Part One: Wisdom Has a Woman's Name
By Isabel_Anders on October 31, 2011
“The wise woman builds her house ... ” (Proverbs 14:1).
I remember when I first heard this verse, as a young teenager. I was being quite deliberately counseled and “fed” the word. Somehow, a slightly older high school girl in our church had evidently seen promise in me, and had taken me on in her one-on-one discipleship ministry. I had parents who were both churchgoers, active in attendance and support of the small suburban start-up church in our neighborhood.
Lena, on the other hand, had broken from her family’s apathy toward religion, and she and her sister, in a sense building up their own tradition—became probably as proactive and enthusiastic about church as young adult converts could be.
I think I knew that I had been chosen by Lena to have passed on to me her favorite nuggets of wisdom, hard earned and precious, that being a countercultural person in those days—an outspoken Christian—might require. Certainly she was grooming me as to what growing into a young woman of virtue would entail. My parents approved and encouraged the relationship.
“A wise woman ... ” There was no doubt that this is what we both aimed someday to be. “A wise woman builds her house ... the foolish woman tears it down with her own hands,” the verse continues.
She could not have known, and I did not have the voice to tell her (and now we have lost touch), how important to me her citing these images from the Old Testament Wisdom tradition would become. The insight in this simple comparison of wise and foolish, an important ancient theme, was to set me on a path of lifelong study of biblical language, metaphor, poetry, and the theology of wisdom.
The academic portion of this journey didn’t begin formally until I was in graduate school and had the opportunity to systematically study the nature of wisdom thinking and expression in Scripture—Proverbs, portions of the Psalms, and the other poetic books. Attempting to sort out the meaning and importance of Sophia in my life would come even later. And my own mother-daughter dialogues http://tinyurl.com/5rpz3fk were not to emerge out of this study until years later still, after my own two daughters were launching themselves into their adult lives.
It was actually in some of my early attempts at novel-writing nearly a decade ago that the dialogue form and its possibility for conveying wisdom unfolded—in my mind and on the page. The first mother-daughter dialogues that I wrote into the fiction manuscript were not in my voice, but in that of one of my older women characters. The slight authorial distance probably gave me boldness I would not otherwise have had. The novel went nowhere—but I extracted the wisdom dialogues from it and have added to them over the years.
A wise woman builds her house ... sometimes a slow and painstaking process. Recently, as my research has taken me beyond Scripture to other sources of spiritual literature through the ages, I found this advice from 14th-century St. Catherine of Sienna that exactly fits my purpose: “Make two homes for thyself, my daughter. One actual home ... and the other a spiritual home which thou are to carry with thee always.”
And so my academic interest and my personal desire to continue on this journey with Sophia have now come together in a series of books of mother-daughter wisdom dialogues.
An example from the first collection:
The Mother and Daughter saw a great ship on the horizon, its sails catching the red and gold of the morning rays.
“I long to be carried by such a glorious ship to the land of my hopes and dreams,” wished the Daughter aloud.
“You have been blessed with just such a Ship,” said the Mother.
“What is its name?” asked the Daughter.
Her Mother replied, “It is your Soul.”
—From Becoming Flame: Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom
Part Two to come: Wisdom in a Nutshell