As the Autumn Equinox approaches, darkness and light, night and day, winter and summer move into a delicate balance. Following her example, I allow the earth to guide my own balance of feminine and masculine both within and outside of myself. This prompts me to return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, opening my heart to receive his translation of the “Song of Songs”, the Jewish text originally written in Greek somewhere in the second or first centuries BCE. Shapiro, in his book, Embracing the Divine Feminine, traces the history of rabbinical scholarship and offers his own insights into this poem of erotic love which he sees as “a celebration of the union of the seeker of wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself.”
In his Introduction, Shapiro writes: Given the centrality of Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, to this reading of the Song of Songs, we would be wise to take a moment to understand just who she is. According to the Book of Job, Wisdom is the means by which God created the universe. God looked and took note of her. (Job 28:27) In other words, God looked to Wisdom to discover both the form and function of the universe. Wisdom therefore is the very nature in nature.
Curious, I opened my Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Job and found these lines:
But tell me, where does wisdom come from? ….
God alone has traced (her) path
and found out where (she) lives….
When (God) willed to give weight to the wind
and measured out the waters with a gauge,
When (God) made the laws and rules for the rain
and mapped a route for the thunderclaps to follow,
then (God) had Wisdom in sight, and cast (her) worth,
assessed (her), fathomed (her). (Job 28:20, 23, 25-27)
Who is Lady Wisdom?
For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32. (Remember Thomas Merton’s dream of a young girl named Proverbs who was for him the Sophia Presence?)
I am the deep grain of creation,
the subtle current of life.
God fashioned me before all things:
I am the blueprint of creation,
I was there from the beginning,
from before there was a beginning.
I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.
I was there before depth was considered,
before springs bubbled with water,
before the shaping of mountains and hills,
before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,
before the first dust settled on the lands.
When God prepared the heavens, I was there.
When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep
I was there.
I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.
My nature is joy and I gave God constant delight.
Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.
I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.
Follow me and be happy.
Practice my discipline and grow wise.
(T)he Hebrew is clear: the speaker is Chochma, Lady Wisdom, and hence all the pronouns and verbs referring to Wisdom in this passage are feminine. The grammar of this and every passage that speaks of, to, about, or for Wisdom always uses the feminine form.
Shapiro invites us to consider the qualities of Wisdom usually associated with God. She is the “firstborn” of God and from her come the thousand things of creation. Her way is of truth and justice while her essence is pure delight. Wisdom delights in humanity and one who finds her finds life.
Shapiro compares this with Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Paul connects Jesus with Wisdom in Corinthians 1:24 when he writes: Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.
Then Shapiro goes further: What becomes the male Christ in the Christian Scriptures was originally the female Chochmah in the Hebrew Bible.
He continues: Wisdom is the way God manifests in and as creation. Uniting with Wisdom, as the Song of Songs invites us to do, is a way of uniting with the life and the Source from which life arises.
Why do we personify Wisdom? Shapiro believes it is because “on a deep and subconscious level we know her to be the other with whom we long to unite. She is not an abstraction but our Beloved. She is not to be thought about but physically embraced in a manner that reveals YWVH to us.”
Returning to Proverbs, Shapiro offers us his translation of Chapter 9, 1-6:
Wisdom’s house rests on many pillars.
It is magnificent and easy to find.
Inside, she has cooked a fine meal and
sweetened her wine with water.
Her table is set.
She sends her maidens to the tallest towers to summon you.
To the simple they call: Come enter here.
To those who lack understanding they say:
Come eat my food, drink my wine,
Abandon your empty life and walk in the way of understanding.
Shall we accept her invitation?