a teacher, a businessperson, a lawyer, a doctor  - what any of us desires.  Wisdom – how to make the right decisions, engage in the right relationships, say the right things and follow the right path.

In our scripture reading and in many other places in Proverbs, this idea is referred to as Woman Wisdom - Sofia. The female personification of wisdom in Proverbs is dramatic, exalted, and varied.  As Cindy read in our passage for today, Sofia is calling us  - calling us to learn prudence, to acquire intelligence, to speak truth and to value wisdom more than silver, gold and jewels. 

Scholars classify several of the books in the Bible like Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, and Esther as wisdom literature because of their interest in this fundamental human attribute.  King Solomon, the archetypal wise person, fell in love with wisdom:  He declared,  "I loved her and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty".   Wisdom calls out, seeks to be found, stretches out her hand. 

And yet why is wisdom identified in a feminine way?  Why would the writers of some of these books of the Bible use this female imagery to represent divine wisdom? 

We all I know that God is neither male or female yet God is consistently described as male and referred to as “he” in most Christian images and metaphors.   Feminine pronouns and figures have rarely been used in speaking of God, but then here are all of these references to “she” and wisdom.

These books of the Bible were all written in a time where women were not equal to men.  Men made the decisions and set the boundaries.   But Wisdom  - Sofia – is a woman.  Could it be that in order to have any understanding of God we must see God in both male and female terms?   As humans, our comprehension of the Divine can only be drawn within our finite sense of reality, which is strongly influenced by female and male perceptions.  Sophia, the feminine voice is in contrast to a God of dominion and force.  

 Could it also be that in our historical understanding of a family unit, the mother or wife took on the all-encompassing roles of the household?   This meant that the mother or wife created the connections within the household that held the family together.   These connections combine the head and heart in relationship to the family.   Because Wisdom is all about relationship.   Wisdom is our teacher in our families.  Wisdom is the Tree of Life in our families.

Jesus has been closely associated with Sofia.  Jesus, the great wisdom teacher is Sofia.  He speaks in parables, stories and other literary forms familiar from wisdom literature to communicate his message and to call his disciples.  Jesus, too, has a Sophia heart, not the heart of someone seeking power. Sophia is concealed but ready to reveal just as Jesus is "the hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 2:7), "the revelation of the mystery kept secret for endless ages" (Rom. 16:25)

God in Sofia and Sofia in God.  Sofia is often expressed as Logos or the Word of God.  Which is also the description that the Apostle John uses to describe Christ.  Sofia, Logos and God creating, redeeming, and reconciling to each of us.  God brings both Sophia and Jesus forth, and both are sent by God to be special messengers to humanity, bringing wisdom, counsel, and guidance. Each is a healer and a comforter, a messenger of truth, perception, and guidance. Both are teachers who instruct in the ways of God, and both are referred to as the  "Light."

We see the evidence of Sofia In James 3:17.  He writes, “but the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. “   We see the evidence of Sofia in many that have come before us, many that have been a part of our Meeting like Hilda Renshaw, Shirley Proctor, Ann Kendall, Betsy Lawson, Suzi Davis, Marilyn Overman, Billie Main and so many others.  We see the evidence of Sofia in our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and Friends.

But how do we acquire Sofia?  Aristotle says that knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom.  Knowing others is intelligence but knowing yourself is wisdom.   Confucius determined three ways to learn wisdom  -  1.  Reflection, 2.  Imitation and 3. Experience.    This speaks to me  - much of our wisdom comes from experience (and often this experience are from those periods in our life of pain and suffering) but we can also gain this wisdom by watching others do the right and wrong thing as well as connecting within our Inner Light.    Oprah tells us to turn our wounds into wisdom.  Wisdom can be a harsh teacher, but it is through our trials that we acquire wisdom.

I see Ann Kendall here today and I want to share a story about her.  Several years ago I visited Ann for lunch.  She is always interested in what is going on with your life and she asked me a few pointed questions.  I was having a very hard time and felt pretty dejected and sad.  Ann began to tell me about a period in her life when she was living in Illinois and her husband Rick had just lost his job and her 2 boys were in serious trouble.  She felt despondent, dark and had nowhere to turn.  She described literally getting down on her knees and seeking God.  She saw this as a turning point in her life and her relationship to God changed forever after that.  It took bringing her to the edge of total disaster for her to turn to God for help.  And her prayer life changed forever also.  The hardest lessons bring about the biggest changes in our inner life.

I think that prayer and meditation is our most vital link to Sofia.  As we enter into our time of unprogrammed worship, I invite you to open your hearts to Sofia.  This is our time to be still and listen to the Inner Voice, the Inner Light, Sofia.    If this voice calls you to stand and share your reflection with others, you should be obedient to that call.  But if this message is for you alone, you should ponder this in your heart.