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God’s Peace and blessings to you all!
It’s a rare and surprising delight when I come across a sermon that could be considered real art. Recently, I was blessed enough to hear a sermon from my colleague and classmate Justin Gibson as he preached at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His text was Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, for which you can find the text HERE.
I was so blown away by the caliber of his writing and artistry of his imagery that I had to ask if he’d be willing to preach it again for me so I could record it and share it with others. Thankfully, he said “yes!” And I’m thrill to be able to share it here. Here’s a sermon from a man that has fallen in love with a Lady. She’s a seductress that has more year behind her than we could count, but she’s all the more elegant for them. So I invite you to sit back and enjoy. Hear how Justin follows this fine Lady through her exploits and conquests, her inspirations and heartbreaks, and perhaps hear how she’s calling to you as well. God’s Peace! (In this audio, Justin begins with the text from Proverbs, then follows with the sermon. The text of his sermon is below.)
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
RCL Trinity Sunday Year C
A dramatic monologue: Or the Mediterranean homesick blues
Mother wisdom. No, lady wisdom. No, my lover wisdom. Come to me she calls. She bids me to leave my seat in the cave. The puppets on the wall have never whispered such a call in my ear. “Lay down the shackles and come to me.”
I can’t hear shit in this cave, this prison, this cell. The shadows on the wall have been droning on for years. The same story the same movement. Sweat drips down my forehead. The perspiration of desperation as Punch forgets his baby in the car again. Punch and his old lady fighting in the wal-mart. The neighbors call the cops but punch takes his attitude up with the badge. Punch and Judy give way to helmet bearing Cowboys, Birds, beasts and pirates. The oblong ball goes back and forth. Shadows on the wall. My head has been strapped tight for so long I can’t remember.
Punch again, oblong ball, who done it and what for. Shadows on the wall. A sound comes from the street corner, soft, glowing, irresistible. Shadows on the wall pull me back to the never ending garbage that passes the day. Outside? Who has ever been outside? I came here on purpose ten years ago. The sign said Girls, Girls, Girls but it was only shadows, these damn shadows on the wall.
I used to know a girl. One that gave me love. One that made my life complete. She was no shadow on the wall. She was flesh, she was real. Shadows on the wall meant love by a candle. Fortune came between us. She rolled her wheel right between us and tore away the love that grew from the place where shadow and light dance. That thin spot on the wall at the edge of shadow’s land. That thin line before you get to the light of destiny, the light of truth and the light of reality. Nobody sees the thin line they always either see the black or the white. That thin line exists but for an instant and then the lights go black. Did I ever see the line?
Fortune prevailed and I made my way to the slums where the promise of putting “los ombilogos juntos” as they say held no more thought than my head stuck in a vice. Squeezed and restrained I spent years plotting nothing. No Old Boy motives kept my thoughts sharp. No shawshank redemption to plot my escape only shadows and monotony and a headache.
“Come away my love” the whisper again from the street below. A re-run for the 300 time. “follow me and I will show you the real light of day” I can’t take it anymore. Get this headset off of me. My jaw aches like it has been in a dentist’s tourniquet for eternity. The window now bears my attention as I see bright light for the first time in a decade of drunken stupor. Busy, busy, busy. The street bustles in the mid day sun when a siesta should be in store. A weary glance and squinted eyes but no match in the phonic Pictionary game of find that voice. Who’s that lady? Where is that lady? That sexy lady. The recliner whispers but it sounds like a fart in my ear. “Come back old friend the seat is still warm.” The corner of the street catches my eye. Sitting on a stump. The old stump of Simeon Stylites who crusted his butt to the top for damn near the length of the walk through the wilderness by the Jehovahists. Flowing white dress, sunglasses, cigarette hanging from her lips she blew out the dust of the ascetics and motioned to me with the flick of her ashes.
Hot damn she lives! That be the woman and I be heading out the door. I kicked the light box on the way out and the old world went black. By the time I hit the ground floor her feet were back in the dust. She slowly took a drag. Scarf on her head, incognito, she is the queen of Casablanca. Closest thing to Ingrid Bergman that you’ve ever seen. How long have you been here? We said no questions. Well here is looking at you kid.
Some moments are longer than others. Standing breath to breath with the Lady was as long as eternity is short. The smooth swagger of the woman as old as time and fine as aged wine. She was Diotima of old, teaching Socrates the philosophy of love. Lady wisdom who shared Solomon’s bed as well as his head. Her evil twin Folly battled for the hearts of men. Hagia Sophia, Hokma, Logos, Spirit, eternal mind, Lady Philosophy of Boethius’ cell. She shared the final cup of wine before he became Theodoric’s ornament hanging on a spike. The Lady, Goddess Athena, who put the curve in Odysseus’s back and the cane in his hand. She is a goddess if I ever seen one and I would follow this peripatetic beauty to Troy and back if she but said the words.
Listen O Man, I have been in this since the beginning. Every inspiration has been touched by my lips. Mountains and seas have heard my voice. The one above you and me has doted on me like a china doll in a cabinet. No, like the apple of a daddy’s eye. My muses whispered in a soft voice to the blind bard. Shakespeare sat with my pen in his hand. The west Texas sunset displayed the rouge of my cheeks. Wild waters, gales, and Pompeii resting in the dust all know the power of my voice. Ansel Adams saw me in the dawn shining on Capitan and Woody Guthrie hitched a ride on my train. I came down from heaven like a dove and rested on the shoulders of the Son of Man. A thousand books are but a drop from my bucket and a million galaxies are but sand strewn across the sky.
Listen O Man, let the shadows dance on the wall and let a child’s play things be as such. Come away with me.
Who am I that you are mindful of me? What is man? I look to the window that held my head in chains. And then to the cool drag of the Teacher beside me. She has been tramping on the road for a while. Should I stay or should I go?
I blinked and she was different than before. A western frontiersman in a Sergio Leone film. You know I been riding this plain for a while. Bout two towns back I got into an argument with young Justin Μαρτυρεω. Funny kid. He had some big idea but missed the point. We parted company in an amiable way. He was headed towards the coast but I needed to be in the wide open spaces. Stars, rot gut whiskey and coffee in the morrow. Extra saddle if you’re interested. Corn dodgers and salt pork waiting in the camp.
5’oclock shadows that can’t be groomed creep from the place that held my inattention for so long. Lady Wisdom was no more. Dazed and confused I sat down in the dust. The echo of the poet sounded in my ear “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Dust, the shadow of the day. Choking the living like the tuberculosis that the snake contracted from all those years on his belly. Dust. Shadow. Am I anything but these two? The Llano ain’t nothing but dust by day and the darkest shadows by night. What is man? Forgotten dust and ill kept shadows.
Through the crowd I but glimpse the blink of my Goddess moving out of the city. The poet again whispers softly, “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain… I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
I said to myself because the shadows of closing time had everyone attended to, “I will never get out of this world alive. How faire thee my shoes? Faire thee well? O Master, whose feet I swell. One o’ these days, an’ it won’t be long, call my name an’ I’ll be gone. Fare thee well, O Honey, fare thee well.
Sitting down in my aching pain with my love so clear and my heart that’s been slain. Lay Lady lay with your head on my chest. Lay lady lay on my tattooed breast. Be a lady always to me. Through my tears on the ground beside my wounded knee. Ere go my baby, ere go I. Till I lay down, right by her side. Lady’s rouge tints the West Texas red dirt. Wisdom in death and Wisdom in birth. Fare thee well shadows on the wall. Deck’s made of 51 and the moves of the canon ball. Fare thee well Tecumseh valley. Fare thee well. The road lies ahead of me. Raul Duke and the great white boat. Wisdom wait up I’m coming with you.
This is the segment in which I explain everything that is now resting on your face. Lady Wisdom is not Jesus Christ unless you are a church father in which case that is exactly who she is. She is not the bearer of practical advice and wisdom is not wrapped up in words and ideas alone. She is something of a hypostatic notion and influenced by culture since culture is what she is. She co-creates in the minds of man and in the torrents of the sea, the heights of the mountains peak and the smile of a child. She is intellectually erotic and dependent on no man. She calls to humanity in who she delights and begs to be listened to. She is the philosopher who comes to town looking for students. She is freedom from the cave and insight into the mundane. Spirit is inspiration and wisdom is wrapped up in everything that makes life intelligible and beautiful. Lady Wisdom is often our unopened drawer. The veiled beauty on a wedding night. The things that are begging to be explored. Our attitude should echo DMB and sing “Open up my head and let me out.”Amen