Stupidly, like an ox (Month of Proverbs)

My child, keep my words and treasure my commands.
Bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister!” call Understanding, “Friend!”
(Proverbs 7:3,4)

The loose women
Image by flashboy via Flickr

This short bit of advice is given “that you may keep from another man’s wife.”  What follows seems to be an extended fantasy that, by itself, points to the necessity for the original advice.  The woman is described sensually – her behavior, her scent, her alluring words.  In the mind’s eye, under this barrage of invitation, they are led away “stupidly, like an ox that is led to slaughter.”

How to take Proverbs ‘ constant harangue about the enticement of loose women?  Either ancient Israel was a culture over-run with women eager for adulterous relationships and prostitutes constantly seeking business, or the passage is intended to convey something else.  Chapter 7’s rapid flight of fancy, where “another man’s wife” evokes an entire range of imagery and conversation, provides the hint.  The opening and closing verses verify it.

When I turn my heart away from God, when I fall into mindless consumerism, or fritter away time with mindless online pursuits, or ruminate on some real or imagined wrong from a colleague – is this the fault of the other person? No! My thoughts wandered, perhaps harmlessly at first, but without paying attention.  Soon a full-blown fantasy appears.

The advice, the discipline, will escape from us if we do not bind it to ourselves.  Some monastic writers speak of the “discipline of psalmody” – a phrase that seemed quite odd when I first heard it.  Now – after more than a decade of psalmody – I understand its meaning.  The 150 psalms are prayed in a 4 week cycle – at least 13 times a year, many of them more often than that.  We speak them, ponder them, and thereby “write them on the tablets of our heart.”  Their phrases insert themselves into my everyday speech.  Wise phrases come, unbidden, when I am faced with a difficult circumstance.

The loose women of Chapter 7 make me laugh.  Can these be real women? No! They are nothing more – and nothing less – than the trash and trivia our minds will toss up at us if they are subjected to society’s come-ons.

Let not your heart turn to her ways.
(Proverbs 7:25)

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