Falling in love with Wisdom…
Some years ago in a now vanished Santa Cruz bookshop I ran across a small volume bearing the above mesmerizing title. It was so for me because I was then deep into the study of philosophy at the University of California, and welcomed anything in print that might help me explain to my skeptical friends just why I had chosen to pursue so useless an obscurantism as they considered my chosen major to be. Not so much my friends in Santa Cruz (for in Santa Cruz no subject is considered obscure—and what’s wrong with useless?) but others more remote but still remembered, far removed from me now both in time and in space--like for instance back home in Ohio, back where they knew me when, back when I studied only the King James Bible.
Wow. Falling in love with Wisdom. I grabbed it off the shelf. By now I was far enough along to understand what wisdom was—I mean that’s what the word meant, it was the Greek word Sophia, for God’s sake, exactly what Socrates said we should be hot on the trail of, precisely what the etymology of the word itself told us: philosophy, i.e. phileo (love), sophia (wisdom). Philosophy: the love of wisdom. Etymologically.
A philosopher was a lover of wisdom. Literally.
The book, then (I forgot to explain) was a compendium of case studies, brief essays by some fifty philosophy professors at universities across the country, attempting to explain how they were first attracted to the study of philosophy, what initially motivated this peculiar lifetime pursuit, how they might feel about it now that they were old and poor and themselves obscure—this sort of thing. Most of the stories were rather trivial, I felt, like the often jejune similar confessions of some protestant ministers I had adolescently encountered, disappointing, deflating. None of these people felt the passion I had known, at both these junctures. I read the book, but studied philosophy anyway.
I did not change my major. And I did not change my mind about 'wisdom,' not yet at least. It remained for me as it apparently had for all the book’s contributors: an abstraction, a word that vaguely suggested a body of knowledge that might come along after a lifetime of reading and teaching such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Santayana and the like, not to mention good old Plato. Of course I was to have some pretty good teachers, who let me know that this was not philosophy anyway, but merely the history of philosophy… The successful philosophy major hopefully progresses to the point where he himself becomes a ‘philosopher,’ learns to ‘think for himself.’ And especially give up the idea that he will find the one thinker, the one belief system that will prove to be unassailable, that will hold up under any ideological assault. There is no such thing as The Total Truth. Philosophy in the end must reduce to word games, to semanticism. It’s a discipline for the mind, an expensive and time-consuming amusement for peculiar people.
All that was a long time ago. But just the other morning (Thanksgiving Day, in fact), voila! I took the same book down from the shelf, and thrilled anew at the title. For it now had a brand new meaning! It set me off reflecting on my good fortune, my unexpected reward—and I had my theme for Thanksgiving. I paused and gave thanks. Who would have thought that at the end of my life I would have such luck, looking for wisdom all these years as a good philosopher should, and then would actually FIND it—or her, I should say, at the end of life’s trail. For Wisdom is a Lady, and her name is Sophia! The love of my life! All the love songs of my romantic youth flooded back and now for the first time made sense, had a worthy object. Sinatra and Perry Como: Knights of Sophia, both of them. Minstrels all.
I had been looking for love in all the wrong places.
Now suddenly she was everywhere, even in the Bible: The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. (Jesus, Matthew 11:19). No wonder then that Solomon, the archetypal wise person, fell in love with his own Lady Wisdom: I loved her and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty (Wisdom 8:2). Sophia is honored as a goddess of wisdom by Gnostics, as well as by feminist-inspired Goddess spirituality groups. In Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, Sophia, or rather Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), is an expression of understanding for the second person of the Holy Trinity, (as in the dedication of the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul) as well as in the Old Testament, as seen in the Book of Proverbs. (Read it again some time; it’s all about HER.) In Roman Catholic mysticism, the Doctor of the Church St. Hildegard of Bingen celebrated Sophia as a cosmic figure in both her writing and her art. Sophia, in Catholic theology, is the Wisdom of God, and is thus eternal. Jacob Boehme, too, and Berdyaev, so many more.
I made her my own. I even wrote a book about her and me, The Cosmic Lady Was Right… She’s my Cosmic Lady, the mother of all humanity, my own mother, the Mother of God, my Lady Love, the lost feminine aspect of God. Wisdom is no longer an abstraction—she’s acquired a personality. My philosophy major paid off!
Now I can hear you saying that I’m deluded, off the deep end, that I’ve invented a secret teddy bear friend to talk to in private, that I’ve sublimated my sex drive now that it’s not there anymore anyway, found a companion for my old age. No, listen, Sophia was a huge part of the very earliest Christianity, but was totally driven underground by the ascendant macho clerics, so that we’ve completely forgotten where we came from, lost the feminine aspect of God, or even of our sterile contemporary mentality. Sophia (Greek for Wisdom) is her name, and she is NOT an extra-added deity, something pagan or New Age. Sophia is a Christian! (And much more). So even this Christian stuff starts to make sense, now that its pristine beauty is beginning to be restored by the ongoing Return of the Sacred Feminine, happening all around us in spite of the resurgent Republican Right and its last-gasp effort to revert to an American Fundamentalism that was never there anyway, blind men in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there…
Yeah I know it’s radical: you’re not ready for it, right? No more space now, but ‘bear’ with me---there’ll be more later.