Summer 1992, Vol.44 No.2, pp. 143-160

Mary Catherine Hilkert:
      Bearing Wisdom -- The Vocation of the Preacher

Addressing the relationship between preaching and spirituality involves focusing on the vocation of the preacher and allows us to broaden our understanding of who really are the preachers.

Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP, is an associate professor of systematic theology at Aquinas Institute. She is co-editor of The Praxis of Christian Experience: An Introduction to the Theology of Edward Schillebeeckx. Her articles on theology and preaching have appeared in The Thomist, Worship, and Theology Digest.

A RECENT sociological survey was conducted among lay church members in four denominations in the United States -- Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist.(1) Parishes or congregations were asked to list in order of priority their highest hopes and expectations from their church and then to rate those same items according to how successfully their expectations were met. All four denominations listed "preaching" as their first priority and as their second, the broad category of "spiritual life." When asked how successfully their church met their expectations, a significant number indicated their disappointment in both areas. One way to begin to address the crucial relationship between preaching and spirituality is to focus on the vocation of the preacher while at the same time broadening our understanding of who really are the preachers in a parish or congregation.

Preachers know the power of a single word or the shift of a metaphor to break open our imaginations and suggest new possibilities. Classically preachers have understood themselves as "bearers of the Word of God," a term that Karl Barth has reminded us refers primarily to Jesus and only derivatively to the scriptures and proclamation of the church. But if, as a growing number of scholars are now highlighting, Jesus is also the incarnation of the Wisdom of God, new insights into our ministry and identity as preachers may emerge from the creative re-visioning of our vocation as not only "bearers of the Word;" but also "bearers of Wisdom."

Basically the wager here is that reflection on the figure of Wisdom in the Jewish scriptures and on Jesus' role as the Wisdom of God in the Christian scriptures can open up new dimensions of the vocation of the preacher for all who, like the apostle Paul, feel called, or even compelled, to preach the Gospel at this time in history. Before turning to the figure of Wisdom, female street preacher from the Book of Proverbs, and the preacher Jesus as Wisdom Incarnate, it is important to clarify the use of two important terms used throughout this article: preacher and spirituality.


In a broad sense we might use the term preacher to refer to all those who perceive their vocation to be that of "announcing the gospel," the mission that Jesus claimed when he stood up in the synagogue, opened the scroll of the scriptures, and proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
therefore, [God] has anointed me.
. . . sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
Recovery of sight to the blind
and release to prisoners,
To announce a year of favor from the Lord. (Lk 4:18-19; NAB)

It is quite clear that Jesus did this "announcing of favor" not only in powerful preaching events such as Matthew pictures in the Sermon on the Mount, but also through the proclamation of his lifestyle. He brought glad tidings to the widow of Naim when he touched her son and returned him to life. He proclaimed liberty to those captive to demons and sickness through his healing ministry. He proclaimed a year of favor, or as Isaiah 61 on which this text is built says, he "gave the oil of gladness in place of mourning" every time he created a feast around the table with friends, with the one who would betray him, with his benefactors and social outcasts, and with sinners who were thought to defile the sacredness of the meal. As Edward Schillebeeckx puts it in one passage in his Jesus book: "being sad in Jesus' presence [was] an existential impossibility" (201). To reflect on Jesus' vocation as preacher is to look at his praxis and his person and not only his words -- his whole life and ministry as well as his explicit preaching and teaching.

That very wide understanding of Jesus' preaching ministry raises further questions, however. To whom has the ministry of Jesus been entrusted? Who is called to bear witness to the Gospel? Where is the Word of God to be heard in our midst? The vocation of all baptized Christians involves the responsibility of announcing the gospel -- speaking our faith explicitly, whether in a soup kitchen, at the bedside of the dying, after a board meeting where one has taken a prophetic stand, in a classroom or a counseling session, in visiting the sick and homebound, around our family tables, or in a faith-sharing session in a local congregation, if not from a pulpit -- though perhaps there too at times. These are all related ways of bearing good news -- announcing salvation -- and one often leads to another. Perhaps we have been too narrow in our understanding of what constitutes preaching and how we may be called to preach, when every Christian and Christian community is called to share the gospel with others. (2)

Even when the term preacher is used in a more technical sense to refer to those who preach formally -- publicly and liturgically -- it is important to remember that it is not only for the sake of our hearers that we preach. Those who have been given a gift for preaching for the sake of the community can say with the apostle Paul, "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16; RSV). Further, no one can constantly preach the Word of God without being transformed by the Word preached. Emphasizing another key link between preaching and spirituality, Abraham Heschel once wrote: "Preach in order to pray. Preach in order to inspire others to pray. The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer" (80).

The vocation of preacher refers to the call to mission which always involves the call to a deeper awareness of one's true identity that rests in God. It's not a one-time experience, although there may be significant moments in our history that we can point to as crucial in our discernment of our vocation. Like the prophets, preachers are formed to speak some unique aspect of the gospel through their own experiences of conversion. Hosea had to have the life experience of unlimited loving in the face of betrayal to prepare him to preach authentically of God's unlimited covenant love and fidelity. It was in the utter chaos of his life that God's message for the people of Israel was revealed to him. Mary Magdalene had to know from experience that hope and courage can be born in the midst of grief before she could proclaim the resurrection to others who were still caught in the crucifixion experience of tragedy, death, and loss.

So too with contemporary preachers like Oscar Romero. The story of the conversion of Romero is by now a familiar one. He had to go through his own radical change in the way he saw the relationship between rich and poor, between government and gospel in El Salvador, before he could preach the good news of liberation even unto death as Jesus did.(3) When we speak of the vocation of the preacher we are really speaking of the process of being formed throughout one's life into a preacher of the gospel. We are speaking, then, of the "spirituality of the preacher."


The term spirituality is used with diverse meanings today, but there is increasing dissatisfaction with limiting the term to the discussion of what is sometimes called the "spiritual life" or explicitly "religious experience" or to the roles of prayer, penance, and growth in the life of the virtues. Rather an increasing number of writers in the field of spirituality today insist that the spiritual life is not some segment of our life that is "religious"; rather spirituality refers to the search for the presence of God or the Spirit of God in every dimension of our lives -- our embodiment and emotions, our relationships, our social and political commitments, our active ministries, our struggles and suffering. It refers to our way of relating to God and all of creation in relation to God.

As JoAnn Wolski Conn has put it:

Christian spirituality involves the human capacity of self-transcending knowledge, love and commitment as it is actualized through the experience of God, in Jesus the Christ, by the gift of the Spirit. Because God's Spirit comes to us only through experience and symbols inseparable from human community and history, Christian spirituality includes every dimension of human life.(3)
Within the context of this discussion of spirituality, it is important to at least raise the question of whether it is valid and important to emphasize the differences between women's and men's spiritualities. It is precisely because a broader understanding of spirituality includes aspects such as our embodiment, our sexuality, and our political location in a community that the question has emerged as to whether there is a distinction between male and female spirituality. Psychologists write about the ways in which our sexuality pervades all of our experience. Further, in terms of critical social and political analysis women and men do not have positions of equal power and freedom in either society or the church. Women have been defined differently not only by society but even within the Christian tradition. At some moments in the tradition the claim was made that women were less, or not at all, in the image of God.(4) This unique history of experience that is rooted specifically in gender difference has affected all the churches. The distortions and stereotypes have affected all of us -- men as well as women -- but differently.

In light of the effects of patriarchy on the Christian tradition, this historical moment calls for a conscious search for a feminist spirituality, that is, one that affirms women's full equality with men and one that transforms our understanding of ourselves, our institutions, and ultimately our relationship with God. In searching for a spirituality for preachers today we need to creatively search for a new language that helps us envision the role of preacher in a way that transforms that ministry and our understanding of who is called to that ministry. (5)

New insights that can expand our understanding of the vocation of preachers and preaching communities emerge when Jesus is understood as the Wisdom of God as well as the Word of God.


The spirituality or vocation of the preacher is frequently described in terms of a biblical theology of the Word -- God's creative dabhar. Preachers are encouraged to reflect on the Word that has been with God from the very beginning of creation, the Word of God that was powerful enough to bring order and beauty out of chaos and to separate light from darkness. As the psalmist reflected:

By the word of the Lord,the heavens were made,
all their host by the breath of [God's] mouth.
For [God] spoke and it came to be,
[God] commanded and it stood forth. (Ps 33:6,9; RSV)
Those who would embrace the life of the preacher are exhorted to search for the Word of God deep within their own hearts and experience by the Deuteronomist who promises that the Word of God is not mysterious and remote, not up in the sky nor across the sea: "No it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out" (Deut 30:14; NAB).

Preachers are urged by the Book of the Prophet Isaiah to trust in the fidelity and the effective power of God's Word:

Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there till
they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to [the one] who sows
and bread to [the one] who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it. (Is 55:10-11; NAB)
Preachers are reminded that the Word of God is a two-edged sword "penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart" (Heb 4:12; NAB).

That profound biblical theology of the Word is then brought to bear on our understanding of Jesus, the Word of God who was with God and was God, and has "pitched a tent among us." Jesus, the Word made flesh, is described by Luke as preaching with such authority that the "crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God" (Lk 5:1; RSV). In a similar way, the Acts of the Apostles describes the growth of the church and the success of early missionary activity with summary statements like "the Word of God spread in that region" or "the Word of God grew." A theology of the Word of God is certainly central to the core of the spirituality of any preacher.


There is another biblical figure, however, who has gone largely unnoticed until recent years but who also has a rich heritage to bring to communities of preachers: the female figure of Wisdom (hokmah in Hebrew), sometimes called by her Greek name Sophia. The Wisdom woman of the Jewish Scriptures was, among other things, a powerful street preacher (Prov 1:2023). This figure of Sophia, while not identified as a divine being in the Jewish monotheistic religion, nonetheless clearly exercises divine roles and authority and functions as the "personification of God's own self in creative and saving involvements with the world"; as Elizabeth Johnson puts it, "Sophia is God imaged as a female acting subject" (275).

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is not only imaged as a wisdom teacher in the gospels of Matthew and John, he is actually given the title "the Wisdom of God" in the Pauline literature (1 Cor 1:22-24, 8:6, 2:2-8, 10:1-4; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15-20; Rom 10:6-10; Phil 2:6-11). In other words Jesus is not only the Word (logos) of God incarnate, but also the Wisdom (sophia) of God incarnate. Both Augustine and Aquinas, among others, referred to Jesus as "Wisdom Begotten."(6)Summer 1992, Vol.44 No.2, pp. 173-176Summer 1992, Vol.44 No.2, pp. 173-176 Further, the role of the Holy Spirit in the ongoing Christian community is described in terms very much like the role of Sophia in the Jewish Scriptures: drawing all things together, ordering things rightly, preserving creation, making us friends with God. In fact Sophia or the woman Wisdom is pictured in the Jewish Scriptures as exercising three fundamental divine roles: creating, saving, and guiding -- roles that Christians later attribute to the Trinity.

Let us turn, then, to the figure of Wisdom, the street preacher from the Book of Proverbs to see whether her role can teach us something about our own. In reflecting on the vocation of the preacher we will highlight three of Wisdom's roles, all of which are roles the Christian community has attributed to the Holy Spirit and all of which are incarnated in the New Testament literature by Jesus, the ultimate preacher of the gospel: her role in the creative process, her role in bringing about justice and peace, and her role in fostering relationships -- even friendship with God.


The figure of Wisdom in the Jewish Scriptures is clearly connected with the whole process of creation. She is the architect or craftsperson there with God from the beginning, envisioning a new order out of the chaos. As Johnson describes Wisdom, "her constant effort is to lure human beings to life" (265). She is called the "fashioner of all things" (Wisdom 7:22; RSV), the "mother of all good things" (Wisdom 7:12; RSV). She is re-creative, makes all things fresh again (Wisdom 7:27). This role of Wisdom is echoed in much of the literature from feminist/womanist writers as well as from advocates of peace and ecological responsibility. As each of these groups suggests, human communities are called today to create a new world order where there is more life and freedom for all human beings -- and for all of creation.

The christological hymn at the opening of the Letter to the Colossians connects Christ specifically with wisdom's role in creation: "He is before all things and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17; NAB). Preachers who would give witness to the mystery of Christ as hidden in creation from the beginning are called to be ambassadors of that reconciliation. Christians identify the Spirit of Christ as the enabler of that reconciliation, the one who creates new possibilities for restoring "right relations," the source of energy where life has grown dull. The Spirit who breathes wisdom into the Christian community (and the broader human community) will enable us to find new ways to nourish one another and the earth itself, to share resources equitably, to witness to the mystery that less can be more and "small is beautiful." The Spirit who is at the heart of all human conversion will empower us to believe and to preach that the joy of creation is found in sharing and gratitude not in consumption and possession, that not only all of God's creatures, but all of creation, is interdependent and that only in relationships of mutuality and compassion can all things hold together.

Another motif related to Sophia's role in creation is that God delights in her and she plays everywhere in creation. The Book of Proverbs says of the Woman of Wisdom that "she laughs at the days to come" (Prov 31:25; NAB).(7) What does all this say about the life of all women and men who would be friends of Wisdom? What about the life of a preacher or a community of preachers? On the one hand, we are involved in the most basic refashioning of society and the earth, but, on the other hand, true wisdom means we won't take ourselves too seriously. It is God's grace that ultimately changes hearts, not our words or ,even our lives. Among the many ways we preach is through a spirit of festivity and celebration, delighting in God's creation and in the midst of very serious questions about our own future and the future of the earth, having the freedom to "laugh at the days to come."

In broad strokes we have explored the kind of creation spirituality of the preacher and the preaching community that is rooted in one aspect of Wisdom christology -- an understanding of Jesus as Incarnate Word and Wisdom, the pre-existent, cosmic Christ, who is God's mystery hidden in creation from the very beginning. One might also develop this aspect of the preacher's spirituality in dialogue with Jewish sources on Sabbath spirituality, since for Christians too, as Jürgen Moltmann points out in his book God in Creation, the Sabbath can be viewed as the "Feast of Creation" with its primary virtues of joy and thanksgiving.(8) All of this suggests a rich relationship between creativity and preaching and the importance for preachers of the gospel to live creative lives rooted in trust in the creator God. The preacher's spirituality is also rooted in a second role of Wisdom: her active advocacy for justice and peace.


What Walter Brueggemann has called "the prophetic imagination" has profound affinities not only to the prophets, but also to the Jewish Scriptures' description of Wisdom -- Sophia clings to truth, decides for justice, and orders things rightly. Those phrases come up again and again in the portrayal of Wisdom's role in the Jewish Scriptures, particularly the Book of Proverbs: "She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy" (Prov 31:20; NAB). Johnson describes her appearance in the following way:

Sophia strides into the Book of Proverbs with a noisy public appearance (1:20-33). She is a street preacher, a prophet who cries aloud in the market and at the city gates a message of reproach, punishment and promise. On her own authority she proclaims that whoever refuses to listen will be struck with calamity and destroyed, whereas the one who does listen will dwell secure without fear of evil. (264)
In a similar way Jesus, who is Wisdom Incarnate, announces the reign of God with what Schillebeeckx has called his "liberating life-style" as well as in parables and beatitudes. His healing ministry, his close association with the outcast, his constant concern for "the little ones," are all ways of ushering in the Reign of God. Jesus, the prophet of Sophia, is sent to proclaim the all-inclusive love of God who wills fullness of life for all her children. Especially to those who "are weary and carrying heavy burdens," he offers rest and peace (Mt 11:28-30; RSV). Thus we are reminded again that there is a clear connection between a passion for justice and preaching. As the 1971 Synod of Catholic Bishops stated in justice in the World, "action on behalf of justice is a constitutive part of preaching the gospel." 9

We cannot pass over Jesus' preaching of the reign of God, a new world order that would be governed by the gospel, however, without taking seriously that his preaching in word and deed is precisely what led to his execution. From the martyrdom of Stephen to the murders of Archbishop Romero and the countless thousands of other unnamed believers in Central America and around the world, the same has been true for his followers. Bearing the wisdom of God's justice will mean bearing the cross as well. Ultimately that is why Paul reminds us that it is not the wisdom of the world that we preach, but of Christ crucified who is both stumbling block and folly to others, but to those who believe, he is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24; RSV).

While Christians never want to glorify suffering and always work to overcome it, great wisdom can be learned from a people who have known suffering, as Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia reminded the United States Congress only last year.(10) The preacher who would preach Jesus' vision of the reign of God will discover traces of that future hope already present among those to whom that vision has been entrusted: the poor in spirit, the meek of the earth, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the persecuted and the peacemakers.

Nonetheless, as Jon Sobrino reminds us:

It would be an historical and theological error to understand oppression only 'doloristically' as an exaltation of sorrow and an apotheosis of suffering, or ascetically as an ideal setting for the practice of virtue. If oppression has become a sign of the time, and if it is to be recognized as such and experienced in a Christian fashion, it is because it has been accompanied by the hope and practice of liberation which is central to the Christian faith. (23)
The Spirit, who is the source of all Christian wisdom, brings life out of death and empowers hope, courage, and resistance in the face of evil and injustice. The preacher does not seek suffering any more than Jesus did himself. But if the preacher chooses as Jesus did, fidelity to his or her mission and love of solidarity with others, that preaching will lead for some in our times literally to death, and for all of us, to the cross in some form. The preacher learns of the wisdom of God not only from his or her own experience of hope and courage born amidst suffering and loss, but also from standing and speaking in solidarity with the crucified people of our world today.


A third portrayal of Sophia teaches us what formed Jesus' preaching, and where very basic resources for our preaching are to be found. One of the main roles of Sophia, taken over by Jesus in the New Testament and by the Holy Spirit in the later tradition, is to nurture relationships, to keep us attentive to the precious gifts, as well as the struggles, of family, friendship and community, and ultimately to make us friends with God. Too often we think of wisdom as an extraordinary gift, given only to a few. But one of the main insights of the wisdom literature is that wisdom is to be sought and found in everyday life, in all of our relationships, and especially in community. The wisdom writings deal not only with the joys of life and relationships, but also with broken relationships, betrayed friendships, failures of community, and in the Book of Job, even the apparent breakdown of one's relationship with God. Kathleen O'Connor has described this daily search for wisdom:

In the thick of life, at its shabbiest and most exciting, in the routine of daily marketing and in the struggles of ordinary people to survive -- it is there that the Wisdom Woman extends her invitation. (70)
It is in our day-to-day existence and relationships that each of us will discover -- or fail to discover -- wisdom. (11)

It might be valuable to spend some time reflecting on some of our images of who holds wisdom in a community, family, neighborhood, or parish. How often do we draw on that startling wisdom of children for our homilies or sermons? What about the sick and dying members of our communities -- the liminal ones, those "on the boundaries"? Do we minister to them or do they in fact have wisdom that we as a community desperately need to hear? We often speak of the wisdom of the elders in a community, but do we tap that wisdom enough? Do we ask the senior members of a community to share their wisdom with us -- in ways they would be comfortable with if not from a pulpit? Do we listen to their stories? The connections between preaching and pastoral care become more than evident here.

One might think here of the sensitive essay by Alice Walker entitled "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens." She explains her discovery that while searching for "the far-reaching world of the creative black woman," she found that "often the truest answer to a question that really matters can be found very close" (238). Walker had questioned when her overworked mother had time to care about feeding her creative spirit until she happened to see a quilt hanging in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Now considered priceless, it was made of bits and pieces of rags. Yet, as Walker describes it, "in fanciful, inspired, and yet simple and identifiable figures, it portrays the story of the Crucifixion" (239). Below the quilt was the identification of its creator: "an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago." Wondering about whose grandmother that might have been, she came to realize that:

Our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read . . . so many of the stories that I write, that we all write, are my mother's stories. (240)(12)
In a similar way, a whole web of relationships and the experiences of many communities have formed any one preacher's stories. The preacher's task is to see and express the connections between the story of the community and the story of the gospel -- as well as to enable the community to tell their own stories of faith. If wisdom is discovered in daily living and relationships, we are called back to contemplation if we would be a community of preachers -- not a mysticism that is removed from politics or the struggles of everyday life, but the contemplative search for God in all things. In contemplative prayer and study we must "seek Wisdom" before we can speak wisdom.

While Christian spirituality has often emphasized the uniqueness of Jesus' relationship with God and that Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray, there is another side to the gospel's portrayal of Jesus' relationship with his "abba." Descriptions of Jesus at prayer cannot be removed from their context in his very active ministry, his difficult decisions, and his multiple relationships.(13) Clearly preachers of the gospel are called to "lonely places" of prayer and contemplation of the scriptures, but whether moments of deep communion or "dark nights," those experiences of intimacy with God can never be separated from the rest of the preacher's life.

The importance of rooting contemplative prayer and study in concrete life experience if we would preach the gospel with conviction is clearly illustrated in Ralph Waldo Emerson's well-known critique of the preacher in his Harvard Divinity School address:

He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital truth of his profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. Not one fact in all his experience, had he yet imported into his doctrine. This man had ploughed, and planted, and talked, and bought, and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and drunken; his head aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet there was not a surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all. Not a line did he draw out of real history. The true preacher can always be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life -- life passed through the fire of thought. (308)
We might broaden Emerson's conclusion by suggesting that the wise preacher deals out "life passed through the fire of contemplation."


In an article entitled "Giving Birth to the Sunday Homily," Joan Delaplane, former president of the American Academy of Homiletics, has compared the preparation and delivery of the sermon to the process of giving birth (125-128). I'd like to suggest a related metaphor in terms of these reflections on the vocation of the preacher: preacher as midwife.(14) Here the emphasis moves to the community as the locus of wisdom and the preacher as having a specific role in encouraging the process, being present during the pain, sharing in the joy of the discovery of new life, and marveling at the miracle of life coming once again beyond the suffering. A further image that comes to mind here is that of the award-winning Danish film, Babette's Feast. 15 Babette, a noted French chef, arrives in Denmark in the midst of a raging storm as a homeless political refugee. She is taken in as cook by two Calvinist sisters who are attempting to hold together a strict and disintegrating religious community begun by their father. The movie reaches its climax when Babette wins the French lottery and spends her entire fortune to create a lavish feast for the austere community. Amidst the gradual conversions and reconciliations that the meal effects, Babette is pictured in the kitchen with the servants, not even present at the table, yet initiating and creating the feast, delighting in its effects on the community.

This image of Babette is not so far removed from the single richest image of Sophia in the Jewish Scriptures and of Jesus, Sophia-incarnate, in the Christian Scriptures pictured as gathering friends and enemies, the weary and the outcast, brothers and sisters, strangers and those we know all to well, into one family, and ultimately into the friendship of God:

Wisdom has built herself a house;
she has prepared a table,
has brought forth her wine;
And she calls to her children:
"Come and eat of my bread
and drink of my wine.
Come to the table I prepared for you." (16)


  1. See Dean R. Hoge, Jackson W. Carroll, and Francis K. Sheets, Patterns of Parish Leadership: Cost and Effectiveness in Four Denominations (Sheed and Ward, 1988).

  2. Cf. Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1989), esp. 11-13.

  3. See Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Romero, trans. and compiled by James R. Brockman (New York: Harper and Row, 1988). See also Jon Sobrino, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990), and James R. Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1982).

  4. See Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Misogynism and Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church," Religion and Sexism, ed. R.R. Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 150-83; George Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973); and Margaret A. Farley, "Sources of Sexual Inequality in the History of Christian Thought," Journal of Religion 56 (1976): 162-76.

  5. Feminist theologies of proclamation emphasize proclamation as liberating and transformative discourse, the link between proclamation and praxis, the mutuality between congregation and preacher and/or communal mode of sharing reflections based on faith experience, the role of imagination in proclamation, the interrelationship of human stories (with particular attention to women's experience) and biblical texts, approaches to the authority to preach rooted in women's experience and/or baptism and confirmation rather than ordination, and the importance of reconstructing what is to be considered "inspired Word of God" in light of the patriarchal conditioning of biblical texts and lectionary selections. Further, the importance of "enfleshing the Word" in and through the experience of women as well as that of men challenges both the Roman Catholic Church's exclusion of women (and all lay persons) from preaching the homily at Eucharist as well as the clerical control over the liturgical proclamation of the Word in other Christian denominations. For further discussion of these and related issues and for constructive work on feminist approaches to a theology of proclamation, see Marjorie Procter-Smith, In Her Own Rite: Constructing Feminist Liturgical Tradition (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), especially chapters 5 and 7; Christine M. Smith, Weaving the Sermon: Preaching in a Feminist Perspective (Louisville: Westminster /John Knox Press, 1989); Mary Catherine Hilkert, "Women Preaching the Gospel," Theology Digest 33 (1986): 423-40; Rebecca S. Chopp Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, God (New York: Crossroad, 1989); and Carol M. Norén, The Woman in the Pulpit (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991). For the prophetic character of African-American women's preaching and an understanding of authority rooted in experience, see Those Preachin' Women, ed. Ella Pearson-Mitchell (Valley Forge:Judson Press, 1985).

  6. Augustine, De Trinitate, VII, 2. PL 42, 936. Lom. 5, 1. 45; 27, 3. 174. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 34, art. 1, ad. 2 and q. 39, art. 8, ad. 3.

  7. Thomas McCreesh notes that this chapter is the final symbolic portrait of Wisdom personified, rather than a portrait of "the ideal wife" as often interpreted. See Thomas P. McCreesh, "Wisdom as Wife: Proverbs 31:10-31," Revue Biblique 92 (1985): 25-46.

  8. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). Cf. Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1951).

  9. Justice in the World (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1971), 34. Cf. the discussion of racism, sexism, ageism, and handicappism as "church-dividing issues" of central concern with the ecumenical movement today in The COCU Consensus: In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting, ed. Gerald F. Moede (Princeton: Consultation on Church Union, 1985), esp. pp. v, 8-10.

  10. In his speech to a joint session of Congress, Havel spoke of the "infinite spectrum of human suffering, profound economic decline, and above all enormous human humiliation" that his people endured under a communist type of totalitarian system. He also noted, however, that "unintentionally, of course -- it has given us something positive: a special capacity to look, from time to time, somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience." Congressional Record, Vol. 136, No. 13, February 21, 1990, H. 394 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office).

  11. The christology underlying this approach to the preacher's spirituality is an incarnational christology, but in the now-familiar approach to the incarnation "from below." The divinity of Jesus is discovered precisely in and through his humanity with the implication for us that grace continues to be discovered as incarnate in creation and human history. In and through the power of the Spirit, the human and created world reveals the divine mystery of love. Ultimately, this approach to the preacher's spirituality moves beyond christology and becomes trinitarian -- relationships and community are at the core of the preacher's spirituality because the relationality of love constitutes the very mystery of God.

  12. Note that the collection Those Preachin' Women, edited by Ella Pearson Mitchell, is dedicated to "all the mothers of all the authors."

  13. See Edward Schillebeeckx's discussion of Jesus' "Abba experience" in Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (New York: Seabury, 1979), pp. 256-271. Cf. Schillebeeckx, "Jesus the Prophet," in God Among Us: The Gospel Proclaimed (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 33-44.

  14. Thomas Long uses the same metaphor in The Witness of Preaching, pp. 20-21.

  15. The original test of Isak Dinesen's story on which the movie was based is available in Isak Dinesen, Babette's Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny (New York: Random House: Vintage Books, 1988).

  16. Based on Proverbs 9:1-5 from the hymn by Lucien Deiss "Wisdom Has Built Herself a House" in Biblical Hymns and Psalms, Vol. II (Cincinnati: World Library Publications, 1940) 14.


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Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "The Divinity School Address," (July 15, 1838), in Theology in America: The Major Protestant Voices from Puritanism to Neo-Orthodoxy, ed. Sydney E. Ahlstrom. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1967.

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