It came about, she tells us, through reading the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (in particular Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom). There she discovered that Wisdom (Sophia in Greek), was portrayed as a female figure, “a breath of the Divine…given to humankind to connect them with the divine.” She recognized that she had long been familiar with her presence and “Wisdom took on the shape of a trusted companion, yearning for my good, believing in me, blessing me with surprising elements of growth.”
Receiving this ancient figure into her heart, Rupp gains inner wisdom as she learns to quiet down and reflect on her experience. Illuminated by this feminine personification of the immanent divine, she discovers meaning in her simplest observations and daily encounters. First she has to realize more clearly one of Sophia’s constant concerns, our kinship with nature. Tracks she made in the snow on a winter walk that were completely obliterated on her return lead to the following insight:
I saw how fleeting life is and how much I do treasure the gift of it, the words of Psalm 90 came to me: “Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.”
The fruits of such reflections are helpful for her human growth, now increasingly integrated with her spiritual development. After all, the Sophia of the Wisdom Books represents the presence and action of God in the World-close to the earth and nature, marked by relationship rather than rule. Rupp joyfully accepts this female image of God and narrates her own story for the benefit of others, particularly Catholic women she meets in her wide-ranging educational and retreat encounters whose needs she knows so well.
Rupp chooses her images carefully, selecting simple visual metaphors to indicate the hidden processes of spiritual growth. She wisely includes some of its necessary negative aspects: A tree whose leaves fall one after another suggests the illusions we must all shed if we are to grow up. She touches lightly but clearly on her own hurts and disenchantments. Sophia assures her that the pain of wrestling with deep-seated anger, jealousy, and an unrealistic self-image is worth the cost, and she slowly learns to be grateful to her critics for leading “me to see parts of myself that I can so easily tend to hide.”
At first I was not comfortable reading these prayers to Sophia, though I often think of the divine as feminine. It is difficult to shift the imaginative furniture of imagination. Move over Holy Spirit, I thought; you too, Guardian Angel, and maybe even you, Mary, who have so often stood in for the divine feminine. But Rupp’s non-argumentative presentation is winning, and soon I could respond to her “Holy Midwife”, her “source of nurturance.” A useful stretching exercise for me, it may provide a longed-for image for many others which will make conversation with God easier.
The words of Rupp’s prayers are not pretentious, but sturdy and colloquial. The images are simple: A gate, a mantle, the seashore, and they relate to the ordinary feelings and situations so many of us share and might never think to introduce into a talk with God the Father. For example, addressing Sophia as “Companion of Life, Guardian of Death,” she confesses that “more and more I resemble an old gnarled tree, wrinkled bark, gray boughs, thinning leaves.” She asks Sophia to teach her to “befriend the wrinkles and accept the grayness.”
Perhaps most difficult for her was an increasing awareness of the anti-woman stance of her own church. She admits this freely, but her emphasis is less on criticism than on the value of seeing her experience truthfully and then healing the hurts. One accepts these realities and does what one can, but always celebrates life and God’s presence in it.
To further the healing process, Rupp suggests the need to gather up and be energized by our good, “life-giving” memories, which she compares to a photo album. We should turn its pages frequently, for gratitude and celebration are at the core of a healthy spiritual life. After all, she says, the Scriptures themselves are “one big photo album” of God, beginning in stories told over generations to keep the memories alive.
The Star in My Heart appeals to readers to try walking with Sophia, showing them the need to know themselves and to be open to new directions and ideas, which are often invitations to wholeness. They will feel reassured by Rupp’s confession that she herself is frequently fearful of such challenges, hiding from the call to be her truest self even as she longs to answer it.
In Lighten Up she hears Sophia tell her to lower her expectations, not be so demanding of herself. “When did I develop the notion that I could do it all?” Slowly she becomes grateful for the insistent voice “nudging me toward the laughter of letting go and the chuckle of neglect.” But the “Divine Challenger” also reminds her that she takes the easy, familiar path all too often and urges her to take risks. “When did I give in to fear and bow to security?” Rupp wonders. And finally she asks Sophia to urge her to abandon her “stronghold,” to see that she can still “leap beyond the barriers.
Rupp is recording her own prayers; most were not ‘composed’ for the book but spring directly from her journals. In publishing this book she is giving the rest of us permission to use the daily events of our lives – no matter how small or unpleasant – as proper material for prayer. In doing so she echoes spiritual advice that has persevered over the ages. The Imitation of Christ, for example, tells us that, “If your heart is right, then every creature is a mirror of life to you and a book of holy learning, for there is no creature – no matter how tiny or how lowly – that does not reveal God’s goodness.” Encouraging us in new words and images, Joyce Rupp shows us how to make our hearts right by finding and nurturing the stars within them.