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Sophia Women

By Judith Lynch

This blog appeared in CathBlog

Sophia women are comfortable with their own womanliness but they have moved beyond the boundaries of what is considered appropriate female behaviour. They know they are Church but they have become dissatisfied with more traditional ways of being Church – female style.  Mind you, they will still do the flowers and clean the kitchen after the parish Sunday morning coffee, but they not only want more, they need more.

She was small, petite almost, and walked with a stick. We both had cooling cups of coffee in our hands, both alone in a small gathering where everybody else seemed to know one another.

Slowly we started to talk and there was nothing frail about her voice or her flashing eyes. She buzzed with an inner energy. She was a searcher – a catholic searcher – and  this warm Saturday evening she was hoping to find a Eucharist that would  be celebrated with the simplicity of an Emmaus supper.

I meet many such women. They might look like the women you see them in a shopping centre, at the daytime movies, having a coffee mid-morning or catching a bus – retired, often over the first flush of life and occasionally into the next stage as well. They can talk family, cooking, gardening, politics and the Church with varying degrees of insight and fluidity, but there’s more to them than that. I call them Sophia women.

To address God as Sophia is to dig deep into the Old Testament, to move beyond all the words and images that call to mind the power, strength and assertiveness of a male world. There are references to Sophia in the Book of Wisdom, in Proverbs and in Ecclesiasticus.

In all of them the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, is a significant naming of God in female language and imagery.  For women who have tired of God images that don’t recognise the empathy, creativity and relational gifts with which they are gifted, Sophia comes with the breath of new life.  

Once every month or two some of these Sophia women meet to talk about what’s going on in their lives.  It’s mostly ordinary stuff with an extra-ordinary edge. These women are serious about their spirituality. They are women of prayer, sometimes formal, often the kind of prayer that punctuates a day.

While some meditate regularly, others journal or read books by people like Richard Rohr or Joan Chittister. Usually alone, sometimes in a group, they nurture their God relationship. And, without exception, all of them live with a creative openness to the needs of others, whether it’s family, friends or the wider community.

Sophia women are comfortable with their own womanliness but they have moved beyond the boundaries of what is considered appropriate female behaviour. They know they are Church but they have become dissatisfied with more traditional ways of being Church – female style.  Mind you, they will still do the flowers and clean the kitchen after the parish Sunday morning coffee, but they not only want more, they need more.
They have a whole armoury of leadership skills – after all they have weathered toddler meltdowns, teenage insurrection, money shortages, unfulfilling jobs, relationship hiccups and worse. Their people skills are formidable because they have learnt that not everyone sees the world the same way and it has led them to create strategies that open the way to on-going and loving communication.

It recalls my favourite Sophia image from the Book of Proverbs, the one that pictures Wisdom as a woman who sits at the city gates welcoming those who enter, in touch with the comings and goings of the day. Like this fictional woman, Sophia women have found their voice.

There is something about Sophia women that feels like freedom – as though their attention to God’s voice as they hear it, their acceptance of life as it unfolds, has set them free to recognise their truth and to give it voice.  However that voice is expressed, whatever form it takes, there is something prophetic about it. Like Jesus as he moved among the people, it shows itself in nurturing, healing and compassion. 

Older women know how it is to feel invisible and sometimes that is painful. Yet a great gift of watching the birthdays mount is the space it gives to reflect on life’s experiences and begin to link it all together into a new and deep unity. Who knows, the grey haired woman ahead of you in the checkout queue might just be a modern mystic or a twenty first century prophet – a Sophia woman.


Judith Lynch is a writer who lives in Melbourne. More of her writing appears at tarellaspirituality.com