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Teaching “Intro to Philosophy” gives me a severe case of Imposter Syndrome. I comfort myself by remembering my own level of sophistication as a college freshman. Always uncertain and anxious about mixing up philosophy and psychology. They both started with P and ended with Y and had something to do with the brain.

I tell my students that my main qualification is that I am truly a philo-sopher, a lover of Sophie, my wife of over 40 years. On this Valentines Day, please allow me the privilege of writing (actually re-working) an ode to my beloved.

It’s a bit boorish to begin by extolling Sophie’s homemaking skills. Nonetheless, cooking is her happy place, especially soups. She has the  ability to prepare delicious, nutritious, creative meals simply, quickly, without a recipe. And her meals are so often a delight to the eyes as well. You know those clickbait ads about “How to Create a Healthy Meal in 20 Minutes”? They all could take a lesson from Sophie. 

And it’s a little embarrassing to confess that she’s the money person in the family. Paying bills, tracking our cash flow. Sometimes I have to ask her, “Do we have the money for me to buy. . .?” 

After all these years of marriage we have noticed a common pattern.  Sophie has an idea (almost always a good idea).  She proposes it to me.  My immediate reaction is “Naaah.  Let’s not.  Do we have to?”  Then I agree, but under duress.  Afterward, almost always my comment is “That wasn’t so bad,” which coming from me is pretty effusive.

Sophie has given me what I call “handles” with which to live life, ways to grab hold and move and embody my ethereal ideas. For as much as I may want to change the world, learning to change myself is equally arduous. From Sophie I have learned the wonders of self-discipline and healthy routines, and she still far outpaces me.  It is because of her that I generally go to bed early and rise early. It is because of her gentle prodding that I began to exercise, and then even began to appreciate it. She introduced me to yoga. What I know and appreciate about the wisdom of the Benedictines, I have gained from Sophie. It was through her that I was introduced to the Enneagram, which has been for me a helpful tool in self-understanding. 

I recall Calvin’s statement near the beginning of the Institutes where he says something to the effect that knowledge of God and knowledge of self grow together. My self-knowledge, any ability I have to reflect honestly on myself, I owe largely to Sophie. So according to our old friend Jean, Sophie has greatly increased my knowledge of God.

Sophie introduced me to the God of small things—God in the daily, the ordinary, God embodied among us. An old story tells of a dying man who referred to his devoted nurse as “his sacrament.” She was his visible sign of an invisible grace.  

At church, while we are co-pastors, she has been the President of the congregation for years. Sophie literally presides. She runs a good meeting. But she can feel a bit demeaned when people say “Sophie makes the trains run on time” — although she does. But that vastly undervalues her deep intuition, her pastoral tenderness, her time for people, her discernment, her gifts in preaching and leading worship, her pathos. 

Sophie lives up to her name. She is a source, my source, of wisdom. Of course, she’s smart and clever. But more than that, she is wise. I trust her observations. And her wisdom is often practical.

Somehow the word “practical” often carries a negative connotation. It seems to insinuate dull, second-rate, tedious — definitely inferior to theory. I won’t even try to explore what sort of bias and privilege such assumptions expose. Male? Academic? Even, reformed?

When I call Sophie’s wisdom “practical,” I mean it in an admiring and honored way. From her I see that practical wisdom doesn’t merely engage with the “real world.” Practical wisdom engages and includes people, humanity, individuals, church members, family. She considers how actions and decisions are going to be felt by others, received by them. Wisdom without such considerations can so easily become heavy and hurtful, mean and oppressive. Not real wisdom at all. 

For your wisdom, for your love, for you, Sophie, I am grateful.

Header Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    Sophie sounds like an OT sage, masters of practical wisdom or prudence, which has the following traits:
    1: the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason
    2: sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs
    3: skill and good judgment in the use of resources
    4: caution or circumspection as to danger or risk
    I too have married a wise and wonderful woman who manages my money and my personality for me.

  • Jan Hoffman says:

    And what a gift to those who know or have known her, but also to have known the two of you. Thank you for daring to share this, Steve, on this day.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Graciously and beautifully stated, Steve.
    Sounds like my wife, Sharon. What gifts we men have been given. To cherish, all our life long.
    Thanks for this Valentine’s Day picker upper.

  • Kathy Davelaar VanRees says:

    I love this piece so very much. And I love both of you, Steve and Sophie.

  • George Vink says:

    Thanks for your ode.
    Mine is called Shirley and comes with Goodness and Mercy. Blessings galore.

  • Diana Walker says:

    Let me count the ways….

  • Vicki Vanderkwaak says:

    Such a beautiful ode to your beloved Sophie. Thank you, Steve, for sharing this!

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