Our Call to Weave a Sacred Androgyne
Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part Seven
As we continue to explore the mysteries of love, hidden within the Song of Songs, we pull back from the close-up offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.
In her Foreword to Shapiro's book on the Song of Songs, Cynthia Bourgeault offers this overview:
"The Song of Songs has no plot, so to speak; its lovers simply play 'hide and seek' through eight successive, almost surrealistic freeze-frames.
"Yet, something happens, and the spiritually-attuned heart picks up on it. Somewhere between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 the male lover goes missing,
and the woman, with wrenching determination, confirms her fidelity to her beloved and to the path of love:
I will leave my bed and wander the city, searching street and square for you for whom my breath pants. (Song of Songs 3:2)
"Reunion, consummation, erotic bliss hurtle by, again in the Song's allusive, freeze-frame way, and then, at the beginning of Chapter 6,
another separation allusively looms, along with hints of rejection by society and family members.
"Another reunion and, finally, out of the blue, comes that empassioned affirmation that is no doubt among the top ten
of the most stirring and luminous proclamations ever uttered in all of literature:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as an insignia upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion as fierce as the grave;
its smallest spark is a flash of fire
igniting an inferno. (Song 8:6)
"All of a sudden things have jumped from the launchpad of erotica to land in the domain of mystical union,
with this soul-stirring proclamation of the ultimate dominion of love, the ultimate certainty of an alchemical fusion of souls
that exceeds all space and time, all human loss and bereavement."
(Cynthia Bourgeault, Foreword to Embracing the Divine Feminine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Illuminations, 2014)
Towards the end of his Introduction to the Song of Songs, Shapiro offers an interpretation of the Genesis story of the creation of the first earthling:
"In Genesis 1:27, the Hebrew Bible says God created adam 'male and female.' The logical way to read this is to say God created man and woman
at the same time. The problem with this reading is that just prior to telling us that God created 'them', the Hebrew Bible says God created 'him'."
Alluding to the centuries of rabbinical interpretation that arose from this, Shapiro offers his suggestion:
"My own reading of Genesis posits the original earthling as bisexual – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Adam is the sacred androgyne, to use religious scholar Andrew Harvey's term, who actualizes the inter-being of feminine and masculine and who longs to be born in your body."
This oneness heals all divisions and fuses all "separate" powers and brings into the union of Sacred Marriage all the "male" and "female" powers of the self, unites and fuses intellect and divine love, imagination and ecstasy, the spirit and the body, the laws of the heart and the structures of the mind, the light and every breath, gesture, thought and emotion lived in its truth.
What is born from this fusion, this "Sacred Marriage" of all separate powers of heart, mind, body, and soul is the Sacred Androgyne, the one who in his or her being realizes the total interpenetration with the Christ of all normally "opposed" or "contradictory" qualities.
This Sacred Androgyne – birthed in what early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Thomas call again and again the "bridal Chamber," the place of fusion between "male and female" – is a divinized human divine being free of all normal categories of "male" and "female" because it exists in a unity that contains, absorbs, "uses," and ecstatically transcends both… the Sacred Androgyne… is the new Eve-Adam reuniting in his-her own being the Adam and Eve that we separated at the "Fall."
In such a being, "heaven" lives on earth: through such a being the divine radiates divine grace and power directly.
(Andrew Harvey, Son of Man:The Mystical Path to Christ, New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998, 121)
Shapiro adds: "What the Song of Songs celebrates and awakens us to, is the unification that is an ever-present but oft over-looked reality."
As Shapiro notes, mystics have described their encounter with the Divine in terms of sexual union.
In my own study of the Medieval Christian Women Mystics, I discovered that they found the Romantic Writings
of the Medieval Troubadours to be the most helpful form of written expression upon which to model their work.
Here is a segment from the writings of Mechtilde of Magdeburg (1208-1282):
The Youth: "I hear a voice which speaks somewhat of love.
Many days have I wooed her
But never heard her voice.
Now I am moved. I must go to meet her.
She it is who bears grief and love together."
The Youth comes to greet the Soul in the woods
where nightingales sing and invites her to dance.
The Soul: "I cannot dance, O Lord, unless Thou lead me.
If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully,
then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!
Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge,
From knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.
There will I remain and circle evermore."
The Youth: "Thy dance of praise is well done.
Now shalt thou have thy will of the Virgin's Son."
Then is she overcome and beside herself with weakness and can do no more.
And He is overpowered with love for her, as He ever was, He neither gives nor takes.
Then she says, "Lord, Thou art my beloved! My desire! My flowing stream! My sun! and I am thy reflection! "
Shapiro points to other sacred love songs found in many religious traditions.
He asks: "What are we to do with these songs? Are they simply poetic artifacts to be appreciated or can they be lived in our own bodies?"
His response is that the Song of Songs "has to be embodied, just as the Beloved has to be embraced."
Like Mechtilde, we are invited to
leap for love, from love to knowledge,
from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.
For Your Own Reflection...
How does this echo your desire for union with the Sacred Beloved?
Read the Song of Songs, and notice if there are traces of your own story in the finding, the losing,
and being found once more by the Beloved, both human and divine.
Who do you say I am?
Communion Reflection for October 30, 2018
This past week brought three rich, deep, thoughtful responses from women in our communion offering their reflections on the mysterious presence Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes about in Embracing the Divine Feminine. My thanks to Karen, Joy and Mary Ellen for their contributions which form the heart of this week's posting. I add a photo, taken early Sunday morning while winter's first snowfall sat in delicate beauty on every available surface around my lakeside home. Taken from a window where a suncatcher hung, the photo seems to show a Mysterious Feminine Presence celebrating the first blessing of winter.
Dear All, I think in patterns of energy and consider we are souls of energy of various density - love being the highest and lightest vibration. The Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine are archetypes of energy. I find it helpful to get out of the reasoning mind to be in the presence of infinite space which I feel as the soul of the Universe. The Divine Masculine is like the left logical side of the brain and the Divine Feminine is like the right imaginative side of the brain. They come together in the middle in the crown chakra which is our connection with the Divine Energy or God. That for me is the Trinity! The energy soul speaks through the body and Truth is often felt as goose bumps. Let go of past teachings and discover your own connection with the stream of Divine Energy...that is the message of going deeply within to seek Truth. The soul is truth. Live in the spacious Now and feel blessings, Joy
Mary Ellen writes:
Dear Communion Members, I have spent two mornings being with this reflection on the Song of Songs. I was drawn to Rabbi Shapiro's understanding and images. My heart beat strongly as I read that the Lover could be the same "Mother of all things, a Mother of Wholeness and Peace". All of creation, including myself, is filled with Wholeness and Peace, one with this Lover of all. Just to sit in this brings deep peace and a burning quiet, radiant, Love.
It is "Home". "I am who I am".
(Artwork by Meinrad Craighead)
And I was so moved to read that the relationship described in the Song of Songs, and the relationship in which we all live, is an "awakening" to the experience of union. So, the union always has existed, and continues. It is for me to awaken to it, and experience the full joy and gift. That is overwhelming in its truth - a gift which I desire at a profound level.
And further, I delighted in the description of the loving in this union as "spontaneous and unrestrained". And I understand that this loving usually is initiated by the Lover, Mother of Wholeness and Peace. She is offering that all the time if I can be attuned. Again the desire burns in me to find every moment possible to shift into this totally awesome reality in which I live. I can hardly express the gratitude for being in such a relationship. And then to know that the whole universe lives in such a relationship! Such a Love, and such a Lover!
All blessings on whatever way you are spending your day, Mary-Ellen
Dear Friends I will share my brief, yet long-meditated upon, thoughts on the Woman in the Song of Songs. These thoughts arise from my orthodox Christian perspective, but they would probably not be received well within that spiritual stream. (I say this in no way to undermine or belittle the clarity of the early Christian Church councils, whose reasoning, in my estimation, is both freeing and sound, but appears to be 'missing' something vital in addressing the relationship of Trinity to/with the Creation.) Their Christian foundation may also not be well-received within women's spirituality circles.
It has been my understanding, and deeply-felt realization, for some time that this Woman is the Feminine Face of God sought lovingly by the Creator Himself. And that when we speak of the Trinity, we are really speaking of Three Persons who receive a fundamental shading/colour(s) in their ability to commune with their Creation (I have not been able to articulate what this is precisely) through the existence of this Feminine of God. This is not merely my opinion but appears to be the sense of First Temple Judaism.
She is very close to the physical-soul realization of her children -- so much so that she sometimes 'forgets' who she is. She has been sometimes called Sophia, but this, to me, is quite Greek and carries more of a disembodied and abstract sense than this figure connotes.
The fully human holon that lives and breathes along with the fully divine in the Incarnation of the Christ is made possible through this Invisible, infrequently named, Person.
There is more to say but that is all for now. I have returned to theological studies to continue to reflect upon these and other matters.
I am sorry I have been absent from the group in these last several weeks. I have been moving forward into a new life and I have not had the capacity to take in new impressions. Blessings, Karen
And what of each of you, members of the Communion? If the Sacred Feminine asked you, "And who do you say I am?" what would you respond? Please write to us to let us know....
The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs: Part Six
In Embracing the Divine Feminine: Finding God through the Ecstasy of Physical Love (Skylight Paths publishers) Rabbi Rami Shapiro, after exploring the story of Eve, seeking insights into what her choices reveal of the Wisdom/Sophia/ Chochmah/Shekhinah presence within her, turns to the Song of Songs.
Who is the woman whom we meet in this erotic love poem whose very existence in the Sacred Scriptures has led to so much controversy?
Like Eve, whose Hebrew name Chavah is really a title that means "mother of all the living," the woman in the Song of Songs has a title, rather than a name: the Shulamite (Song of Songs 7:1). Once more examining the Hebrew to seek a meaning that the text does not offer, Shapiro notes that the root letters of Shulamite – sh- l- m – "are also the root letters of the Hebrew words shaleim and shalom, wholeness and peace."
He continues: "If, as I am positing in this book, the female Beloved in the Song of Songs is Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Wisdom, like Chavah, is the mother of all things…then we might understand the Shulamite as the Woman of Shaleim and Shalom, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace. The same title could be given to Chochmah in the book of Proverbs, for it is through her that the whole of creation happens, and all her paths are peace. (3:17)
"Lady Wisdom calls us to share a feast with her in the book of Proverbs (9:2-5). Lady Wisdom as the Shulamite is the feast in the Song of Songs. The Shulamite is called a garden in the Song of Songs (4:12), and hence union with her is returning to the Garden from which Adam was exiled. That is to say the Song of Songs completes the story of Eden by showing us the way back to the Garden."
Shapiro writes eloquently of sexual intimacy as the way that one achieves "unitive knowing" citing the words of Alan Watts:
The full splendor of sexual experience does not reveal itself with a new mode of attention to the world in general. On the other hand, the sexual relationship is a setting in which the full opening of attention may rather easily be realized because it is so immediately rewarding. It is the most common and dramatic instance of union between oneself and the other. But to serve as a means of initiation to the "one body" of the universe, it requires…a contemplative approach. This is not love "without desire" in the sense of love without delight, but love which is not contrived or willfully provoked as an escape from the habitual empty feeling of the isolated ego. ( Nature, Man and Woman, (New York Vintage Books 1970) p.188
Shapiro adds: "In other words, love must be spontaneous and unrestrained, and sex must be no less so. This is the love the Shulamite, Lady Wisdom, the archetype of the Divine Feminine, shares with her lover in the Song of Songs."
"Isis and Osiris" artwork by Susan Seddon Boulet
For Shapiro, the Song of Songs is the Jewish equivalent of Maithuna, the Sanskrit word for union, often spoken of in the context of Yoga "more specifically the union of the self with the All, or Atman with Brahman." He adds that in the Song of Songs, in the words of Phyllis Trible,"eroticism becomes worship in the context of grace."(God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1978 p.165 )
"The union of self and other and of self and All is a given. You are at this very moment part of the infinite singularity that is reality. You may call this Brahman, God, Spirit, Tao, Mother, or any number of other names, but the simple fact is, as the Chandogya Upanishad, one of the great texts of Hindu philosophy, put it over twenty-six hundred years ago, Tat tvam Assi: You are That.
Shapiro quotes Thich Nhat Hanh: "To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing."
Further, Shapiro clarifies that "Maithuna is not a way to achieve interbeing, it is a way to celebrate inter-being. The Song of Songs is not a method whereby one achieves union with Wisdom incarnate as the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace, it is way of awakening to that union."
What is happening within your heart and mind, your memory and your soul, as you read through this interpretation of the Song of Songs?
What aspects of Shapiro's insights and interpretations find resonance within you?
Mystics of many faith paths, notably the Sufi poets such as Hafiz, Rabia and Rumi, write of an erotic experience of oneness with the All, the Friend.
The Medieval Women Mystics of the Christian faith path are no less passionate in their accounts of their own experience of the Unitive Way.
Does this unfolding of the Song of Songs assist you in your understanding of these other experiences of Oneness with the Holy?
How does this resonate with your own experience, your own desires?
Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part Five
Communion Reflection: October 16, 2018
When nine members of our Communion gathered at Stella Maris in late September, we spent time with an ancient Persian tale, "The Conference of the Birds" by Farid Ud-Din Attar, retold, reimagined by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The story tells of a great gathering of many kinds of birds who set out on a quest seeking a spiritual leader who would guide them. After all, they said, other creatures had their leaders, but birds did not. The journey was inspired by the discovery of a golden feather, so magnificent, so rare, that the birds believe it must have fallen from the breast of the greatest bird in the sky, a bird worthy to be their leader.
One of their number tells the others that the bird to whom the feather belongs dwells at a great distance requiring a hazardous journey over soaring mountains through mist-filled valleys. If they will allow this one to guide them she will take them to the golden bird.
An uncountable number of birds, a gigantic flying carpet of robins and bluebirds, canaries and sparrows, ravens and blackbirds, parrots and pheasants, seagulls and cormorants, nightingales and larks, bluejays and cardinals, goldfinches and mourning doves, herons and owls, chickadees and woodpeckers, begin the journey together.
a magic carpet of birds
But over the days and nights, many turn back, discouraged, exhausted, or finally no longer believing that there is a great bird is to be found.
Sadly, some die on the way, attacked by predators, lashed by storms, wearied to death.
At last there are only thirty birds remaining. At sunset they come to a great lake, still as a mirror. They cry out in astonishment, in wonder, for they are gazing down at the most magnificent being they could ever imagine: her bird-body holds feathers that are the blue of the jay, the red of the cardinal, the gold of the finch, the soft white of the dove… Overcome with ecstasy, the birds prepare to dive into the lake.
Then a voice, more pure and melodious than nightingale or lark, calls to them: "Wait!"
A great bird is flying towards them. She is the Phoenix, a bird they knew only in ancient tales.
In her each bird sees her own bright feathers within a rainbow of translucent Light.
"Do you not understand? The beauty and wisdom you have come so far to find is hidden within each one of you.
"You are Wisdom, feathered like me, and I am within you.
"Do not regret the price you paid, the labours of your great journey.
"You had to come that you might know this truth: I am you and you are me and we are all one.
"Rest here, then return to your own nests. Live as birds who know yourselves to be Daughters of the Golden Feather.
"Rejoice: My wisdom and my love will be within you for all the days, all the flights, all the songs and all the loves of your life."
In Attar's original tale, translated in 1889 by Edward Fitzgerald, and published by GlobalGrey 2017 (globalgreybooks.com),
the Great Bird's words to the travellers are these:
…Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Road,
Was but Myself towards Myself: and Your
Arrival but Myself at my own Door;
Who in your Fraction of Myself behold
Myself within the Mirror Myself hold
To see Myself in, and each part of Me
That sees himself, though drown'd, shall ever see.
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return, and back into your Sun subside.
Take time to allow this story to replay within your heart.
How does the quest of the birds resonate with your own journey in search of wisdom and love?
Listen carefully to the words the Phoenix speaks to the questing birds.
Now listen to them as though She is speaking directly to you.
Notice the feelings that arise in your heart.
How does this story illuminate these words about the Shekhinah?
Shekhinah is "the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah." (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. (Embracing the Divine Feminine by Rabbi Rami Shapiro)
Wisdom as Shekhinah
Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part Four Communion Reflection for October 9, 2018
One of the great gifts to us of the Feminist Theologians of the mid to late twentieth century is the way they distinguish between the masculine and feminine ways of "doing" theology. The masculine way (oversimplified as it might be in a New Yorker cartoon) is to sequester oneself in a high lonely tower, removed from all distraction, to think about God. The feminine way is to reflect upon one's own experience and to speak with other women of their experience and thus to come to recognize the common threads out of which our life with the Sacred is woven…
Rabbi Rami Shapiro
As we continue to draw insights from the work of Rabbi Rami Shapiro, it is important that we take time to reflect on what we have experienced of the Sacred Feminine Presence in our own lives. His research into ancient Jewish thought and teachings as well as his own insights can be source of understanding and deepening for us where we find resonance with our own experience.
Shapiro writes: As Jewish thought works toward the unification of Wisdom and Shekhinah, it does so by reimagining Shekhinah
as the feminine attribute of God rather than the presence of God.
Shekhinah is understood as an aspect of the way God's self is shown to us.
Shapiro continues: The kabbalists refer to the manifestation of the Shekhinah in the world as "in everything." She is "the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah." (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. In this…she resembles the Hindu goddess Shakti, the active energy of Shiva (God) manifesting as the externalized creation.
"(Shekhinah) is the same below as she is above"
(Sunset at Stella Maris: what is in the lake below is the same as what is in the sky above)
Chochma in her purest form is, in the minds of some kabbalists, Koach Mah, the potentiality of all creation – as yet unmanifest creativity…. When Wisdom shifts from... the unmanifest to the manifest, God without form to God with form, we speak of her as Shekhinah. In this sense the Divine Feminine permeates all reality, material and spiritual, physical and mental. She is imminent in, with and as the world, binding all things together in her infinite being.
Embodying the Shekinhah
Shapiro writes of the medieval kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who "identified several women in the Hebrew Bible with the Shekhinah":
Sarah in Abraham's time, Rebecca in Isaac's time and Rachel in Jacob's time.
Shapiro adds two more women to Gikatilla's list: "in Adam's time she is called Chavah (Eve), and in Solomon's time (by which I mean the time portrayed in the Song of Songs) she is called the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace featured in the Song itself." (Song of Songs 7:1)
Shapiro sees the Song of Songs as "completing the Garden of Eden story told in the third chapter of Genesis….That story ends with humanity exiled from the Garden; the Song of Songs tells us how to return."
Retelling the Story of Eve
Shapiro offers a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden which he claims is truer to the actual Hebrew text than the traditional reading which places "the burden of evil coming into the world on Eve and through Eve on all womankind."
Working through centuries of Rabbinic scholarship related to the story Shapiro finds intuitive leaps to suggest that the first human was androgynous and from that being the man and woman both came. "(O)nly when they unite with one another can they achieve the unity from which they originally derived."
What about the Serpent?
The Hebrew language allows for a substitution of words sharing the same numerical value. Applying this tool of Rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, Shapiro notes that the Hebrew word for "serpent" shares the same numerological value as the word for "messiah."
Shapiro suggests: "the snake is the messiah disguised as a serpent!"
But the messiah wouldn't seek to trick the humans into sinning, so some other goal must lie behind the serpent's efforts to get the woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The goal, I suggest, is to open the eyes of the man and the woman and to move them beyond their childlike state into adulthood.
Why does the serpent seek out the woman rather than the man?
"Traditionally the answer has been that the woman's will is weaker than that of the man, and it is this reading that has become foundational to so much misogyny over the past thousands of years," Shapiro writes.
Here is his alternate reading: The messiah/serpent sought the woman rather than the man because the woman…is the one with the potential to realize the internalized…intuitive knowing that is at the heart of Wisdom, and then take action…to move humanity in the direction of Wisdom. The serpent seeks out not the person most vulnerable to sin, but rather the person most capable of realizing Wisdom – the woman.
What happens next in the Hebrew Bible's story? Here is Shapiro's translation:
The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to Wisdom, and she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis: 3:6)
Rather than seeing this "dawning realization" as a single happening, Shapiro suggests we see "three distinct encounters with the Tree of Knowledge":
First the woman is attracted by the lusciousness of the fruit and the desire to consume it, but that isn't enough to make her do so. She masters her hunger and moves on without eating the fruit.Sometime later she passes by the Tree again and this time perceives that the fruit is beautiful, and she desires to possess it. But beauty also fails to move her, so she again masters her passion and moves on without plucking the fruit. Only on a third encounter with the Tree does she see that the Tree will make her wise, and only then does she consciously and deliberately eat of the Tree of Knowledge….she is willing to risk her very existence for the sake of Wisdom.
What is your response to this retelling of Eve's story?
Do you see Eve as an embodiment of Wisdom? A Shekhinah?
How does this story resonate with times in your own life when you took a risk, made a choice, out of a desire for Wisdom?
Surprised by Sophia
Communion Reflection for October 2, 2018
Through the afternoon into early evening on Thursday September 27th we journeyed.
From the four directions we gathered at Stella Maris, the Grey Sisters' Camp on Hardwood Lake in the Petawawa River System, two hours west of Ottawa.
Shirley drove from Sudbury in the Northwest, Ellyn flew from Louisville in the South, Carol drove from Upstate New York in the Southeast. Corinne drove from Montreal; Mary Ellen came by train from Toronto to join Mary, Colette and Clara who came together by car from Ottawa.
We arrived bearing gifts: an abundance of food to provide meals for nine until Sunday morning. Carol brought her labyrinth, carefully folded into its carrying bag; Shirley brought reflections on Hildegard, Cd's of Hildegard's music and magnificently coloured copies of her mandalas for each of us to study and treasure; Ellyn brought materials and reflections for the Soul Collage session she would lead on Saturday; Clara brought a CD of a song by Jan Novatka that would express our longing that all we do together might be for the healing of the earth; Colette brought music for dancing; Mary brought her experience and skills over years of fire-tending at Stella Maris to keep the flames dancing in the wood stove while we gathered around it; Corinne prepared a process for an outdoor walk that invited us to commune with the great ancient pine trees on the grounds; Mary Ellen prepared to lead us in Sacred Movements to the Colleen Fulmer song "Shekhinah". I brought two stories that might lead us into deeper wisdom about our sacred journey:
the Sufi tale of "The Conference of the Birds" and the Inuit story of "Skeleton Woman".
Weeks of planning had prepared us to cover every need, every eventuality… yet the one thing necessary was forgotten….
we did not allow for Sophia's presence among us, nor did we guess that she too had plans for us!
The awareness came about slowly, moment by sacred moment…
On Thursday evening as we were gathered around the table enjoying the feast prepared by Clara and Mary, the sky above the lake began to throb with magnificence, an explosion of colour so rapturous that we rushed outside to stand on the lake shore to experience it.
As we stood there, the colours deepened….
until the sky softened into shades of gold
When we gathered on Friday for the Morning Prayer that Noreen had prepared for us, we found the theme: "Create in me a space for Wisdom/Sophia".
We were invited, in the words of Thomas Merton, to "be open to the flow of Divine Wisdom/ Sophia.
She is the mercy of God, the prayer of pardon, and the work of transformation in us."
As we silently read the words about Sophia that Noreen had gathered, this quote from Kathleen Duffy leapt out:
Sophia seeks to capture our attention as she peers out from behind the stars,
overwhelms us with the glorious radiance of a sunset,
and caresses us with a gentle breeze.
Did we yet fully grasp the wonder of her presence among us?
It was time for a story. "The Conference of the Birds" by the Persian Sufi Attar, as retold by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, tells of birds seeking a spiritual leader.
They discover a golden feather that sets up a great longing for the bird from whose breast it fell. It is the Simurgh they seek, a bird in Persian mythology, sometimes known as the Phoenix, who is feminine in Egyptian myth.
After immense hardship crossing great mountains and mist-shrouded valleys, many of the birds have become disheartened or disenchanted
and have turned back, while others have become lost, and some have died. Only thirty come at last before the Phoenix.
She receives them with great love and shows them that each one carries in her own breast the golden feather they have been seeking…
As we speak of the story, Carol is eager to tell us that as she drove towards Stella Maris, she saw the clouds warming into a deep rose-red
in a shape like the wings of a great bird. At the time the thought came to her, "it’s a phoenix."
Shirley adds that on her journey from Sudbury a large flock of birds flew directly across her path filling her with wonder, with awe, but not fear…
Sophia had anticipated our story, sending images to Carol and Shirley as they travelled.
In the afternoon as we listened to music composed by Hildegard and gazed at images of her mandalas,
the leaves on the trees outside the windows danced with a sudden wind.
That evening we experienced Jean Houston's process of "A Visit to Sophia" from her recording of Godseed.
Sophia became the Phoenix to whom we took our longings, bringing them with us into sleep, into our dreams.
On Saturday morning, the Inuit tale of "Skeleton Woman" became an invitation to each of us to enflesh Sophia, offering her a dwelling place within us.
Through Saturday, rain fell. Suddenly the sky cleared so that sun shone upon us as we joined Corinne for our nature walk outdoors.
The great white pines spoke to our hearts. We took a long time sharing with each other what we had heard,
before moving with Ellyn into the magical experience of Soul Collage.
We closed our time together on Saturday night with Lynn McTaggart's process of "The Power of Eight."
One by one, we spoke of our deep longing
while our companions held in silent intent the desires expressed.
In sunlight and wind, in rain and calmness, in mist-filled mornings and fiery sunsets, Sophia walked among us.
Our Communion readings and reflections, our sacred hours, have offered us glimpses of Sophia over the months and years.
Yet these were like a golden feather fallen from her breast, compared with the pure joy of experiencing her presence within and among us.
As Carl Jung wrote: "Called or not called, (Sophia) will be there."
(from left to right: Ellyn, Carol, Corinne, Clara, Colette, Mary
front l-r Mary Ellen and Anne Kathleen)
Shirley was taking the photo
Communion Reflection for September 25, 2018
"Embracing the Divine Feminine": Three
Rabbi Rami Shapiro's Introduction to his book on the Song of Songs offers us rich insights into the Sacred feminine as she is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. The One we know as Sophia/Lady Wisdom has a Hebrew name: Chochma. In translations of the Hebrew Scriptures she is referred to as "Wisdom". As Shapiro points out in his earlier book on the Divine Feminine, Scripture Scholars often saw "Wisdom" as a quality or virtue, preferring not to recognize the clear indicators that the word refers to a sacred presence, one that is shown in the Hebrew language as unmistakably feminine.
Shapiro writes: "Wisdom's goal isn't to bring you to one set of beliefs or another but to make you wise.
"What does it mean to be wise? In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer defines it this way:
Simply I learned from Wisdom: the design of the universe, the force of its elements, the nature of time—beginnings and endings, the shifting of the sun and the changing of seasons and cycles of years, the positions of stars, the nature of animals and the tempers of beasts, the power of the wind, and the thoughts of human beings, the medicinal uses of plants and roots. These and even deeper more hidden things I learned, for Wisdom, the Shaper of All, taught me. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-22)
Shapiro comments: Wisdom teaches us physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, ethnology, meteorology, psychology, pharmacology and more. Wisdom reveals to us the explicit and the implicit, the visible and the hidden. How can she do this? Because she is the means by which the universe came to be.
For those of us who are familiar with the Christian Gospels, Shapiro makes enlightening comparisons:
Just as the Logos is both with God and God in John's Prologue, over time Chochma shifts from being a separate entity who exists with God to being an expression of God: God as we experience God here on earth. The presence of God is called Shekhinah, and she, no less than Chochma, is feminine.
Shapiro continues: In Proverbs 8:22, Wisdom tells us she is God's daughter, the first of God's creations, established before the universe. Eight verses later, she tells us she is the architect of creation, but in neither case is she synonymous with the Creator. The intimacy between God and Wisdom intensifies but still remains dualistic in the second-century text the Wisdom of Solomon, where the relationship between God and Wisdom changes from daughter to lover.
Solomon says of Wisdom:
She embraces the universe in its infinite power
and orders all things for their benefit.
Wisdom I loved and sought after her from my youth,
to take her as my bride.
I was intoxicated by her beauty.
She proclaimed her noble birth
and that she lived with God.
And YHVH loved her.
(Wisdom of Solomon 8: 1-3)
Shapiro cites the writings of Philo, the first century Jewish philosopher and Hebrew Bible commentator (20 BCE -50 CE), who makes an even more intimate connection between God and Sophia:
"And thus the Demiurge (God as Creator) who created our entire universe is rightly called the Father of all Created Things, while we call Episteme/Sophia/Wisdom mother, whom God knew and through this knowing created all reality, albeit not in human fashion. However, she received the divine seed and bore with labor the one and beloved son…the ripe fruit of this world."
Shapiro comments: We can see in Philo the beginnings of John's theology and even a prototype of the later Christian teaching of virgin birth, with Mary taking the place of Sophia/Wisdom. While Philo is willing to follow the Hebrew Bible's teaching that Wisdom is with God, he is not ready to take the leap that John does to affirm that Wisdom is God. This changes when talking of Shekhinah. While Wisdom is related to God as either God's daughter or God's wife, Shekhinah is of God herself. The term is unique to Rabbinic literature starting in the first century BCE. The Shekhinah is God's dwelling – not the place in which God dwells, but any place that God dwells. Whenever you find yourself in the presence of God, you are in Shekhinah. Hence the Rabbis taught:
"If ten people sit together and study Torah,
the Shekhinah rests among them….
This is also true of five….It is also true of three…
It is also true of two…This is even true of one, for it says,
In every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned,
I will come to and bless you."
In the development of Rabbinic literature over time, the Shekhinah takes on a personification and gradually stands as separate from God, "a being in her own right."
In the teachings of Jewish mysticism, in Kabbalah, Shapiro finds "the deepest meaning of and connection between Shekhinah, Wisdom, and the Song of Songs." The Kabbalistic idea of God is "dynamic." God's "creative power and vitality develop in an unending movement of His nature" flowing outward into Creation and "back into itself."
Shapiro writes: "God is YHVH, the be-ing of all being. God is intrinsically creative, indeed is creativity itself. Yet, God is more than observable reality. God is also the source of that reality. The metaphor I find most helpful is that of the relationship between an ocean, the waving of the ocean, and the waves that arise from that waving. Speaking metaphorically and not scientifically, God as Source is the ocean, God as Wisdom is the waving of the ocean, and God as Shekhinah is the wave that arises from that waving."
Shapiro explains that the Kabbalists differentiated between "two strata of the Godhead: one, its hidden being in itself, its immanence in the depths of its own being, and another, that of its creative and active nature, thrusting outward toward expression… the former stratum is designated in the language of the Kabbalists as Ein Sof, the undifferentiated unity, the self-contained unity…Root of Roots, in which all contradictions merge and dissolve. The latter substratum is the structure of the ten Sefiroth which are the sacred names…the various aspects of God – or the ten words of Creation by which everything was created."
And so "in the kabbalistic model of the sefirot, Shekhinah is the final manifestation and culmination of the divine activity: God as simultaneously mother, bride and daughter."
(to be continued...)
Embracing the Sophia Presence
Communion Reflection for September 18, 2018
As the Autumn Equinox approaches, darkness and light, night and day, winter and summer move into a delicate balance. Following her example, I allow the earth to guide my own balance of feminine and masculine both within and outside of myself. This prompts me to return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, opening my heart to receive his translation of the "Song of Songs", the Jewish text originally written in Greek somewhere in the second or first centuries BCE. Shapiro, in his book, Embracing the Divine Feminine, traces the history of rabbinical scholarship and offers his own insights into this poem of erotic love which he sees as "a celebration of the union of the seeker of wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself."
In his Introduction, Shapiro writes: Given the centrality of Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, to this reading of the Song of Songs, we would be wise to take a moment to understand just who she is. According to the Book of Job, Wisdom is the means by which God created the universe. God looked and took note of her. (Job 28:27) In other words, God looked to Wisdom to discover both the form and function of the universe. Wisdom therefore is the very nature in nature.
Curious, I opened my Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Job and found these lines:
But tell me, where does wisdom come from? ....
God alone has traced (her) path
and found out where (she) lives….
When (God) willed to give weight to the wind
and measured out the waters with a gauge,
When (God) made the laws and rules for the rain
and mapped a route for the thunderclaps to follow,
then (God) had Wisdom in sight, and cast (her) worth,
assessed (her), fathomed (her). (Job 28:20, 23, 25-27)
Who is Lady Wisdom? For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32.
(Remember Thomas Merton's dream of a young girl named Proverbs who was for him the Sophia Presence?)
I am the deep grain of creation,
the subtle current of life.
God fashioned me before all things:
I am the blueprint of creation,
I was there from the beginning,
from before there was a beginning.
I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.
I was there before depth was considered,
before springs bubbled with water,
before the shaping of mountains and hills,
before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,
before the first dust settled on the lands.
When God prepared the heavens, I was there.
When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep
I was there.
I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.
My nature is joy and I gave God constant delight.
Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.
I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.
Follow me and be happy.
Practice my discipline and grow wise.
Shaprio affirms: the Hebrew is clear: the speaker is Chochma, Lady Wisdom, and hence all the pronouns and verbs referring to Wisdom in this passage are feminine. The grammar of this and every passage that speaks of, to, about, or for Wisdom always uses the feminine form.
He invites us to consider the qualities of Wisdom usually associated with God. She is the "firstborn" of God and from her come the thousand things of creation. Her way is of truth and justice while her essence is pure delight. Wisdom delights in humanity and one who finds her finds life.
from Wisdom come the thousand things of creation
Shapiro compares this with Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Paul connects Jesus with Wisdom in Corinthians 1:24 when he writes: Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.
Then Shapiro goes further: What becomes the male Christ in the Christian Scriptures was originally the female Chochmah in the Hebrew Bible.
He continues: Wisdom is the way God manifests in and as creation. Uniting with Wisdom, as the Song of Songs invites us to do, is a way of uniting with the life and the Source from which life arises.
Why do we personify Wisdom? Shapiro believes it is because "on a deep and subconscious level we know her to be the other with whom we long to unite. She is not an abstraction but our Beloved. She is not to be thought about but physically embraced in a manner that reveals YWVH to us."
Returning to Proverbs, Shapiro offers us his translation of Chapter 9, 1-6:
Wisdom's house rests on many pillars.
It is magnificent and easy to find.
Inside, she has cooked a fine meal and
sweetened her wine with water.
Her table is set.
She sends her maidens to the tallest towers to summon you.
To the simple they call: Come enter here.
To those who lack understanding they say:
Come eat my food, drink my wine,
Abandon your empty life and walk in the way of understanding.
Shall we accept her invitation?
The "Song of Songs"
Communion Reflection for September 11, 2018
Each Tuesday for several weeks in July and August members of our Communion gathered for conversation using the technology of Zoom. Teilhard would have loved to join us to see his dream of the noosphere come to reality. Each of us sat before our own home computer, (or at times used a phone) in Ottawa, Toronto, in rural Ontario, in Adelaide or Perth Australia (where it was already Wednesday morning), in Chicago or in Worcester.
What was most surprising was the depth and quality of conversation. We quickly mastered, then as quickly forgot about, the complexities of the technology. It was as though we were present to one another in a sacred circle, freed to speak from our hearts.
We explored themes from our Reflections on Mary Magdalene, and on Sophia. We shared some luminous dreams with one another, spiritual awakenings, books we had read, and the always intriguing questions about the masculine /feminine perceptions of life, the way we each experience both aspects within ourselves and the challenge of integrating these.
We talked of our experiences when our inner masculine was taking over, when we felt the need to be more grounded, more attentive to our feminine side. It was Colette who said that for a woman the feminine needs to lead while for a man it is his masculine side that must be dominant.
Cynthia spoke of the sacred marriage, the call to integrate within oneself both masculine and feminine energies. This led to further insights from Karen about the inner marriage.
Mary Ellen shared an experience of being guided by Sophia while felling overwhelmed when attempting to "do it all". She was then able to FOCUS in a contemplative way to write an article for a publication, then to prepare an offering to assist with spirituality in her parish.
Yvette spoke of facilitating a Chapter experience, being drawn to rise early and walk in a nearby nature reserve. This balanced her, "allowed me to live my anima." Facilitation calls more on her animus energy. "I use both sides of myself."
Reflecting later on this conversation, I realized that while we had been enthusing about all we were learning of the Sophia presence in our lives, our sources were the writings of men: Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin, Christopher Pramuk, Rami Shapiro, each reflecting the masculine experience.
I read the Introduction to Embracing the Divine Feminine, Rami Shapiro's newest book on Sophia as she is revealed in the Song of Songs.
Shapiro too was writing of the inner masculine and feminine, of the sacred marriage within, of the Sacred One as beyond gender, as the seeker of Wisdom in the poem being man or woman.
Shapiro writes: "Part of the genius of the Song of Songs is that it affirms the body as integral to the search for Wisdom. As Job reminds us, Through my flesh I see God. (19:26)
"The goal of the search isn't to escape your body and unite with Wisdom in some non-physical realm, but to find Wisdom through the body and awaken to the holiness and wholeness of physical and spiritual together as a single reality. In this way the Song of Songs is a celebration of the union of the seeker of Wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself. (33)
"This newness heals all divisions and fuses all separate powers and brings into the union of Sacred Marriage all the male and female powers of the self, unites and fuses intellect and divine love, imagination and ecstasy, the spirit and the body, the laws of the heart and the structures of mind, the light and every breath, gesture, thought, and emotion lived in its truth. What is born from this fusion, this Sacred Marriage of all the separate powers of heart, mind, body and soul is the Sacred Androgyne, the one who in his or her being realizes the total interpenetration … of all normally opposed or contradictory qualities.
"This Sacred Androgyne – birthed in…bridal chambers, the place of fusion between male and female – is a divinized human divine being free of all normal categories of male and female because it exists in a unity that contains, absorbs, uses and ecstatically transcends both." (34)
Having read and made notes on Shapiro's introduction, I packed up his book to take with me as I set off for a week in a log cabin at Stella Maris.
On the verandah overlooking the lake, I opened Shapiro's Embracing the Divine Feminine, and began to read his own lovely poetic translation of "The Song of Songs". After the first section I read his notes, drawing into clearer focus the lines of the poem as a call to embrace Wisdom….
New insights arose, as I have come to expect from Shapiro's work. But something was not working for me here. I began to see that for all his affirmation that the seeker of Wisdom could be woman or man, Shapiro was describing a passionate encounter where the seeker was a man and Sophia a woman. Once more, as in all my years of studying theology written by men, I was having to translate the experience as from another language. I could not relate to what I was reading.
I set the book aside, and went to walk along the lake shore.
I asked, not knowing to whom I was speaking: "So how does a woman encounter Sophia?"
I heard the answer at once: "Embody her."
And I suddenly knew there was a greater intimacy called for than even love-making. We as women are called to embody Sophia so that sometimes, even for a moment, another might glimpse her within us in our words, our look, our love. And yes Rami, I believe a man may also embody her.
Hecate: Goddess of the Crossroads
Communion Reflection for July 31, 2018
As we enter into the Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh, I have been wondering about the fiery Celtic god Lugh whose creative masculine sun-energy we learned about in our Gathering Space last week. What creative gifts might Lugh have for us in our Fiery Communion?
Was it the strong energy of Lugh that led me to look more closely at the pathways we have been travelling together?
For those of us who were the first members of the Communion, the seventh year of our adventure is approaching.
As Dolores Whelan told us in last week's Gathering Space, the Festival of Lughnasadh, August 1st, is directly opposite the Festival of Imbolc, Brigid's Feast, February 1st, in the Wheel of the Celtic Year. And it was on Brigid's Feast, 2013, that I sent out an email of invitation to women whom I knew, women whom I believed had the wisdom, courage and creative spirit to engage with me in an exploration of uncharted spiritual territory.
There were no maps we might follow. No clear signs for the roads we would explore. And no one among us knew where the journey would end.
Nor has it yet ended. At times, it feels as though we have only just begun.
As happens on important journeys, where the only clarity is the desire of our own hearts for a treasure in the realm of spirit, some of those who set out with us in 2013 experienced a lure leading them to follow a different spiritual path. For others, new demands or losses in their personal lives made it difficult or impossible, at least for a time, for them to continue with us. Other women were drawn to walk with us as the journey continued so that somehow the number of our company has remained fairly constant hovering around thirty.
Jean Houston, whose inspiration gave birth to the Communion, offered us a wonderful gift in writing our first Reflection, "Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe". (Archived under "Jean Houston") This is something for us to read and re-read, especially when we are travelling in misty valleys, in danger of losing sight of our purpose, in need of fanning the flame of our original desire.
Looking though the other titles in the Archives can remind us of the wisdom we have sought from the Mystics, especially our godmothers: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and Brigid of Ireland. We explored the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, which were foundational for Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. Their development of the "Powers of the Universe" expanded our awareness of what we as humans, as well as other forms of life who share our planet, hold within us.
We studied the Medieval Women Mystics, found kindred spirits among the Beguines, explored the writings and poetry of mystics of other faith traditions, including the Sufis (Hafiz, Rumi, Rabia) and Buddhist writings. We found inspiration in Celtic Spirituality, in the great mythologies of the Egyptians and the Greeks, in ancient stories of many cultures and in the traditions of the Indigenous peoples of many ages and places.
In the writings of Rabbi Rami Shapiro we met the Sacred Feminine Presence of Chochma in the Hebrew Scriptures, the one known by the name of Sophia in other traditions. Later we would learn that Teilhard honoured a Sacred Feminine Presence in the Universe whom we identify as Sophia. Merton's poem "Hagia Sophia" was inspired by the writings of Russian Christians…
Recently, we looked at Mary Magdalene through the lens of her title "Apostle to the Apostles". We began to explore The Gospel of Mary from the second century named in her honour, found in an antiquities market in Cairo in 1896, only becoming available to English scholars in the 1970's…
So what have been doing? Where have we been going in these five and a half years together? Would the tracks we have left behind have allowed anyone to follow? Have we made any progress so that we might gaze around and say "look where we have come"?
I do not think so. It seems to me that we have been walking a spiral, circling round and round even as we travel imperceptively deeper and deeper still. And this is a very good thing. Because it is the journey that matters, and the measure of our progress is within each of us and among us.
How does it seem to you?
What have we gained?
How have we grown or changed?
These are real questions I am asking each one of you. I need to hear your response to guide the next phase of our shared journey.
I need to understand how it has been for each of you, how we might adjust our course, where we might look next for soul-nourishment……..
I invite you this week and for the next two weeks in your Sacred Hour to study this image of Hecate, Greek Goddess of the Crossroads.
Hecate, Goddess of the Crossroads
Ask her these questions or others that arise in your mind and heart:
WHERE have we been?
WHERE are we now?
WHERE shall we go next?
What is the meaning of our shared journey?
Please respond by email or on our Facebook page.
Let Lugh inspire you to be creative in your response. If you wish, use poetry or story or images or drawings.
It seems good to me now not to begin any new theme or topic of study until I hear your responses over the coming 2-3 weeks. Thank you for this.
Your responses will serve as precious stones to mark the path that will lead us onwards together.
Coming to Dwell with Sophia:
Communion Reflection for July 24, 2018
In recent weeks we have been coming to know Sophia/Holy Wisdom through the writings of Thomas Merton, especially in his prayer poem "Hagia Sophia" or "High Wisdom." If you are like me, this comes as a surprise. Though I have long been inspired by Merton's writings, I had no awareness of his deep connection with Sophia. It has opened for me a new pathway which I want to pursue.
On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he is entering the final decade of his life, Merton wakens in his small dwelling on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. He writes of the "fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero," yet he expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage, where his life is shared with Sophia. He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom:
When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company,
when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy. (8:16)
Reflecting on this text Merton writes: "But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this 'living together with wisdom?' For me, there is nothing else....I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear...." ( p. 14 in Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Christopher Pramuk Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)
When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I have come to cherish: The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005) by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. This book opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures, prompting me to find my own way to sharing life with Sophia.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Because of Shapiro's insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs,
I glimpsed the meaning of Merton's dream of a young girl whose name was "Proverbs".
Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks in Proverbs:
The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.
I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…
When He established the heavens, I was already there.
When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…
I was beside Him, the master builder.
I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.
Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8: 22-31)
Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation.”
She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well.(Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)
To know her, Shapiro adds, is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace. She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her;
those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18)
Moreover, writes Shapiro: Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.
Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.
I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)
Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes. She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.
She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her.
Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise. Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.
….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.
In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:
Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….
Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones.
You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current,
and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are,
but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal with them to your mutual benefit.
Who is this Woman?
Communion Reflection for July 17, 2018
Today CBC news reported that scientists are "over the moon" with the excitement of the discovery of twelve new moons circling Jupiter.
It is astounding, and yet they were there eons ago…
In such a way scripture scholars rejoice when fragments of ancient manuscripts reveal aspects of the stories we thought we knew so well…
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown makes reference to the discovery of fragments of a "Gospel of Mary" found by a German collector in an antiquities market in Cairo in 1896. It is believed to have been written somewhere between 80 and 180 CE, the same time frame estimated for the Gospel of Luke. Though Dan Brown writes some wildly imaginative stories, his references to the "Gospel of Mary" (and another newly-discovered Gospel named for Philip) are true to the texts and themes. Martin Meyer, writing in his book, The Gnostic Discoveries (Harper San Francisco, 2005) includes this excerpt from The Da Vinci Code where Sir Leigh Teabing is showing Sophie Neveu passages from the Gospels of Philip and Mary:
"The woman they are speaking of," Teabing explained, "is Mary Magdalene. Peter is jealous of her."
"Because Jesus preferred Mary?"
"Not only that. The stakes were far greater than mere affection. At this point in the gospels,
Jesus suspects He will soon be captured and crucified.
So he gives Mary Magdalene instructions on how to carry on His Church after He is gone.
As a result, Peter expresses his discontent over playing second fiddle to a woman. I daresay Peter was something of a sexist."
Sophie was trying to keep up. "This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church."
"The same, except for one catch. According to those unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions
with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene."
Meyer comments on this:
"The issues of the roles of Mary and Peter, although presented in a provocative fashion in The Da Vinci Code, are the issues of the Gospels of Mary and Philip and other gnostic texts. As the reception of the novel indicates, they remain powerful issues today." ( Intro. p. 9)
Reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Recovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala, Boston 2010) led me to "The Gospel of Mary". Through Bourgeault's insightful, compelling book woven through with references to this little known Gospel, I am discovering a woman I scarcely knew, yet believed I had known since childhood…. Mary Magdalene.
Her story is rich enough to offer us soul-nourishment for the next few weeks.
Mary Magdalene: artwork by Sieger Koder
Her Feast Day this Sunday, July 22nd, will be the third celebration of Mary Magdalene since Pope Francis proclaimed on June 3, 2016 that from now on she is to be honoured as the “apostle to the apostles” and “first witness to the Resurrection of Jesus” with a feast day elevated to an Apostolic Feast of high honour commensurate with feasts of her male counterparts, the men to whom Jesus sent Mary saying, “Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and Your God.” (John 20: 17)
Who is this Woman? The story of the suppression of her importance in the institutional Church with its history of misogyny is less interesting and compelling than what is now emerging about her role, as Bourgeault describes it, as "the woman at the Heart of Christianity".
Here is how Bourgeault introduces us to the "Gospel of Mary": It is amazing that something so tiny could pack such a punch. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is tantalizingly brief – and frustratingly, two major sections are missing, reducing the original seventeen manuscript pages by more than half.
Yet what remains is more than enough to radically overturn our traditional assumptions about the origins of Christianity. In four tightly written dialogues the gospel delivers powerful new revelations on the nature of Jesus's teachings, the qualifications for apostleship, Mary Magdalene's clear preeminence among the disciples, and the processes already at work in the early church that would lead to her marginalization.
Since it also contains a unique glimpse into the actual metaphysics on which Jesus based his teachings, this is a foundational text not only for devotees of Mary Magdalene but for all scholars of sacred wisdom. (Bourgeault 42)
As we explore the "Gospel of Mary" we rely on a translation developed from two other sources by Bourgeault along with Lynn and Ward Bauman (The Luminous Gospels 2008). Here is Bourgeault's outline of the four dialogues or scenes in "The Gospel of Mary":
(pages 1-6 missing)
1. Jesus' final teachings and instructions to his disciples (manuscript pages 7-9)
2. Mary Magdalene's words of encouragement to the disciples (page 9)
(pages 11-14 missing)
3. Peter's invitation to Mary Magdalene to share with them some of the "secret" teachings of Jesus, and her visional recital of "the soul's progress"
4. The dispute among the disciples and its resolution; Levi's charge and words of dismissal. (17-19)
Here is an excerpt from Scene Two showing Mary Magdalene in her role as a leader among the disciples:
His students grieved and mourned greatly saying:
How are we to go into the rest of the world proclaiming the Good News about the Son of Humanity's Realm?
If they did not spare him, how will they ever leave us alone?
Mary arose, then, embracing them all and began to address them as her brothers and sisters saying:
Do not weep and grieve nor let your hearts remain in doubt, for his grace will be with all of you, sustaining and protecting you.
Rather, let us give praise to his greatness which has prepared us so that we might become fully human.
As Mary said these things their hearts opened toward the Good and they began to discuss the meaning of the Savior's words.
"Hagia Sophia" by Thomas Merton: Compline
Reflection for July 10, 2018
We come now to Compline: Night Prayer, the final section of Thomas Merton's Hymn to High Wisdom/Hagia Sophia.
For Merton's Catholic sensibility, Sophia and Mary are one.
Yet we now are aware of a Presence of Feminine Wisdom in many traditions: whether as Isis of Ancient Egypt, Athena of Greece,
Shekinah of the Hebrew Scriptures, Inanna of Sumeria, Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Americas, Kwan Yin in the Buddhist Tradition, Saraswati of India or Brigid, ancient goddess of the Celts,
the Presence has shown herself in cultures, in ages and under various names and titles. She simply cannot cease coming to us.
As we look more closely at Merton's poem for Compline, we are guided by Christopher Pramuk's Reflections from his book:
Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota 2009)
with citations from Susan McCaslin's "Merton and Hagia Sophia" in
Merton and Hesychasm: Prayer of the Heart: The Eastern Church (Louisville KY, Fons Vitae 2003)
Christopher Pramuk notes that in this Hour of Compline, Merton returns to his artist-friend Hammer's image of the woman who crowns the boy Christ:
It is she, it is Mary, Sophia, who in sadness and joy, with the full awareness of what she is doing, sets upon the Second Person, the Logos, a crown which is His Human Nature. Thus her consent opens the door of created nature, of time, of history, to the Word of God.
Quoting Michael Mott, Pramuk adds, "Where Merton expects us to see the image from the painting …he also expects us to hear music."
Michael Mott The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1984), 362
When the Salve Regina is sung by the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, all lights in the abbey church are extinguished
except for one directed at the image of Mary in a window over the altar. (McCaslin in MHPH, 249)
"Yet," Pramuk continues, "Mary crowns her son not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty. It is thus through Mary's wisdom and sweet yielding consent that God enters without publicity in the city of rapacious men. Indeed her sadness and full awareness of what she is doing reflect a wisdom well beyond her years…that will one day cause a sword to pierce her own heart." (206)
As McCaslin notes, Mary's crowning of the boy Christ is "an act of feminine power." This contrasts with images of Mary being crowned by Christ, "rather than she actively empowering him." (McCaslin MHPH 250) Continuing to draw from McCaslin, Pramuk writes that "in crowning the Child with his 'human nature', the poem reminds us 'that all men and women come from a common womb (the earth, the Feminine) and are alike vulnerable, frail, and utterly dependent on the earth and the feminine matrix'." (McCaslin 250)
By depicting the Child on the brink of adulthood, both the picture and the poem show our common humanity with Jesus "as ones who have undergone birth" as McCaslin says.
Pramuk adds that we are like Jesus as well "as a people called to serve in world riven by sin and contradiction." (Pramuk 206)
As incarnation of divine Wisdom, "the Child goes forth to …crucifixion and resurrection. As humanity the child goes forth, an Everyman or Everywoman, into exile from paradise." (McCaslin MHPH 249)
Pramuk continues: "Mary, in her wise answer accepts the contradiction. Through her understanding, God enters without publicity into human history. The final scene of the poem, as Michael Mott notes, is a scene of haunting 'solemnity, great beauty, and a piercing loneliness'."(Mott,363)
The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep. Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep.
Pramuk quotes McCaslin who finds here "a strangely modern figure of the exile or God as exile in us." (MHPH 250)
This suggests that "human destiny in a world exiled from Sophia is not altogether different from that of Jesus,
the Son of Man who has nowhere to lay his head."
Reflecting on this final scene of the poem, Pramuk writes:
"What meaning can our lives have, after all, in the 'vast expanses' of an evolutionary universe? Like the hospital patient in the opening section of the poem; like Mary, receiving with astonishment the message of the Angel Gabriel; like Joseph who struggles in faith to make sense of it all; like Mary Magdalene, Peter, Nicodemus, John, all the hidden but crucial players in the narrative subtext pf the gospels –
when night embraces the silent half of the earth everything depends on our laying ourselves down under the sweet stars of the world and giving ourselves over to the hidden Wisdom of God.
"Though our heads may pound with the clamor of many doubts and fears, and though it is more difficult than ever to see the stars, or even to remember to look for them through the glow of towering, sleepless cities, there is an inner music of Love, Mercy and Understanding that rises up from the earth itself, Natura naturans, and from the still point of the human heart, asking to be set free in the world. She is Wisdom, our Sister: God-given and God Himself as Gift. When we attend to her tender voice and give our quiet consent, she effects in us a work greater than that of Creation: the work of new being in grace, the work of mercy and peace, justice and love." (Pramuk 207)
Merton's Prayer to High Wisdom: Reflections on the Hour of Terce
July 3, 2018
With Christopher Pramuk as our guide, we explore the deeper meaning in Thomas Merton's poem to "Hagia Sophia", or Holy Wisdom.
You may wish to first scroll down to last week's entry to read what Merton wrote for "The Hour of Terce" or "High Morning".
Pramuk begins by noting that at the hour of High Morning the Sun as "Face of God" Is "diffused" mercifully into the softer light of Hagia Sophia,
which shines not on all things so much as from within them, speaking "to us gently in ten thousand things."
But then there follow "lyrical passages of naming and unnaming" as Merton "struggles to say exactly what or who Sophia is."
Sophia is the unknown, the dark, the nameless Ousia. Perhaps she is even the Divine Nature,
One in Father, Son and Holy Ghost…This I do not know. Out of the silence, Light is spoken.
Pramuk cites Susan McCaslin ("Merton and Hagia Sophia" in Merton and Hesychasm:
Prayer of the Heart: The Eastern Church , Louisville KY Fons Vitae 2003):
"The efforts to name Sophia, to catch her in the net of language" lead to unnaming for "words and names are inadequate before mystery.
Sophia herself becomes the unknown, the dark, the nameless….God is not an object of knowledge.
The God who is male and female, father and mother, is simultaneously neither male nor female, transcending gender categories."(248-49)
Pramuk notes a shift in tone "a new confidence and seeming clarity" when Merton writes:
Now the Wisdom of God, Sophia, comes forth, reaching from "end to end mightily. Sophia chooses to be the unseen pivot of all nature…
that which is poorest and humblest, that which is most hidden in all things and yet quite manifest,
for it is their own self that stands before us, naked and without care.
She is the feminine Child playing in the world, obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator….She is God-given and God Himself as Gift.
McCaslin notes that while a feminist reading of the text could find "the identification of the feminine with mercy and tenderness" a problem,
there is no "subordination of Sophia to masculine God."
She sees qualities of tenderness and mercy attributed to God the Father
as well as the exercise of power by Sophia when she crowns the Logos and sends him forth into the world.
McCaslin sees gender metaphors "interconnected and interchangeable" in the poem,
"an expression of two aspects of a single dynamic at play, like Wisdom at the foundation of the world."
In Merton's fluid metaphors, Sophia "is not just the feminine face of a masculine God,
or a masculine God with feminine attributes (God in a skirt) but an active power permeating all things." (McCaslin p. 253)
Pramuk finds this section of Hagia Sophia striking in its cumulative layering of positive images
that have long been separated in the Christian imagination, only rarely emerging in conjunction –
"Jesus our mother (from Julian of Norwich), "He is Father and Mother," We call her His 'glory,'"
"she is the Bride and the Feast and the Wedding"—Merton carries us beyond the dialectic of positive/negative theology into a kind of mystical third moment, where idols are shattered not in the silence of negation but in the plenitude of affirmation, unity-in-difference and ecstatic praise. In short, Merton ushers us into a mosaic experience of God brimming with positive content, spilling over its linguistic containers. (Pramuk p. 204)
Though our world seems to prefer darkness to light, Pramuk notes that Sophia is received by many as
"the secret wellspring of beauty, creativity, and tenderness."
Merton writes: In her they rejoice to reflect him. In her they are united with him. She is the union between them. She is the Love that unites them…All things praise her by being themselves and by sharing in the Wedding Feast."
Thomas Merton's drawing of Christ lifting the veil from Sophia as he "unveils the meaning of the Old Testament"
Pramuk continues: …the softer light of Hagia Sophia casts the veil joining heaven and earth in a particular kind of radiance, which "would almost seem to be,
in herself, all mercy….the mercy of God in us, the mysterious power of pardon (that) turns the darkness of our sins into the light of grace".
Indeed, as mercy, "she does in us a greater work than that of Creation: the work of new being in grace, the work of pardon, the work of transformation."
Echoing the Wisdom literature of the Bible and St. Paul's theology of adoption in Christ, the poem her ascribes to human beings
the highest place of honor and responsibility in creation, an honor that bears with it, however, a painful kenotic sting. (Pramuk 205)
Pramuk sees this call to self-emptying as described in Merton's prayer on the Vigil of Pentecost:
Our call "to help bring peace to the world," to learn the way "of truth and nonviolence", and to bear the consequences that follow.
The Hours of Terce and Compline
Reflection for June 24, 2018
Hagia Sophia is a prose poem that celebrates divine Wisdom as the feminine manifestation of God.
Structured in four parts based on the canonical hours of prayer, it is Merton's most lyrical expression of "Christ being born into the whole world,"
especially in that which is most "poor" and "hidden." It is a hymn of peace.
(Christopher Pramuk in Sophia: the Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2009 )
III. High Morning. The Hour of Terce.
The Sun burns in the sky like the Face of God, but we do not know his countenance as terrible.
His light is diffused in the air, and the light of God is diffused by Hagia Sophia.
We do not see the Blinding One in black emptiness. He speaks to us gently in ten thousand things, in which His light is one fullness and one Wisdom.
Thus He shines not on them but from within them. Such is the loving kindness of Wisdom.
All the perfections of created things are also in God; and therefore He is at once Father and Mother.
As Father He stands in solitary might surrounded by darkness.
As Mother His shining is diffused, embracing all his creatures with merciful tenderness and light. The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia.
We call her "glory." In Sophia His power is experienced only as mercy and as love.
(When the recluses of fourteenth century England heard their Church Bells and looked out upon the wolds and fens under a kind sky,
they spoke in their hearts to "Jesus our Mother." It was Sophia that had awakened their childlike hearts.)
Perhaps in a certain very primitive aspect Sophia is the unknown, the dark, the nameless Ousia.
Perhaps she is even the Divine Nature, One in Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
And perhaps she is infinite light unmanifest, not even waiting to be known as Light. This I do not know.
Out of the silence Light is spoken. We do not hear it or see it until it is spoken.
In the Nameless Beginning, without Beginning, was the Light. We have not seen this Beginning.
I do not know where she is, in this Beginning. I do not speak of her as a Beginning, but as a manifestation.
Now the Wisdom of God, Sophia, comes forth, reaching from “end to end mightily.”
She wills to be also the unseen pivot of all nature, the center and significance of all the light that is in all and for all.
That which is poorest and humblest, that which is most hidden in all things is nevertheless most obvious in them,
and quite manifest, for it is their own self that stands before us, naked and without care.
Sophia, the feminine child, is playing in the world, obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator.
Her delights are to be with the children of men.
She is their sister. The core of life that exists in all things is tenderness, mercy, virginity, the Light, the Life considered as passive, as received,
as given, as taken, as inexhaustibly renewed by the Gift of God.
Sophia is Gift, is Spirit, Donum Dei. She is God-given and God Himself as Gift.
God as all, and God reduced to Nothing: inexhaustible nothingness…. Humility as the source of unfailing light.
Hagia Sophia in all things is the Divine Life reflected in them, considered as a spontaneous participation, as their invitation to the Wedding Feast.
Sophia is God’s sharing of Himself with creatures. His outpouring, and the Love by which He is given, and known, held and loved.
She is in all things like the air receiving the sunlight. In her they prosper. In her they glorify God. In her they rejoice to reflect Him.
In her they are united with him. She is the union between them. She is the Love that unites them.
She is life as communion, life as thanksgiving, life as praise, life as festival, life as glory.
Because she receives perfectly there is in her no stain. She is love without blemish, and gratitude without self-complacency.
All things praise her by being themselves and by sharing in the Wedding Feast. She is the Bride and the Feast and the Wedding.
The feminine principle in the world is the inexhaustible source of creative realizations of the Father’s glory.
She is His manifestation in radiant splendor! But she remains unseen, glimpsed only by a few. Sometimes there are none who know her at all.
Sophia is the mercy of God in us.
She is the tenderness with which the infinitely mysterious power of pardon turns the darkness of our sins into the light of grace.
She is the inexhaustible fountain of kindness, and would almost seem to be, in herself, all mercy.
So she does in us a greater work than that of Creation: the work of new being in grace, the work of pardon,
the work of transformation from brightness to brightness….
She is in us the yielding and tender counterpart of the power, justice, and creative dynamism of the Father.
When you have read through Merton's reflective prayer for the Hour of Terce, I invite you to re- read it from your woman's heart.
Seek an image or a phrase or a line that draws you. See how it resonates with your experience.
Spend time with just the sma;ll piece of the poem that chose you. You may wish to paint or draw or write of this afterwards.
IV. Sunset. The Hour of Compline. Salve Regina.
Now the Blessed Virgin Mary is the one created being who enacts and shows forth in her life all that is hidden in Sophia.
Because of this she can be said to be a personal manifestation of Sophia, Who in God is Ousia rather than Person.
Natura in Mary becomes pure Mother. In her, Natura is as she was from the origin from her divine birth.
In Mary Natura is all wise and is manifested as an all-prudent, all-loving, all-pure person: not a Creator, and not a Redeemer, but perfect Creature, perfectly Redeemed, the fruit of all God’s great power, the perfect expression of wisdom in mercy.
It is she, it is Mary, Sophia, who in sadness and joy, with the full awareness of what she is doing, sets upon the Second Person, the Logos, a crown which is His Human Nature. Thus her consent opens the door of created nature, of time, of history, to the Word of God.
God enters into His creation. Through her wise answer, through her obedient understanding, through the sweet yielding consent of Sophia,
God enters without publicity into the city of rapacious men.
She crowns Him not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty.
She sends the infinitely Rich and Powerful One forth as poor and helpless, in His mission of inexpressible mercy, to die for us on the Cross.
The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep. Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet,finds his way down a new road.
A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep.
(Thomas Merton 1962)
Thomas Merton's Poem to Hagia Sophia (High Wisdom): Hour of Prime
June 12, 2018
Hagia Sophia is a prose poem that celebrates divine Wisdom as the feminine manifestation of God. Structured in four parts based on the canonical hours of prayer, it is Merton's most lyrical expression of "Christ being born into the whole world," especially in that which is most "poor" and "hidden." It is a hymn of peace.
(Christopher Pramuk in Sophia: the Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2009 )
Reflecting on Merton's poem to Sophia, Pramuk writes:
What would it feel like to walk and pray with a God who is not fixed like a Great Marble Statue in the elite or far-away spaces where power is exercised but who enters without reserve into the stream of our humble tasks, decisions, and everyday commitments? Such a God—Sophia—would ignite our hope, the capacity to breathe, and to imagine again.
“Gentleness comes to him when he is most helpless and awakens him, refreshed, beginning to be made whole. Love takes him by the hand, and opens to him the door to another life, another day.”
O Wisdom, bear us this day in the silence of your friendship, and help us awaken healing and hope in Your world, beginning with our very selves. O come, Sophia, come.
Having looked at The Hour of Lauds, now, with Christopher Pramuk as our guide, we turn to the second part of Merton's poem:
II. The Hour of Prime
(prayer at the first hour of daylight: 6 am)
O blessed, silent one, who speaks everywhere!
We do not hear the soft voice, the gentle voice, the merciful and feminine.
We do not hear mercy, or yielding love, or nonresistance, or non-reprisal. In her there are no reasons and no answers.
Yet she is the candor of God's light, the expression of His simplicity.
We do not hear the uncomplaining pardon that bows down the innocent visages of flowers to the dewy earth.
We do not see the Child who is prisoner in all the people, and who says nothing. She smiles, for though they have bound her, she cannot be a prisoner.
Not that she is strong, or clever, but simply that she does not understand imprisonment.
The helpless one, abandoned to sweet sleep, him the gentle one will awake: Sophia.
All that is sweet in her tenderness will speak to him on all sides in everything, without ceasing, and he will never be the same again.
He will have awakened not to conquest and dark pleasure but to the impeccable pure simplicity of One consciousness in all and through all:
one Wisdom, one Child, one Meaning, one Sister.
The stars rejoice in their setting, and in the rising of the Sun.
The heavenly lights rejoice in the going forth of one man to make a new world in the morning,
because he has come out of the confused primordial dark night into consciousness.
He has expressed the clear silence of Sophia in his own heart. He has become eternal.
Though at Lauds, we have been awakened by Sophia, "refreshed, beginning to be made whole", by the Hour of Prime, Pramuk notes,
Wisdom's invitation has been roundly spurned. In this hour of prime efficiency, we do not hear the soft voice, the gentle voice, the merciful and feminine. As Merton writes elsewhere, "We face our mornings as (people) of undaunted purpose" and we do not hear the blessed, silent one, who speaks everywhere.
Pramuk suggests that the poem questions us: Can anyone still hear the song of Nature made wise by God's Art and Incantation? Who sees the uncomplaining pardon that bows down the … flowers to the dewy earth?
the uncomplaining pardon that bows down...the flowers to the dewy earth
Yet Sophia remains the candor of God's light, the expression of His simplicity, recreating herself in generous splendor – natura naturans—moment to moment, year after year, despite human disregard and exploitation. (Pramuk in Sophia p. 199)
Pramuk notes that the image of "the Child", one that Merton returns to often in his writings is "the secret beauty" within every person's heart, "the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes." (p.200)
The Child has been taken captive and yet: "She smiles, for though they have bound her, she cannot be a prisoner."
Pramuk takes this further: No matter how badly the divine image in humanity has been mocked and desecrated, there remains an elemental goodness and divine light rising up in the hidden fabric of countless lives that can never be extinguished. Often in conditions that would merit hatred and despair, love abounds and overflows in human hearts, resisting "the Unspeakable". As Merton professes in an impromptu prayer offered in Calcutta, shortly before his death, "Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen." (p.201)
Describing the ending of The Hour of Prime as "lyrical", Pramuk writes that it invokes "the Spirit of gentleness and creativity, truth and nonviolence that lives hidden in all things. This fount of action and joy – one Wisdom, one Child, one Meaning, one Sister flows out from the roots of all created being and awaits our yielding consent. When we say yes, our lives become the life story of God, and our simple acts of love fill the vast expanses of the universe. (p. 202...phrases in italics from Merton's Disputed Questions 1960)
The stars rejoice in their setting, and in the rising of the Sun. The heavenly lights rejoice in the going forth of one man
to make a new world in the morning, because he has come out of the confused primordial dark night into consciousness.
He has expressed the clear silence of Sophia in his own heart. He has become eternal.
Teilhard and Sophia
Reflection for June 5, 2018
Born in 1881, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lived, studied, worked and wrote mainly in the first half of the twentieth century. As a scientist, he knew Darwin’s work in Evolution; as a paleontologist, he spent time excavating the story of evolution inscribed within the earth; as a mystic he was captivated with the wonder of an unfinished universe being drawn from within into a radiant future by a sacred presence of love.
Teilhard was convinced that until theology fully embraced the concept of an evolving universe, it would remain inadequate, crippled by its outdated worldview. He wrote: “Who will at last give evolution its own God?”
who will at last give evolution its own God?
In the sixty plus years since Teilhard’s death, science has taken massive leaps of understanding, and theology is only beginning to catch up.
In From Teilhard to Omega (edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), thirteen scholars take up Teilhard’s challenge.
Here is an excerpt from “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ.
Though a dedicated scientist, Teilhard calls on his mystic and poetic gifts to describe divine love at work in the cosmos. In his book Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968), Teilhard writes of a feminine presence drawn from the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs, (8: 22-31).
Teilhard’s poem opens at the beginning of time, at the moment when Sophia is embedded into the primordial energy that is already expanding into the space-time of the early universe. Only half formed and still elusive, she emerges as from the mist, destined to grow in beauty and grace (WTW, 192). As soon as the first traces of her presence become apparent, she assumes her mandate to nurture creation, to challenge it, to unify it, to beautify it, and ultimately to lead the universe back to God. With this mission as her guide, she attends to her work of transforming the world, a world alive with potential. (Duffy p. 27)
Duffy reweaves Teilhard’s poem, working through its shining threads new insights from science, wisdom literature and the work of many “who have contemplated the divine creativity at work at the heart of matter”.
Duffy names the feminine presence in Teilhard’s poem “Sophia”, from the Greek word for Wisdom.
“Who then is Sophia?” Duffy asks. Her magnificent response to this question is worth the price of the whole book.
Here are segments:
She is the presence of God poured out in self-giving love, closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing the soul to passion for the Divine. From the very depths of matter, she reveals herself to us as the … very nature of God residing within the core of the cosmic landscape.
Attempting always to capture our attention, Sophia peers out at us from behind the stars, overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze….Shining through the eyes of the ones we love, she sets our world ablaze.
sunset at Stella Maris
Sophia is the mercy of God in us….She sits at the crossroads of our lives, ever imploring us to work for peace, to engage in fruitful dialogue, and to find new ways of connecting with the other. She longs to open our eyes to the presence of pain and suffering in the world, to transform our hearts and to move us to action. (pp. 31-32)
Duffy says that Teilhard experienced this presence “with nature, with other persons, and with the Divine”:
He began gradually to recognize her everywhere --- in the rocks that he chiselled, in the seascapes and landscapes that he contemplated, and in the faces of the dying soldiers to whom he ministered during the war….Teilhard came to know Sophia as the cosmic Love that is holding all things together. (p. 33)
Teilhard came to understand that Sophia can be known “only in embodied human actions”.
Duffy concludes her illuminative essay with these words:
Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s life…. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and to transformative love. (p. 34)
That final sentence might serve as a mission statement for each of us in our Communion of Creative Fire.
Thomas Merton's Love Affair with Wisdom-Sophia
Communion Reflection for May 29, 2018
As I continue to read Christopher Pramuk's Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2009), I am moved by Merton's growing, deepening relationship with Wisdom/Sophia. I am discovering that the experience was for him more than an idea, a theological construct. It was for Merton an encounter on the human/divine level that each of us knows as our reality.
Pramuk writes: "One has only to read the journals from 1957 through 1961 to be struck by the frequency and poignancy with which the Wisdom figure of the Hebrew Scriptures began to haunt Merton's religious imagination, thanks largely to his close study of Russian Orthodox sophiology .… Merton recognizes in sophiology not merely a speculative theology but a bold theological anthropology, a view of human life, history and culture as bound together in the 'life story of God.' "
Merton believed that : Our life is a powerful Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit, ever active in us, seeks to reach through our inspired hands and tongues into the very heart of the material world created to be spiritualized… (Pramuk p.153)
Sophia came to Merton in a dream on February 28, 1958, then later on a crowded city street in Louisville. Here is Merton's fuller account of that experience, shared in a letter to Boris Pasternak (Russian poet and novelist, author of Doctor Zhivago):
"Shall I perhaps tell you how I know Lara, where I have met her," Merton asks before he tells Pasternak of his dream:
a very young Jewish girl…embraced me so that I was moved to the depths of my soul. I learned that her name was "Proverb," which I thought very simple and beautiful. And also I thought: "She is of the race of Saint Anne." I spoke to her of her name, and she did not seem to be proud of it, because it seemed that the other young girls mocked her for it. But I told her that it was a very beautiful name, and there the dream ended. A few days later I happened to be in a nearby city, which is very rare for us. I was walking alone in the crowded street and suddenly saw that everybody was Proverb and that in all of them shone her extraordinary beauty and purity and shyness, even though they did not know who they were and were perhaps ashamed of their names – because they were mocked on account of them. And they did not know their real identity as the Child so dear to God, who, from the beginning was playing in His sight all days, playing in the world.
(Pramuk, p. 150)
A week after his dream of "Proverb", Merton writes what Pramuk describes as "a love letter of surprising intimacy and devotion":
How grateful I am to you for loving in me something which I thought I had entirely lost, and someone who, I thought, I had long ago ceased to be… I must be careful what I say, for words cannot explain my love for you, and I do not wish, by my words, to harm that which in you is more real and more pure than in anyone else in the world – your lovely spontaneity, your simplicity, the generosity of your love… In your marvelous, innocent, love you are utterly alone; yet you have given your love to me, why I cannot imagine…Dearest Proverb, I love your name, its mystery, its simplicity and its secret, which even you yourself seem not to appreciate. (Pramuk, p. 157)
The "Louisville Epiphany", (as it has come to be known) followed on March 18, 1958.
Pramuk writes that Merton continued to reflect upon the event:
As he later recasts the account in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton is "suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, even though we were total strangers." Proverb, it seems, had reclaimed in Merton an innocence that he thought he "had entirely lost", awakening in him a new capacity to "see" and embrace that which remains pure in every person…that "point or spark which belongs entirely to God," which shines "like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven."
Pramuk continues: " In the original journal account Merton reflects on his feeling for the women he sees in light of his vow of chastity: It is as though by chastity I had come to be married to what is most pure in all the women of the world…each one secret and good and lovely in the sight of God and to taste and sense the secret beauty of their girl's hearts as they walked in the sunlight.
"(T)he central theme of Merton's realization at Fourth and Walnut is the "secret beauty" and "innocence" not only of the women passing by but of all persons, or human beings as such. If any one moment can mark the birth of Merton's far-reaching Christian humanism, this is it: Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them." (Pramuk p. 158)
The incursion of Sophia into Merton's life led to a recovery of a sense of himself which he thought lost. His writings would do the same for others: "Her subsequent remembrance in his writings is bound to Christianity's communal memory and experience of Jesus Christ, …her dawning presence in his consciousness also reflects his desire to make old things new, to reinvigorate a biblical and poetic vision of life in which the individual is not lost in the cosmos and in society but found in them. Like Heschel,* Merton sought to awaken the experience of God in a people for whom, like a tree torn from the soil or a river separated from its source, the term "God," and perhaps even "Christ" had become a name, but no reality." (Pramuk p. 147, citing *Abraham Joshua Heschel in Man's Quest for God, New York, Scribner's, 1954)
Later Merton would write:
If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. (Pramuk, p.159)
Sophia: Feminine Wisdom
Communion of Creative Fire Reflection for May 22, 2018
When our Communion Companion, Ellyn, told me that this year's theme for the annual Festival of Faiths in Louisville Kentucky would be "Sacred Insight, Feminine Wisdom", I was drawn to attend. For four days, we experienced Wisdom, a fountain of delight, shared by presenters, both men and women, from a wide spectrum of faith traditions.
Sophia's is an embodied presence, within ourselves, within others, within the sacred earth and all that dwells here. Through the days of the Festival Sophia's voice resounded, whispered, sang, laughed, spoke and taught in many accents, many keys, many cultures. From the moment when Hildegard of Bingen's music, sung in a magnificent soprano voice, filled the Cathedral with mystery and beauty, I knew that Sophia would be present within this gathering.
What was Hildegard's experience of Sophia? Born just before the twelfth century, Hildegard wrote her brilliant theological treatise "Scivias" in Latin, so in her writings Lady Wisdom is known as "Sapientia". Mary T. Malone writes of Hildegard's devotion to "Sapientia/Sophia":
Hildegard was fully aware of the biblical tradition stemming from Sophia, a female embodiment of God, which had been allowed to lapse from consciousness with the emphasis on the all-male metaphorical Trinity. For those of us in the Church of today, this is perhaps the most radical part of Hildegard's teaching, but it occupies well near centre stage in her writings. (Four Women Doctors of the Church Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2015, p.27)
For Hildegard, as for so many other women mystics, a favourite biblical passage was Chapter 8 of the Book of Proverbs, referenced from the Jerusalem Bible in last week's Reflection on Thomas Merton's relationship with Wisdom/ Sophia.
The passage is worth revisiting this week, in a different translation, from the 1989 New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV):
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth –
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world's first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:25-31)
For Hildegard, this honouring of Sapientia would show itself in her wonderful teachings on "viriditas" or "greenness".
Hildegard lived in the Rhine valley and writes with joy about the gardens and orchards of her monastery home. For her, the cycle of the seasons, especially the rising of the sap giving new life in springtime, was a primary metaphor of the spiritual life. Viriditas signified grace, the all-powerful presence of the Spirit….Hildegard saw aridity as the main sign of and metaphor for sin, and moistness and greenness as the principal sign of grace in our lives. We are told that she often concluded her letters with the words, 'stay green and moist', which for her meant openness to the Spirit of God. It is an approach to life that takes us right into the twenty-first century, with its emphasis on the environment and on God's care for all Creation. Hildegard's references to growing things, to clouds and rainfall and sunshine…are abundant throughout her work. As she worked to tend the sick in the monastery infirmary, Hildegard was intensely curious about the properties and powers of plants, stones and herbs….all part of the greening power of God's Creation. (Malone, p. 28)
Hildegard's music was a perfect beginning for the Festival which would have much to impart about "greenness" as an aspect of feminine wisdom. Through the days, the themes of earth and sea, the life that thrives within them and the sacredness of the body … arose like a beautiful and familiar song again and again.
In the Festival's Program Notes, I found this poem by Mary Oliver:
Pink Moon - The Pond
You think it will never happen again.
Then, one night in April,
the tribes wake trilling.
You walk down to the shore.
Your coming stills them,
but little by little the silence lifts
until song is everywhere
and your soul rises from your bones
and strides out over the water.
It is a crazy thing to do –
for no one can live like that,
floating around in the darkness
over the gauzy water.
Left on the shore your bones
keep shouting come back!
But your soul won't listen;
in the distance it is sparkling
like hot wires. So,
like a good friend,
you decide to follow.
You step off the shore
and plummet to your knees –
you slog forward to your thighs
and sink to your cheekbones –
and now you are caught
by the cold chains of the water—
you are vanishing while around you
the frogs continue to sing, driving
their music upward through your own throat,
not even noticing
you are someone else.
And that's when it happens –
you see everything
through their eyes,
their joy, their necessity;
you wear their webbed fingers;
your throat swells.
And that's when you know
you will live whether you will or not,
one way or another,
because everything is everything else,
one long muscle.
It's no more mysterious than that.
So you relax, you don't fight it anymore,
the darkness coming down
called the green leaf, called
a woman's body
as it turns into mud and leaves,
as it beats in its cage of water,
as it turn like a lonely spindle
in the moonlight, as it says
Sophia and Thomas Merton
Reflection for May 15, 2018
A mysterious presence introduces herself to us in the Hebrew Scriptures without revealing her name. In the Book of Proverbs, she tells us:
Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
From the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in the world…
(Proverbs 8: 22-25; 30-31)
Solomon speaks of this presence as "Wisdom". In Hebrew her name is Chochma, in Greek, "Sophia".
Although She is one,
She does all things.
Without leaving Herself
She renews all things.
Generation after generation She slips into holy souls
Making them friends of God, and prophets,
for God loves none more than they who dwell with Wisdom.
(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27-28)
While in Louisville Kentucky attending the "Festival of Faiths" in late April, I visited Thomas Merton's Hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani.
On the front porch of the Hermitage, Ellyn Crutcher listens while Brother Paul, who was one of Merton's novices in the 1950's, reads from Merton's journals
My fascination was reawakened with this man whose writings reveal him to be poet and prophet, mystic and theologian, while remaining
an alluringly earth-bound human being, passionately engaged with the darkness and suffering of the 1960's,
seeking to create within his own being a wholeness between East and West, Christianity and other faiths, black and white,
feminine and masculine aspects of God. This latter aspect of his life and work was the greatest surprise of my re-enchantment with Merton,
arriving by way of Christopher Pramuk's Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2009).
Today I sat by the river reading the opening chapter of Pramuk's book. When I began to write, I called this Reflection, "Thomas Merton and Sophia".
That didn't seem right. I changed it to "Sophia and Thomas Merton". Already in Chapter One I had discovered that the initiative in the relationship came from Sophia
who "slips into holy souls/ making them friends of God and prophets."
So how did Sophia slip into Merton's soul? Pramuk tells us it happened in the final decade of his life, before his sudden death in 1968.
Sophia came to him in dreams, and in a variety of human presences…
First, there was a dream (February 28, 1958) in which a young Jewish girl named "Proverb" came to embrace him….
She then came to him in the crossroads of a great city ( March 18, 1958)
Of this epiphany Merton writes: "In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed
with the realization that I loved all these people. That they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien from one another
even though we were total strangers…There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around
shining like the sun." (Thomas Merton Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Pramuk continues: (Sophia) found him again in the burning woods near Gethsemani (March 19, 1959), this time in the face of local farm children,
"poor little Christs with…sweet, sweet voices."
Over a year later (July 2, 1960) on the Feast of the Visitation, she came in the guise of a nurse, whose gentle whispers awakened him one morning as he lay in the hospital.
As Merton describes it: "… it was like awakening for the first time from all the dreams of my life – as if the Blessed Virgin herself,
as if Wisdom had awakened me. We do not hear the soft voice, the gentle voice, the feminine voice, the voice of the Mother:
yet she speaks everywhere and in everything. Wisdom cries out in the market place -- "If anyone is little, let him come to me."
Pramuk cites two passages in Merton's Journals in the winter of 1965 that show his nearness to Sophia:
Merton wrote on his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965… from Wisdom 8:16: …"When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company,
when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy." Though he complains of suffering bitterly from the "fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero,"
he expresses joy in the fact that "I woke up in a hermitage!" Then hearkening to the Wisdom text, Merton wonders:
"But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this 'living together with wisdom?' For me there is nothing else…"
(February 4, 1965) "Last night I had a curious and moving dream about a "Black Mother." I was in a place (where? Somewhere I had been as a child…)
and I realized that I had come there for a reunion with a Negro foster mother whom I had loved in my childhood. Indeed, I owed, it seemed,
my life to her love so that it was she really, and not my natural mother, who had given me life. As if from her hand had come a new life and there she was.
Her face was ugly and severe, yet great warmth came from her to me, and we embraced with great love (and I with much gratitude).
What I recognized was not her face but the warmth of her embrace and of her heart, so to speak. We danced a little together, I and my Black Mother,
and then I had to continue the journey I was on…"
Pramuk comments that what Merton recognized in this dream was the same "presence", he was striving to recognize in everyone:
the warmth of her embrace and of her heart.
(O)ne of the most striking themes in all these encounters is Merton's experience of himself as the object of Wisdom's attention. Her embrace is transitive…
breaking in "from her to me," yet coming in the form of this concrete person or thing before him right now: the flight of an escaping dove,
a lone deer feeding among the trees outside the hermitage, the faces of passersby on a busy street corner.
For she is "playing in the world, obvious and unseen, playing at all times before the Creator." (Pramuk: pp.13-16)
Julian of Norwich
Icon of Julian with hazelnut by Anna Dimascio, Norwich
Six hundred and forty five years ago, in 1373, on either May 8th or May 13th (the Roman Numerals used in her manuscript are unclear), Julian experienced a night of riveting visions of the suffering and death of Jesus, visions which grounded her in an unshakeable trust in the Love that held her, and holds us, in tenderness. Julian was then just past thirty years of age, and would spend the next twenty years reflecting upon and writing of her visions in her manuscript, "Revelations of Divine Love".
In the throes of the Reformation, her original manuscript was lost and Julian herself was largely forgotten.
On this Feast Day, it seems good that we revisit the writings and the influence of this woman who saw herself as nothing extraordinary;
yet today Julian is seen as holding a key to hope on our agonized planet.
With our twenty-first century awareness of the dangers, sufferings and sorrows of its inhabitants, it is easy to imagine earlier centuries as alluringly quiet and peaceful. If we picture Julian’s Fourteenth Century like that, we may dismiss her optimism, her profound trust in the Love that contains us, as naïve.
But Julian’s time was far from idyllic. She lived through three outbreaks of black plague that reduced the population of England by one-half; in her time the pre-Reformation Church was in schism, with two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon! And into the windows of her anchorhold there would have wafted the smoke of the fires burning heretics in her city of Norwich.
Theologian Margaret Brennan says: “It takes a kind of raw faith to believe in God’s goodness and love,” in a time of societal collapse. For people of Julian’s time, the image of the crucified Jesus was one of great comfort, for it was a mirror of their own intense sufferings, and a promise of final deliverance into bliss.
Present day theologians speculate that for the people of Julian’s time, the horrors of the black death would have eroded any trust in the body
as a safe container for the soul. Yet Julian writes powerfully of the body as a vehicle of grace, even in its “humblest needs”:
A man walks upright, and the food in his body is shut in as if in a well-made purse. When the time of his necessity comes, the purse is opened and then shut again, in most seemly fashion. And it is God who does this, as it is shown when he says that he comes down to us in our humblest need.
(Showings Colledge and Walsh, Chpt. 6, p. 186)
Julian teaches us that “mercy and grace” are at work within us from the very start of our life:
And when our soul is breathed into our body, at which time we are made sensual, at once mercy and grace begin to work, having care of us and protecting us with pity and love, in which operation the Holy Spirit forms in our faith the hope that we shall return up above to our substance, into the power of Christ, increased and fulfilled through the Holy Spirit. So I understood that our sensuality is founded in nature, in mercy and in grace, and this foundation enables us to receive gifts which lead us to endless life.
(Colledge and Walsh, Chpt. 55, pp. 261,2)
Julian compares the Holy One’s nearness to us to our clothing:
I saw that he is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good....
(Colledge and Walsh, Chpt 5, p. 183)
Perhaps we can resonate with the complaints Julian frequently heard at her open window from people who feel their prayers are not heard:
Often our trust is not full.
We are not certain that God hears us
because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing.
This is ridiculous and the cause of our weakness.
I have felt this way myself.
Julian then tells us what God has said to her about prayer:
“I am the ground of your prayers.
First, it is my will that you have what you desire,
Later, I cause you to want it.
Later on, I cause you to pray for it and you do so.
How then can you not have what you desire? "
(Julian of Norwich a Centering Book by Brendan Doyle pp.67-68)
Julian's writings were forgotten, buried in the debris of a troubled historical time, amidst the destruction of the monasteries
where such manuscripts would have been preserved. It was only in the twentieth century that her writings came into general knowledge.
One of the earliest references to Julian's words is in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, in the final passage of “Little Gidding”:
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are infolded
Into the crown of knotted fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Thomas Merton brought Julian into 20th century awareness in these empassioned words:
Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older, and whereas in the old days I used to be crazy about St. John of the Cross, I would not exchange him now for Julian if you gave me the world and the Indies and all the Spanish mystics rolled up in one bundle. (Merton: Seeds of Destruction)
Light pours in through the window of Merton's sitting room in the Hermitage near the Abbey of Gethsemani
while Ellyn and I are visiting there in April. Perhaps Thomas Merton sat in such a light reading Julian's "Revelations of Divine Love".