Rev. Dr. Russ Daye
16th after Pentecost
September 12, 2021
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Some of you may remember this image (https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/story-behind-famous-rene-levesque-cartoon). It was drawn in 1976 by Terry Moser, the great cartoonist for the Montreal Gazette, who goes by the handle ‘Aislin.’ It is one of the most famous political cartoons in Canadian history. It was drawn during one of the greatest political crises in Canadian history. It was astute, it was hilarious, and it was the perfect response to the shock felt when a separatist party was elected. But it was also an invitation. An important invitation. An invitation to reframe.
Let me give a little background. In the mid-seventies English speakers made up about thirteen percent of Quebec’s population but dominated business and other sectors and had exerted disproportionate influence for hundreds of years. A great humbling was in store. It came on November fifteenth, 1976, when the Parti-Quebecois and its charismatic separatist leader, Rene Levesque, were elected. Anglophones, business leaders and others began to freak out. Hundreds of thousands of Anglos fled the province. Large corporations started looking for land in Toronto.
Aislin, seeing this general panic grabbed his pens and offered a perfect invitation. His portrayal of Levesque giving the instruction, ‘Ok everybody take a valium,’ was an invitation to relax, to take a breath and to not freak out. It was also an invitation to see Rene Levesque as something other than the enemy – to humanize him instead of demonizing him. It was an invitation to reframe. Many Anglos, including church leaders, accepted the invitation. A number of ministers told me that a close look at the economic and social platform of the Parti Quebecois in the 70s showed strong affinity with gospel values. They were much more concerned with poverty, with the women’s issues, and with social exclusion than federalist parties. Their election was also an invitation – one to a more just social order.
Here we are, almost a half-century later, and I want to offer you an invitation. As you and I launch our pastoral relationship we find ourselves in a situation much like that of English Quebecers in 1976. It’s a situation captured well in a verse of the Leonard Cohen song, The Future: Things are going to slide, slide in all directions; Won’t be nothing; Nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world Has crossed the threshold; And it’s overturned the order of the soul.
This crazy situation, in which the ground seems to keep turning to sand beneath our feet and we just don’t know what tomorrow will look like, has both church and world in its grasp. With the anxiety and uncertainty has come a great humbling. Actually, the humbling of the church has been going on since the 70s, and now the great blizzard of Covid has sent the world sliding in all directions indeed. It’s an easy time to freak out.
So, like Aislin’s Levesque I have an invitation for you. You have already offered me several warm invitations. First the invitation to join you as your lead minister. Thank you. Martha has invited me to interrupt her sabbatical if I ever have questions. The staff, and Sandra and Andy and other lay leaders have invited me to call upon them whenever I need support. One person has invited Virginia me to kayaking and time in the bush. Thank you.
I want to issue an invitation myself. Like Aislin’s Rene Levesque, I want to invite us to take a substance into our bodies. Not valium, but something more readily available. Valium is a substance that, when ingested, causes one to relax, to release anxiety, perhaps to breathe easier, to break cycles of stress and strain and gives one space to reframe. The substance I invite us to ingest does all that and much more. It can relax us, it can break cycles of apprehension, it can restore our nerve, it can deepen our breath, it can bind us to each other, it can restore the order of the soul, it can heal the social order. What is the name of this miracle substance? Its name is ‘Sophia.’ That’s not the name of a pharmaceutical – although it would be a great name for one – it’s a name for the Divine in her feminine expression. It is Wisdom. It is the self-expression of God.
Let’s take a look at a product description for Sophia, found not on the back of a box of pills, but in the book of proverbs: Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge. Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Or here in the book called the Wisdom of Solomon: for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. Sophia is more beautiful than the sun and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.
Sophia is the divine intelligence that orders all things. It’s not a chemical but it is weaved in the very molecular chains that make up earth and sky and sea. It’s not a psycho-pharmacological, but it can shape our minds, our hearts, our relationships and our societies. It cries to us in the silence of our hearts and the noise of the streets. On Thursday afternoon I took a long infusion of Sophia, which I want to tell you about.
It started when I stumbled upon Martha, as she was back in the city for few hours. We decided to go for a coffee. Sipping the warm brew, feeling Martha’s kind presence, laughing and gossiping about ministers we both knew, I felt myself relax, my breath slow down, my shoulders settle and my confidence rise. Then I joined the Congregational Care Committee on a zoom call and felt the grace of their affection for those in their care. Leaving the church, I was walking down Bloor Street when I hear a great jazz version of a Tears for Fears song blowing down the street. In front of the ROM a full brass band, perhaps students from U of T, were busking. Dozens of people were stopping in rush hour to slow down and take in the energy of their offering. They were smiling, dancing a little, talking to strangers. It was a great scene. I felt joy alchemize in the cells of my body.
Then, a couple blocks further east on Bloor, a really strange thing happened. As I was walking home, a young man with ferociously intense eyes stepped in front of me, blocking my path, and raised his hand, bringing his pointed index finger within a centimetre of my face, and glared right into my eyes. There was clearly going to be a confrontation – perhaps a physical one. I felt my body chemistry start to alter again: my shoulders began to raise; my breath hastened; and some recess of my mind quickly began to search for long-forgotten boxing moves and judo techniques. But my earlier infusion of Sophia won out. I softly stepped around the man and said politely: ‘excuse me.’ He fell into stride with me, walking beside me shoulder tight to shoulder, and began to shout: ‘you should go on tick tock!’ Understanding that he was in a strange mental health state, and unconsciously holding to Sophia’s grace, I gave him a warm smile and said, ‘Man, I’m too old for TikTok.’ He shouted again, ‘no you’re not!! You could be Batman!’ This actually caused me to laugh, and I replied while chuckling, ‘Well, now you’re talking my language; Batman is actually older than me.’ The young man suddenly softened, slowed his pace, and then said, ‘I love you,’ before peeling off and going his own way.
I walked on feeling both baffled and blessed. It was really something of a sacred moment for me. I also was held by the knowledge that, had that young man confronted me on another day, when I was stressed or grumpy or fearful, this encounter could have ended in a very different way.
My invitation to you, as we begin our pastoral relationship, is to pause, ‘take a Sophia,’ and allow the encounter between us to be held by divine wisdom just like my encounter with the young man. I invite us to grow into relationship held by the daily dance of God’s self-expression – which is always available to us. There are times when we’ll laugh together, there are times when we’ll go for coffee together, sit in committee meetings together, zoom together, listen to jazz together, and there will be times when our eyes flash with anger and we’ll want to point fingers. That’s all good so long as we take our daily dose of Sophia and allow ourselves to become characters in the drama of God’s self-expression… This is my invitation.
Image credit: Sophia (wisdom) – Wiki Commons