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The Sophia Option

Rod Dreher is much to be commended for getting contemporary American Christians of a conservative or tradition-oriented bent interested in the idea he calls “the Benedict Option.” But I have to confess that something about his project leaves me uneasy.

From my perspective, the Ben Op was born out of an increasing sense of anxiety during the previous administration as Team Obama worked to further the Progressive agenda and courts increasingly legislated (a word I use on purpose) against simple freedom of conscience and often forced (or tried to force) Christians to offer incense to Caesar on the altars of contraceptive mandates, LGBTQ politics, and a tolerance that is anything but tolerant. Indeed, I have shared that anxiety, and still do to some extent. But anxiety is evidence of a lack of trust in God and submission to fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). We already know this, brothers and sisters. We already know this.

With the election of Donald J. Trump, I think it is safe to say that, whatever one thinks of the new president, the urgency of impending crisis that inspired the Ben Op has subsided to a certain degree. We may have four years to breathe a little easier, but make no mistake: they’re coming back. And when they come back, they will not be particularly kind to a demographic that they associate with putting Trump in the White House, whether or not they voted for him. But fear is not an option.

What I propose is what I am calling “The Sophia Option.” The Sophia Option is in many ways congruent with Dreher’s project and its cultivation of communitarianism, hospitality, ora et labora, and so forth. The only thing different is in its intentionality, and intentionality is everything. Be not afraid, brothers and sisters, and let us make a joyful noise.

Calling my proposal the Sophia Option is a product of my long immersions in sophiology and phenomenology and the insight that the Glory of the Lord is available to us now through the grace that inheres the world and can be disclosed by our presence to it. The psalmist gets it:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
(Psalm 19:1–3)

The Sophia Option is more cosmologically configured than what I can tell of the Ben Op. The rhythms of nature and their intertwining with the Church year are significant to this view as are attentiveness to the two books: that of God and that of nature. It is also inherently celebratory.

In the future, I hope to write more about the celebratory aspects of the Sophia Option, but for the moment I prefer to concentrate on the intentional aspects of it. Put plainly: if we start from fear, we are already doomed. If we start from joy, even death is not a hindrance. The early Christians were not afraid; rather, they were on fire with love. For Love. Denys Arcand’s film Jesus of Montreal illustrates this as an actress in a local passion play performs the moment when Mary Magdalen comes to tell the disciples that she has seen the risen Lord: she runs, at full speed, with a face full of wonder, with tears full of joy and love, and tells them, “I saw Him.” This is what we should be doing. The disciples didn’t believe her at first. Our contemporaries may not believe us. So what?

My contention is that if we begin with joy and love for the Risen One and train ourselves to recognize his Wisdom (Sophia) in Creation and in works of creation we will be carrying the seeds of spiritual and cultural regeneration within us and spreading them throughout the world. (That we should have been doing this all along and have forgotten to is to our great shame.) If we turn even this joy and love into a posturing for political gain, then, like all such gestures, we introduce poison into what lives. And then it may move around a bit, but it’s already dying. Let such things die. We need to be in the resurrection business: “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” This is what we have to offer the world, a world already so deeply poisoned that it may reject healing as a threat to its existence. Yet, we were given a mandate.

Christ came that the world might be saved through him. I read that someplace. But I can also perceive whispers of that salvation in the night sky, detect it in the scent of apples, hear it in birdsong as well as humansong. The cosmos itself has been redeemed through Him. But we need ears to hear. As World Party once proclaimed (with a nod to William Blake):

And if you listen now
You might hear
A new sound coming in
As an old one disappears
See the world in just one grain of sand
You better take a closer look
Don’t let it slip right through your hand
Won’t you please hear the call

We can do this.

Michael Martin is a biodynamic farmer, philosopher, theologian, poet, and musician. He is the author of The Incarnation of the Poetic Word: Theological Essays on Poetry and Philosophy/Philosophical Essays on Poetry and Theology and The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics as well as other works. He can be reached at mmartin@marygrove.edu

Copyright © Michael Martin