Gaea and Sophia
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Have you noticed that we are having a very good Spring? Over the years that we have lived in our home, Laurie and I have planted many different sorts of flowers and bushes. Also over this time, some plants just happen to show up along the fences and by the house. With the coming of Spring we look forward to what will blossom. Usually, though, there’s always some favorite plant that doesn’t blossom in a given year.
But for us, everything was blossoming this Spring: Our azaleas have all bloomed out … even the one that I was ready to pull out because it was so sparse and ragged. It actually blossomed very nicely. Our violets and lilies of the valley all are coming out. Even our old and worn out dogwood blossomed beautifully.
Our Irises are blooming now as are the peonies along our driveway. My wild quince bush … that just appeared one year … had a beautiful crop of blooms and I’m waiting to see how many quince I will get from it.
This Spring is close to being a perfect Spring … But it isn’t just about pretty blooms and wandering plants. A Garden, indeed, all of nature is suffused with spirit. Planting a garden is not just a hobby. Raising livestock and cultivating grain on a farm is not just business. Exploring the underwater sea is not just a scientific endeavor. God’s Spirit is in every living thing.
I like fairies and the stories about them. Among the Gardens that I have laid out, one is a fairy garden with lilies of the valley and violets planted among the fairies and their houses. But this garden isn’t just for the children to play in. Though fairies are myths, one very powerful way to view fairies is that they are a visible metaphor for God’s Spirit in nature. The fairies are magical nature creatures by tradition. In a picturesque way the garden icons allow me to visualize God’s presence in the garden. It lends a wonderful culture to the gardens and gives a way to teach children that God is in all of the creation.
Thus, we are not alone on the Earth as God’s children. All of creation belongs to God and all of creation is loved by God. God finds great joy in the work of the divine hands, just as an artist or a gardener would.
As God wishes that we humans to get along and care for each other, so God wants all the non-human creation to be a part of that care. Through this creation God has given us the means to live and thrive. Without this beautiful planet that God has given with us, we could not exist. We are not some alien entities visiting and raiding this planet. We are deeply involved in Mother Earth whether we are aware of the involvement or not.
Indeed this planet that we live on is not a sphere of isolated living creatures. It is a living, holistic, finely tuned organism that we are a part of. We are dependent on the functioning and thriving of this organism, that we call Mother Earth or for some Gaea. The Earth gives us water, and food, and air. The Earth is finely tuned to give us a climate in which we can thrive. It has resources from which we can glean our needs. The Earth doesn’t need us, but we need it.
But there is a difference between us humans and the rest of God’s children on this planet. God has given us free will, self-awareness, and intellect. God has made us just a little lower than God and thereby, giving us enormous power over the Earth.
The Psalmist rejoices in God’s work and God’s choice of us being the stewards of the divine labor: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, / the moon and the stars that you have established; / what are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them? / Yet you have made them a little lower than God, / … / You have given them dominion over the works of your hands …
God has made us the stewards of this world. And now we are reaching into outer space. We’ve been to the Moon. And we have realistic plans to go further … all the way to Mars. And by doing so we will become God’s stewards of those worlds. God will expect us not to do anything that will harm these worlds.
God did not create the animals, the grain, the fruit and the water solely for our benefit. God allows us to partake of those necessities but God revels in them for their own sake … God would have created these even if we did not use them or God never brought us into being. As God rejoices in us, God rejoices in Gaea… not just we humans who sojourn on Gaea. God put God’s trust in us to also respect and rejoice in Gaea. God made us the stewards of Gaea. And God would not have done that if God did not think that we would care for Gaea out of thanksgiving of all the goodness that Gaea has given us and continues to give us.
But Gaea, the Earth, can only do so much. If we do not care for Gaea – if we are bad stewards – Gaea will work hard to continue to nurture us, but at some point she will not be able to sustain our need. As we have forgotten her needs, she will be exhausted and unable to help us.
As Gaea nurtures us, we as stewards are suppose to nurture her … and this we have not done. We have taken, but we have not given by and large.
Gaea is the personification of the Earth. She reminds us that the Earth is not just a disconnected set of continents and cultures. Gaea is a single organism encompassing all of the other organisms that thrive on the Earth. She is one such imagining of the importance of the Earth and the consequences of the quality of our stewardship.
But there is another personification that we need to hear – Sophia, the Wisdom that God first made and was with God at the Creation. The book of Proverbs introduces us to Sophia – the spirit of Wisdom. Without Sophia there is no understanding of what God expects of us. She is an emanation of God that represents God’s gift of wisdom.
In our passages from Proverbs, we learn for what Sophia stands. She does not proclaim from some isolated academic hall. She cries out to us on the street corners and at the intersections of our lives where we cannot avoid listening to her.
She calls us to be humble, prudent and knowledgeable. She speaks only righteous truth. If we are humble, knowledgeable and prudent we will understand righteous truth. We will realize that being righteous is better than being wealthy. We will realize that being humble and discrete is better than being prideful and arrogant.
Sophia tells us that she was the first creation of God. Before God would create anything, God created wisdom that the creation to come could prosper and bring forth the fruits of wisdom. And she was side by side with God aiding God as God created. She was there with God creating the oceans and seas, the land and mountains, the thriving life of this planet and billions of other planets. And as God continues to create, Sophia is beside God aiding God’s creative energy. (The very first verse of the Bible is usually translated, “In the beginning when God created …” This can also be translated, “When God began to create …”)
Where is Sophia today? We live in the embrace of Gaea and all too often take advantage of her. But when do we turn to Sophia, God’s creative principle?
In the Catholic bible there are additional books. One of these is the Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon tells us much more about Sophia. Solomon writes that Sophia “is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of [God’s] goodness… Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things, in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God … [NRSV 8:25-27]”
Sophia cares for and nurtures Gaea as a mother would. Gaea is the work of God’s creativity and Sophia rejoices in God’s creation. Sophia is that spirit of God that calls out to us and makes it possible for us to co-create with God.
Through the evolutionary process, God continues creation as Gaea and all of her children, including ourselves, change over the years and ages. But God made us special. Unlike the rest of Gaea’s living children, we alone were made a little less than God and God invited us into the creativity effort. Unlike the fish in the sea and the animals of the land, we can and do have an impact on God’s creation whether intended or accidental.
But we have forgotten – or really never accepted – that we have duties to Gaea. Psalm 24 reminds us that “the earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.”
God has endowed us with great knowledge and great inventive skills. And with these gifts, God has made it possible for us to create also and to impact significantly God’s own creative efforts. We have learned to raise mighty cities upon Gaea and cure deadly diseases caused by her smallest children. We have learned to extract resources from her and use them to fuel our technologies of transportation and communication. We have learned to fly like the birds of the air.
But we have done all of this without consideration for Gaea herself. We have created as if Gaea is infinitely renewable and immortal never to fail us. But like all of God’s creation she is finite and mortal. And in our inattention to her needs, we are speeding up her demise.
And Sophia is crying out to us. Just as we will go to any means to care for our children and to set them on the road to a prosperous and happy life, Sophia – Wisdom – calls to us to be wise and not self-involved, to be prudent and not greeding, to be humble and not arrogant. She calls to us to love Gaea as we love our own … for Gaea provides the necessities of life that we and ours desperately need.
God is giving us a beautiful Spring with wonders of color and sound: flowers and trees blooming and the wild birds singing to us. But God knows that Gaea is struggling and that struggle manifests itself often in terrible storms and terrible droughts. For Gaea, like ourselves is an organism and an organism can take only so much until it must adapt to the changes irrespective of our safety.
As children of God and God’s own creation, we need to embrace Wisdom. We will find that if we do, though our short term lives may have to struggle, over the long term, the Earth will come back into balance and our future and the future of our children will be far brighter.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …