On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Thomas Merton wakened in his cabin on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. He wrote of the “fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero,” yet he expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage, where his life is shared with Sophia. He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom: 8: 16:
When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy.
Reflecting on this text Merton writes: “But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom?’ For me, there is nothing else….I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear….” (p. 14 in “Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton” Christopher Pramuk Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)
When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I have come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005). Shapiro had opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures, and now I was finding my own way to sharing my life with Sophia.
Because of Shapiro’s insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs, I glimpsed the meaning of Merton’s dream of a young girl whose name was “Proverbs”.
Here is where Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks in Proverbs:
The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.
I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…
When He established the heavens, I was already there.
When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…
I was beside Him, the master builder.
I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.
Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8: 22-31)
Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:
She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well. (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)
To know her, Shapiro adds, is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:
Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace. She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18)
Moreover, writes Shapiro, Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.
Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.
I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)
Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes. She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.
She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise. Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.
….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.
In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:
Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones. You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal with them to your mutual benefit.