Wisdom–An addition to my Personal Anthology of Favorite Poetry

This poem is a selection inspired by an exposition of The Book of Common Prayer called Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices. (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement, 2018).

In Walking in Love, two Episcopal priests, the Rev. Scott Gunn and the Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe, guide readers on a journey through the 1979 edition of The Book of Common Prayer.

At the end of each chapter, Gunn and Shobe attempt to provoke thoughtful responses from readers by posing a series of questions under the rubric “For Reflection.”

Closing the first chapter, the writers ask: “What is your favorite prayer, and why is it your favorite?”

During my reflection, I listed a half dozen favorites from The Book of Common Prayer, but using a separate devotional guide came across a passage from the Book of Proverbs, which I don’t believe is contained in the BCP. (Technically, the passage is listed as an optional reading in the Lectionary Schedule for Year B.)

The poem is the opening six verses of Proverbs 9 and takes its title from the first word.

Wisdom

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has prepared her table.
She has sent out her maidservants; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,
Come eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”*

[The above is from the New American Bible translation. Below is the wording of the New Revised Standard Version (with the title “Wisdom’s Feast”)]

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, (or simpleness) and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

[For a contemporary take on the ancient language, here is the translation of Eugene H. Peterson in The Message, with the title “Lady Wisdom Gives a Dinner Party.”]

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

 

I can’t fully explain why this poem is a favorite of mine, but the imagery of Lady Wisdom preparing a feast for those who have shown naivety, a lack of sense, and foolishness expresses an outpouring of graciousness and hospitality that anticipates the good news of the Christmas-Easter-Pentecost feasts.

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