O Wisdom

In the final days of Advent, the church’s daily evening prayer includes a short verse, or antiphon, that highlights one of the scriptural names for the messiah.  Each day’s text begins with “O” followed the designated title, traditionally sung in Latin.  From today through Dec. 23, I’ll post a reflection on the day’s O Antiphon, revised and updated from the series I posted in 2010.  More background information on the O Antiphons is found below each day’s post.

Antiphon of the Day:  O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:  Come and show your people the way to salvation.

The figure of “Wisdom,” or in Greek “Sophia,” is consistently personified as female throughout the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scripture, which consists of several books composed around the 10th century BCE and reflects a newly emerging understanding that God could be encountered through human experience. The Wisdom books consist of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach.

86898565_563dab2319In chapter 7 of the book of Wisdom, in the most glowing of terms, Solomon describes how Wisdom, who comes from God, taught him many things about the workings of the universe and imparted knowledge of the natural world.  The spirit within her is “intelligent, holy, unique, firm secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing.”  Beyond her own capabilities, she also pervades all others and carries God’s power. She is portrayed as dynamic and on the move, inspiring others, “producing friends of God and prophets,” while never herself diminishing. In the book of Proverbs, chapter 8, Wisdom herself speaks directly. Created by God and present as God’s partner in the creation of the universe, she is close at hand to humans, part of daily life and available to provide guidance. “I, Wisdom, dwell with experience, and judicious knowledge I attain.”  “Mine are counsel and advice; Mine is strength and understanding. Those who love me I also love, and those who seek me find me.”

After the weather of 2012 in the United States and globally, we simply must ponder an image of the messiah who is connected to creation.  What would it be like to listen to “Wisdom who dwells with experience,” who is right here with us, not far away?  A positive first step might be to listen to that most basic reference point for experience – our own bodies.  Authentic awareness of our personal needs for nourishment, rest, shelter, water, and air quickly leads to encounter with the profound ecological challenges facing the entire human community.

Prayer:  O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, we need your knowledge, power, and love. May we trust your voice within to inspire action for the salvation of our planet and all its inhabitants.

Photo by FlyingSinger via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

About the O Antiphons
Although the exact origin of the O Antiphons is unknown, they seem to have been in use for more than 1,000 years. Most of us are more familiar with singing all these names for Jesus in the complete verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, has mostly been observed by religious communities, especially today in monasteries.  It’s the church’s way of marking the holiness of each part of the day.  Historically, as many as eight “hours” were celebrated during a 24-hour period, but Vatican II emphasized morning and evening prayer for all, not just vowed religious.  The format includes psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, and specific prayers like the Our Father and Magnificat.  At vespers from Dec. 17-23, in early evening, the O Antiphon is recited or sung before the Magnificat.
Perhaps because I love words and enjoy discovering their meanings, the O Antiphons have fascinated me for years though I’ve never prayed them in a communal setting.  I first spent time reading the biblical texts from which the O Antiphons are drawn two years ago for this blog and found it very illuminating.  Taken together they present a mosaic of names for God, disparate pieces joined together creating a beautiful whole that is even richer than the individual antiphons suggest.  My studies of Judaism since I originally undertook this project prompt me to acknowledge that the identification of Hebrew texts with Jesus in no way exhausts their meaning or diminishes their significance for the Jewish faith. 
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