Let Us Now Praise Sophia
Essay Series on Wisdom,
Instalment Number Two (from the Writings and Message of Baha'u'llah)
By John Taylor; 2010 April 02, Ala' 13, 166 BE
(original title: "In Praise of Wisdom," revised from an essay written on 18 December, 2002)
Baha and Sophia
I awoke this morning with a strange desire in my heart to praise wisdom. But who am I to give praises to her? Baha'u'llah Himself has given wisdom enough encomiums to grab the attention of humanity for Millennia. He gives her credit for the very victory of God's Cause,
"Subdue the citadels of men's hearts with the swords of wisdom and of utterance..." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 55)
Wisdom can do this because it is an instrument capable of ruling from within as well as from without.
Wisdom, personified by mystics as Sophia, the female element of the Godhead, is capable of eternal, absolute rule. However, as a woman, she not only rules, she inspires and nurtures. She is dominatrix of bodies and of hearts, minds and souls. In the long run, mortal power is ephemeral; even the strongest and most brutal of tyrants and the cleverest of propagandists all fail to control more than mere bodies, and only for a brief time.
Sophia, then, is so pervasive and influential because, like most women, she can multitask. She is not just a political ruler, she is also the heart of science. And the soul of religion. As a loving mother, she can nurture, persuade and inspire out of love alone, without appeal to authority. She works wholly without arbitrary means and measures.
What is more, she is, Baha'u'llah implies in a prayer, the renewable energy source that runs the machinery of religion,
"Thou hast lighted the lamp of Thy Cause with the oil of wisdom; protect it from contrary winds." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 104)
Her cure works directly on faith, it can make an unbeliever faithful. Conversely, the reverse of wisdom, folly, can work in the other direction. It can turn a friend into an enemy of God.
Baha'u'llah does not think of wisdom as window-dressing, or anything like optional. He stresses that, whatever their titles, many of His tablets are devoted to explicating wisdom. In the following He makes her both universal and obligatory to His followers,
"Fix your gaze upon wisdom in all things, for it is an unfailing antidote. How often hath it turned a disbeliever into a believer or a foe into a friend? Its observance is highly essential, inasmuch as this theme hath been set forth in numerous Tablets revealed from the empyrean of the Will of Him Who is the Manifestation of the light of divine unity. Well is it with them that act accordingly." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 256)
So another reason for observing wisdom is simply because He has devoted so much space, time and attention to the matter in the Holy Writings.
Just think of it. Terrorism is spreading like wildfire and no matter how many technological protections we come up with, it will never be enough. All of the fighter jets and aircraft carriers of the world's superpower were useless that one 9-11 morning to defend against a dozen fanatics armed with box cutters. Every weed you dig out will be replaced by a thousand other hatreds more virulent than before.
The envy and dislike of one people or group for another is not a technical problem. Bringing us together is a question of using what Baha'u'llah calls "wisdom and utterance."
"...quench, through the power of wisdom and the force of thy utterance, the fire of enmity and hatred which smouldereth in the hearts of the peoples of the world." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 12)
Wisdom is the most highly effective way to eradicate hatred, violence and reaction, the most crying problem in the world. The flames of hatred break out on their own in ourselves, between individuals and among cultures and other groups. And yet all it takes to quell contention is not billions spent on weapons and security, all we have to do is to speak with wisdom, to encourage those in conflict to establish wise dialog among themselves, to teach consultation, for true consultation can solve every problem you can name.
Talk, they say, is cheap, so what could be cheaper than to send in a few wise people in to reason with all parties concerned? That is what Baha'is do, we work wisdom in the world.
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Sophia to faith, and to the Baha'i Faith. Baha'u'llah's claim itself, He declares, is an outcome of His special ability to wield Sophia's words.
"Where is he to be found that dareth to claim to be My equal in utterance or wisdom?" (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 129)
Certainly, that verbal Gift made me a believer just before Ridvan in 1973. I still recall the moment, riding an intercity coach from Ancaster to Hamilton and reading a passage from Gleanings, when I realized that no mere mortal could have written such words, or ever maintain such a claim. A conversion experience, a moment when Sophia reached out and touched me, leaving me forever changed.
The power of wisdom is not restricted to Baha'u'llah Himself. It is a melody that He teaches, a beat to which we march, a song we can learn to sing.
"Hearken, now, unto the notes of the Birds of Wisdom upraised in the Most Sublime Paradise. They verily will acquaint thee with things of which thou wert wholly unaware." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle, 140)
Wisdom, then, is the basis of learning and innovation. Know her and novelty will arise on its own. She will liberate us from constantly repeating the past. Embrace her and the seeker of truth becomes the truth.