travelling with sophia

Perhaps like you, I have begun to take road trips once more to visit with friends and family. On Saturday I set out with confidence on a journey to Southern Ontario, travelling along roads I’d been taking for more than twenty years. I knew where to find the essentials: gas stations, Tim Horton coffee stops en route, had a mask handy for each time I got out of the car. I had my GPS.

What more was needed?

For several hours, I drove past lush green scenery, towns, landmarks not seen in these seventeen months since COVID took up residence across the planet. There were changes since my last journey: the express route, 407, had been extended to link with the 115 South, shortening the trip by nearly an hour. I was within 30 minutes of my destination, London, Ontario, when I stopped for coffee, found a phone message from my sister warning of a major detour on the 401 for that night only.

Within minutes of my setting out again, a flashing sign warned that traffic ahead was stopped. The three-lane highway became a parking lot, with progress measured in metres, interspersed with stoppages. Full darkness had risen two hours later when we exited onto a side road whose winding ways would lead back to the 401 beyond the construction area.

Soon I was completely lost.

I pulled into a large, empty parking lot to get my bearings, reset my GPS. I backed up, heard the sound of crunching metal. I had backed into a narrow cement pole just a few centimetres above the ground, too low to register on my backup screen, though strong enough (as I would later discover) to deliver a strong punch to my back bumper…

Meanwhile, the confident voice of the GPS, apparently unaware of the detour, was guiding me to the exit to the 401 West. I was driving along in the opposite directions to a long line of cars, vans, giant transports, all leaving the 401.

One car waited while I made a graceless U-turn to join the line…

Two phone calls, combined with a less-trusting return to the GPS, brought me to my sister’s home where she was waiting for me outside her front door…

After a late dinner, after conversation with my sister and brother-in-law, I was alone in the guest room, seated for my evening prayer with Sophia. The tensions, the dangers of that dark journey swept through me. Paramount now was concern about repair costs for the bumper punch.

“WHY did that happen?” I asked.

In response, words of Rabbi Rami Shapiro, written about Chochma (Sophia) rose in me. This is how I remembered them: “Sophia will not tell you why things are as they are, but She will show you how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind…”

As though blown away by a gentle breeze within me, my tensions resolved. I knew I would, on my return, go about the steps involved in having the damage to the car assessed and repaired. Only then did I realize what love and care, what inner guidance, had kept me safe through a harrowing journey, where I did not panic even when I found myself going against the traffic.

Now that I am home, I have found the full passage from Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, that brought me comfort.

To know her, according to Shapiro, 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…all Her paths are peace. (Proverbs 3: 17) 

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.  

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 them to your mutual benefit.

In the Wisdom of Solomon, Chochma/Sophia is described in words that are not unlike those that define the GPS: “the Global Positioning System that tells you where you are on earth.”   

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well. (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

trasna -the crossing place

The pilgrims paused on the ancient stones in the mountain gap.
Behind them stretched the roadway they had traveled.
Already a far journey… was it a lifetime?
Ahead, mist hid the track.
Unspoken, the question hovered:
Why go on? Is life not short enough?
Why seek to pierce its mystery?
Why venture further on strange paths, risking all?
Surely that is a gamble for fools.. or lovers.
Why not return comfortably to the known road?
Why be a pilgrim still?
A voice they knew called to them saying:
This is Trasna, the crossing place.
Choose!  Go back if you must,
You will find your way easily by yesterday’s fires
there may be life in the embers yet.

If that is not your deep desire, stand still.
Lay down your load.
Take your life firmly in your two hands,
[Gently.. you are trusted with something precious]
While you search your heart’s yearnings:
What am I seeking?  What is my quest?
When your star rises deep within,
Trust yourself to its leading.

You will have the light for first steps
This is Trasna, the crossing place.  Choose!
​.This is Trasna, the crossing place.  Come! 
 
[Sr Raphael Considine PBVM] 

As you look back over these months of COVID, what do you see?

How does your soul’s journey seem to you?

What have you gained?

How have you grown or changed?

What changes do you notice in what you value?

Where are you being called to go next?

These are real questions I’m asking each one of you. I ask them now at this time when sixteen months of the COVID pandemic have brought unexpected challenges to our lives. Many of us are exhausted from the stress of anxiety, the suffering of loved ones, the daily crises erupting through the effects of climate change, economic inequality, political unrest as the ground beneath our feet reveals fissures…

Whether it’s clear in what ways we’ve been changed, our life on this planet has changed, even as the poet Yeats once wrote, “Changed utterly….” Yet as Yeats’ poem continues, “a terrible beauty is born.”

Look at the way compassion is breaking us open, calling us to radical change: we cannot any longer deny the inadequacy of our social fabric, our market driven economy, to solve the crises now arising everywhere, especially in the devastation of our earth-home, our true Mother.

I invite you to reflect on this image of Hecate, Greek Goddess of the Crossroads. Make note of the responses that arise in your heart.

The Wisdom of Plants

Within(Wisdom/Sophia) is a spirit intelligent, holy,

unique, manifold, subtle,

active, incisive, unsullied,

lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,

irresistible, beneficent, loving to humankind,

steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,

almighty, all-surveying,

penetrating all intelligent, pure

and most subtle spirits;

for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;

she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.

 (Book of Wisdom 7:22-24, Jerusalem Bible)

Where have you recently encountered this mysterious presence that “pervades and permeates all things”? If you are a gardener you have glimpsed her in the long-awaited blossoming of a plant, emerging from winter’s sleep. If you are a grandmother, you have seen her shining in the eyes of a baby. If you are attentive, you have sensed her presence within you in a moment of deep peace, sudden knowing, a release of love or of power that startled you… This is Wisdom/Sophia whom Teilhard de Chardin knew to be within the heart of all that exists, whom Hildegard of Bingen celebrated in song, and Julian of Norwich wrote about in her Revelations of Divine Love, whom mystics like Etty Hillesum found within herself even in Auschwitz, whom poets from Milton to Wordsworth to Blake to Emily Dickinson to Mary Oliver celebrate in words that sing within us… Still we might pass days, weeks, years, perhaps even a whole lifetime, without knowing her.

Awareness comes with opening our eyes to the wonder, the surprising joy of this presence within and around us. On Sunday I removed my skeptic’s cloak, went out to the garden to seek the presence of wisdom in a plant. Carefully following the guidance on a CD by Starhawk, I first asked the plant’s permission to befriend her, then sensing her agreement (truly!) I imagined myself small enough to enter her leafy greenness, to experience life from within her. Here is what I later recorded:

This plant in my garden is awakened by the sun’s appearance in the east, inviting her to live a new day. I recalled suddenly the words of Ezechiel: “Live and grow like the grass in the fields”.  Was this the plant’s wisdom for me?  I turned towards the south whose warmth engenders life within this plant, asking for what I needed to engender new life from within. I turned west, towards the winds loved by poets that ruffle the leaves of this plant, soothing, caressing.  I remembered friends whose gentle winds of love sustained me through times of inner turmoil. I faced north, the place of transformation. What is north for this plant? Winter, I thought, imagining her glossy green leaves brittle, brown, broken. Winter when she must let go of all she cherishes, feeling it blown away by cold winds until nothing remains but her buried roots. Under the snow-covered garden, she endures the long wait through darkness until her new life emerges with spring. Would she know about spring? I found my thoughts turning to my own life, to the way I resist recurring cycles of loss and transformation, as though I too were ignorant of the way spring must follow winter. I looked at my plant, admiring her steady presence, her calm acceptance of the rhythms of life…. As plants have been for thousands of years, she has become my wisdom-teacher.

Since that encounter, I have been foraging through bookshelves, seeking to know how others have met this mysterious sacred presence. In Goddesses and the Divine Feminine by Rosemary Radford Ruether (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005) I found a story from the life experience of Carol P. Christ, a writer whose work has been an inspiration to me.

(Carol Christ) went through a period of deep depression in the early 1990s. An intense love relationship had ended. She felt unable to write, experiencing writer’s block. Feelings of isolation and failure and the fear that she was unlovable resurfaced and brought suicidal thoughts. She even felt abandoned by the Goddess and was angry at her. The refrain, “no one loves you, no one will ever love you, you might as well die” echoed in her mind. She spent most of her time renovating a newly purchased apartment in Athens, hoping to welcome her parents to Greece for their first visit. Instead, she received word that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Christ’s trip back to her parents’ home to be with her mother in her dying days became a revelatory turning point. As her mother died, Christ felt bathed in an ambiance of love and experienced the deepest nature of the universe as embodied love. This experience decisively resolved her uncertainty as to whether the Goddess was simply a metaphor for oneself or the sum total of an indifferent “nature”… or whether the Goddess represented an embodied personal power within and beyond us who cares for us. Christ now felt that she had the experiential basis for clearly choosing the latter view. (p. 287)  

Carol Christ identifies as Goddess this embodied love, this mysterious presence whom others call Wisdom Sophia. Call to her by any name you choose. She will be there.

a visit to the sophia

Let’s turn our thoughts to the presence of Sophia, She who has been called the beating heart of the planet. Mary Malone’s poetry offers us images of Sophia inspired by the Hebrew Scriptures.

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light

And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,

And image of God’s goodness…

For she is more beautiful than the sun,

And above all the order of the stars.

Compared with the light, she is found before it…

Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily

And orders all things sweetly.

“A Visit to the Sophia” is a short guided meditation from Jean Houston’s book, Godseed. We settle ourselves comfortably, preparing for this sacred journey:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass  through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

     Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish share your experiences by writing them in a journal, or perhaps making a drawing or sketch.

The Morning After the Dark night of the soul

As we prepare to emerge from the darkness of COVID, these teachings from Jean Houston offer guidance.

October 21-23, 2016: Jean Houston is to facilitate a program entitled, “The Morning after the Dark Night of the Soul”. Early on Friday morning, I set out for the eleven hour drive to the Rowe Conference Center in Massachusetts. The way takes me through mountains softened through millennia to rounded hills. Trees wear autumn colours so achingly beautiful that I want to stop the car, to embrace them. The narrow road curves, dips, climbs. Quite suddenly a sharp hairpin turn opens to a space to park, to take photos…

 

Full darkness has descended when the car’s headlights pick up the small wooden sign: “The Rowe Center”. Over a narrow bridge that spans a swift-flowing brook, I enter the grounds. In the central farmhouse, a dinner of eggplant parmesan, fresh-baked bread, vegetables, salads and apple crisp awaits.

In a great circle that embraces the dining tables, I join fifty others as we sing a blessing, “Simple Gifts”.

The words pierce through my dazed fatigue, startling me into joy: “To turn, to turn, will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning we come round right.” I know my coming here is the grace for which I’ve been yearning. Before setting out, I’d written my desire: to be spun around, turned to face a new direction….. 

After dinner, we walk from the farmhouse along the path that climbs through the woods to the building that holds the meeting room.

Jean Houston welcomes us, assuring us that, “in the dark night, an enormous gift awaits you.” The music begins. We dance our way into a weekend of teachings, processes, insights, profound inner experiences, one on one conversations   spinning our lives into joy.

Jean Houston: “In the dark night an enormous gift awaits you.”

Using as loom the stages of the mystical path as described by Evelyn Underhill (Mysticism, 1911) Jean weaves together the present darkness of our planet, our personal lives, with the light that sustains the Universe, holding each of us in a fabric of beauty. We’re immersed for a time, brief, endless, in the heart of the spirituality that we’ve been longing to experience, to embrace.

Part of the dark night today, Jean tells us, is way beyond the personal self: this catharsis of refugees, war, weather, the breakdown of systems is “a ritual of initiation that life gives us to deepen”.

Jean turns to Connie Buffalo, her working partner, a member of the Anishnabe/Ojibway People, “How do your people deal with the dark night?”

“We walk in two worlds,” Connie responds. “We know ourselves as timeless beings, called to become more for the good of all people.”

“Mythologize the dark night. Don’t pathologize it.” Jean is introducing the theme when an urgent question from a participant requires a shift:

“What are we to do about the violence, the racism now erupting in our country?”

“The way is love,” Jean responds. “Be there and love. Drop down into the center. Let the facts fall away. Speak essence to essence. (In) very deep seeing, you see the levels of beingness in the person that are not normally seen. Practise going off automatic and into the essence.”

We learn about the practice of deep seeing, first by watching as Jean engages with volunteers from among us, then by working with one another in pairs.

Jean begins by asking the first volunteer to speak of a quality she dislikes in herself. “People say I’m a know-it-all,” the woman responds. Jean invites her to      step back a bit, to shake her body, loosening the posture of protection.

In the silence, Jean looks at her. “You are a pattern-keeper,” Jean says to the woman, explaining that one who sees and knows the higher pattern calls others to honour it in their behaviour.

The women nods, smiles, walks back to her place as one who has received a gift, one who sees that her darkness has light within it.

Jean explains that we have within us a “daemon”: our essential self. This daemon  keeps us in a state of negative life, a darkness, until the inner self has become strong enough to be seen in its fulness. Winston Churchill stuttered when he was young; his voice was protected by his daemon until it would be needed to save Britain. “The daemon protects you until you’re ready.”

Seeing deeply requires us to drop our ego, to focus on the other, Jean says, inviting us to experience this process of deep empathic seeing, working with a partner, someone we don’t know in the room. I’m surprised at the way this process opens my eyes to see the beauty and light in a stranger, the way it shows me the light beneath my own darkness.

Sunrise : “Look deeply to discover what’s trying to emerge”

“We’re looking at the other side of the dark night,” Jean says. “Look deeply to discover what’s trying to emerge.”

In the dark night of the soul, Jean explains, ordinary life shuts down so that deep life can reconstitute itself. If you could see it, it couldn’t happen. It’s like the caterpillar within the cocoon. Its cells turn into a moosh, a soup, until the new imaginal cells combine, become strong enough to emerge as a butterfly.

On the drive back, I know I’ve returned to the deep self once more. I’ve been spun around by my friend and teacher Jean to face into the firelight, into the joy. When I step out of the car beside my home, the stars above me are dancing with delight.

Where and how do you find light in the present darkness on our planet?

What emerging butterfly will we see after this dark night?

What do you see now?

Archetypes in myth

“What Would Maisie (or Robin or Psyche ) Do?”

“Archetypes are many things,” Jean Houston writes, “– primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order.”

Many of the stories we love best are indeed prompted by archetypes, characters whose life struggles, choices, suffering, triumphs, illumine our lives. They are, Jean writes, “our connection to the wider reality…. (they) bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strength to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.”

Last week, we saw how the story of “The Great Stone Face” by 19th century author Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates the power of an Archetypal Story to offer guidance for a lifetime. In the 21st century, English writer Jacqueline Winspear saw in her imagination her fictional character, Maisie Dobbs, emerge fully created from a London Underground Station. In the series of books which follow Maisie’s development as ”Psychologist and Investigator”, through the 1920’s and ‘30’s in London, Winspear presents a character so compelling that her readers tell her that Maisie has inspired them with guidance for difficult times in their own lives. That led Winspear to publish What Would Maisie Do? (Harper Perennial, New York, 2019), a Journal with quotes from the stories of Maisie Dobbs followed by blank pages for her readers’ reflections.

Have you one or more archetypal stories, perhaps heard in childhood, whose characters and their choices continue to guide you? You may have forgotten the original tale; yet, you are still influenced by it.

For me and my siblings, the story of Robin Hood with his band of adventurers in England’s Sherwood Forest was archetypal. Each evening at bedtime, our father would weave a fresh tale, made up in the telling, about Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and the merry band who robbed the rich to give to the poor.

When, as an adult, working in women’s spiritualty, I encountered the power of stories, especially very old ones, to illumine lives, I was re-enchanted. The great storyteller from Chicago, John Shea, came to speak at Ottawa’s University of Saint Paul. Afterwards, I approached him to ask, “How is it that stories, especially ancient ones, hold such power to transform us?”

“Three things,” he began. “First, the stories are very old. No one knows where they came from originally. Second, there’s the power in the one who tells the story. Third is the power within the one who hears and understands the tale.”

Later, I would learn more about archetypal stories from Jean Houston. In her book The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1987, 1997), Jean tells the ancient Greek Tale of Psyche and Eros. For 21st century women, this tale offers wisdom about the feminine way to approach difficult, seemingly impossible tasks.

Psyche, a mortal woman, has fallen in love with Eros, son of the goddess Aphrodite. In her desire to see the face of her lover, Psyche goes against his insistence that she must never look at him. As he sleeps, she lights a candle to gaze at him.

Psyche in Cupid’s Garden Paining by Waterhouse

At once he disappears. Aphrodite, jealous of her son’s love for a mortal, offers to break the spell that separates the lovers. She imposes three seemingly impossible tasks on Psyche. One of these is that the young woman must gather golden fleece from treacherous rams. Psyche weeps in despair, knowing the rams will surely kill her (as Aphrodite intends).

Reeds growing in the nearby river, symbols of the feminine, advise her. Guided by the moon, rather than the all-revealing light of the sun, Psyche is to approach the rams while they sleep. She is to take their fleece not directly from them but rather from the nearby bushes, where tufts of the golden fleece have been snagged as the rams passed by… Psyche completes this task in the feminine way: following the wisdom of moonlight and indirection.

How It All Works

“Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works,”  Jean Houston writes elsewhere. “As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe…. Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience.

“Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.

Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream

“At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the unread vision of the higher dream inherent in both self and society.” (Jean Houston on Archetypes)

archetypes in stories

Last week we considered the great Archetype of the Beloved of the Soul. Yet the imaginal world is teeming with lesser archetypes: some of these are real persons who live now or have once lived on our planet; others are imaginary, encountered in stories. Their gift to us is that they embody for us qualities we long for and need to develop in our own lives. In last week’s Reflection, Jean Houston referred to the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence.

Have you heard or read a story that has become Archetypal for you in its theme, its unfolding? What about “The Wizard of Oz”or “The Ugly Duckling” or “The Lord of the Rings”?

One I have long loved is “The Great Stone Face” by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864).

Does it hold Archetypal  power for you also?

The Great Stone Face

There was once a boy named Ernest who lived with his mother in a verdant valley surrounded by a black forest. High above the valley hovered rocky cliffs, the sides of ancient mountains. On one of these, centuries of wind and rain had carved the likeness of a human face. On fine evenings, after their day’s work was done, Ernest and his mother would sit outdoors, gazing towards this face. Its nobility, a blend of wisdom and kindness, lifted their hearts.

The Great Stone Face

Often they would speak together of the legend, told to Ernest’s mother by her mother, a legend older even than the earliest inhabitants of the valley, the Indigenous peoples. Their mothers and fathers had heard it murmured by the mountains and streams, whispered by the wind in the tree tops. The legend said that one day a child would be born in this area who would grow up to become the greatest and noblest person of his time. His countenance in manhood would exactly resemble the Great Stone Face. 

Ernest grew into a fine youth, always bearing in his heart, when it was not before his eyes, the image of the Great Stone Face, always waiting in hope that the promised arrival of the great man might happen in his lifetime.

One day, when Ernest was in his early 20’s, word came that a man, born in their village, who’d been for many years away making his fortune with a fleet of mighty ships, was about to return. The name by which he’d become known was Gathergold. He’d sent ahead of his arrival an architect to build him a great palace for he planned to live now in the village of his birth.

Ernest and his mother went eagerly into the village to await the arrival of the great man. Crowds were gathering, whispering, “Might he be the one?”

When Ernest saw the man seated in his great carriage, glimpsed the small-eyed, thin-lipped wrinkled face, saw his contempt as he threw a few coppers to children who ran beside the carriage begging, he knew this was not the one he’d awaited. Ernest lifted his gaze beyond the village to where in the distance he could make out the noble features of the Great Stone Face. And it seemed that the Stone spoke to him and said, “He will come! Fear not Ernest, the man will come!” 

Many years passed. Ernest grew into full manhood, though he was little noticed among the inhabitants of the valley. Some thought him rather strange, for he was often seen sitting, gazing at the mountain, as though it were his wisdom teacher…

Another man born in the valley who’d gone to become a soldier was rumored to be returning home. He was now a great commander in the army.

Ernest and his mother joined the eager crowds gathered to welcome him. There were so many soldiers with bayonets, ready to keep the crowd at a distance. There was so much noise, bluster, long speeches, that Ernest and his mother scarcely glimpsed General Blood and Thunder, What Ernest could see was a war-worn, weather–beaten face, full of energy, possessing an iron will. Yet the gentle wisdom, the deep broad tender sympathies that Ernest sought, were completely lacking. Ernest lifted his gaze to the Great Stone Face far off in the distance. As always, the aspect of his marvelous friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he’d never hoped in vain.

“Fear not, Ernest,” said his heart, as if the Great Stone Face were whispering to him—“ fear not, Ernest, he will come.”

More years sped swiftly, peacefully away. Ernest, now a man in his middle years, still dwelt in the valley of his birth, though now without his mother’s companionship. He laboured as before, was still the same simple-hearted man; yet his long hours spent communing with the Great Stone Face had imperceptibly brought about a wisdom in him. He became a preacher in the village. Always in his heart he held great hopes for the betterment of people’s lives, always he trusted in the promise of the legend, the promise of the coming it foretold.

And now for the third time, the people who’d acknowledged their disappointment in Gathergold and General “Blood and Thunder”, were looking to a new arrival, another village son returning, an eminent statesman who was rumored to be a Presidential Hopeful. Though he lacked both gold and sword, his tongue was mightier than both. He was so eloquent that whatever he might choose to say, his hearers had no choice but to believe him. His magical tongue could make wrong sound right, right sound wrong. His tongue could warble like the sweetest bird or rumble like thunder… In fact it was so clear to so many villagers that he was the long-awaited one that they gave him the name, “Old Stony Phiz.”

Watching his arrival, Ernest at first saw a resemblance between this man and the old familiar face on the mountainside. Yet even as the villagers shouted and cheered that here at last was the one, Ernest knew something was lacking: the sublimity, the stateliness, the grand expression of a divine sympathy that illuminated the village from the Great Stone Face, were here absent. This marvelously gifted statesman had a weary gloom in the caverns of his eyes, as though his life with all its high performances was vague and empty. No high purpose had endowed it with reality.

Ernest felt a deep disappointment, the sharpest yet, for he saw that this man could have fulfilled the prophecy but had not willed to do so. The cavalcade passed on. Once again the view was clear for Ernest to gaze at the Beloved Face. “Lo, here I am, Ernest. I have waited longer than thou and am not yet weary. Fear not, the man will come.”

Decades passed, bringing the wrinkles of age to Ernest’s forehead. They brought a deepened wisdom that gave Ernest a fame he’d never sought nor desired. Word had gone forth that this simple farmer had a wisdom unlike that of others, gained not from books. No, it was something higher, more refined, a tranquil familiar majesty. Professors and sages, politicians and philanthropists sought him out, sat near to listen to him, to ask him questions.

Once more a native son of the valley was gaining prominence: this man was a poet. When Ernest read his verses, his heart soared.  He looked up at the Great Stone Face. “O majestic friend,“ Ernest asked, “is this man worthy to resemble thee?’

The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.

The poet had also heard of Ernest, had meditated on pieces of his wisdom that were told to him, on aspects of what he learned of Ernest’s character.

One afternoon, the poet arrived at Ernest’s door to find him reading a book of his poems. They held a deep conversation. Ernest praised his poetry. Sadly, the poet acknowledged that his life had not echoed the sublimity of his poems. He had noticed Ernest looking intently at him, then looking up to the stone face, then back to the poet’s face. The poet understood. “You had hoped to find in me a resemblance to that great face you love.”  

Evening approached and, as was his custom, Ernest set out to meet the villagers who gathered at sunset to listen to his words. He and the poet walked together to the small nook among the hills where a natural pulpit was carved into the stone backdrop. Ernest took his place there, gazing kindly at the assembled villagers.

Ernest began to speak from his heart. His words had power, the delicious purity of a draught of spring water. The poet listened to Ernest’s words, knew that a lifetime of love and good deeds had dissolved in this draught, knew that Ernest’s words were a nobler stream of poetry than his own…

The poet glanced up and saw the Great Stone Face, mists surrounding it even as Ernest’s white hair surrounded his face.

At that moment, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, unable to stop himself, threw up his arms, and shouted, ”Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face.”

And all the people looked, saw what the deep-sighted poet saw. The prophecy was fulfilled.

Yet Ernest, when he’d finished speaking, taking the poet’s arm, walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance to the Great Stone Face.      .

partnership with the sacred

A day in late June. The scent of wild roses on the wind. The trees around your home that have been stark, bare, skeletal since November are suddenly lush, luxuriant with leafy canopies. The lake in the distance lifts small waves in greeting.

You cannot enter into the joy around you. Some inner darkness is invading your spirit, an inner voice, silent for so long you hoped it had been banished, begins its lacerating litany…

 “What have you been playing at? You do not deserve the love of the Sacred One you tell others about. Your life is a sham, and it’s time to admit it… Who do you think you are?”

When you are strong and focused you can silence this voice. Even mock it, laugh at it. Yet today, as clouds gather to swallow the June sunlight, you are defeated. The words eat into your joy, into your very heart, just as surely as the hordes of gypsy moth caterpillars are chewing the hearts of the leaves on the trees that shelter you….

A thunderstorm batters your home, rain drenches the deck. The caterpillars who swarm over railings, floor, table and chairs are delighted. If their many legs could dance, they would.

Finally you sleep that night, waken at dawn, still immersed in inner turmoil. Seated before the Icon of Sophia you offer a desperate prayer: “Send me words, any words that will take away this darkness.”

Not long after, though you’ve already forgotten your prayer, you open your phone to check emails. Five lines fill the small screen with words you haven’t seen before, perhaps the tail end of an earlier email? You have no idea who sent them or in what context. Your hungry heart receives them, wanting to believe they have just this moment arisen from the noosphere in response to your prayer. You read them again, a second, a third time.

You are the best we have

You are all we have

You are what we have become

We pledge you our whole hearts

From this day forward.*

And you know, even as your heart rises to sing once more, even as you, unlike the caterpillars, dance with joy, that these words are addressed to you, as well as to others who, like you, seek to serve Her, the Sacred Feminine Presence. This is the way that Partnership Spirituality can fill your emptiness and orchestrate your being.

* days later I would discover these to be the final lines of a poem by Maya Angelou

By grace of fifteen years of absorbing, learning how to integrate Jean Houston’s teachings, woven into our lives through her processes, seasoned with delight through dance, story, music and laughter, I have come to live a radically new way of relating to the Sacred Presence of Love that pervades our lives, as well as every aspect of life on our Beloved Planet and throughout the Universe. Yes, there are times, sudden, inexplicable, of darkness. Yet these moments or days allow the return of the Light to glow with greater radiance, as our earthly nights reveal the splendour of starlight.

Jean calls this new way of relating to a Sacred Presence “partnership spirituality.” Here is how Jean describes it:

It has been my belief and experience that a new order of spirituality is greatly enhanced with the concept of partnership with the Spiritual Friend, the Friend of the Deeps, the Beloved of the soul. This of course is an ancient archetype (as is) the communion with the Beloved whether seen as Christ or Krishna or the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence. The practice of living and loving the Beloved has enormous consequences for our spiritual growth and well-being. It is an essential form of partnership with the Divine. In all the great spiritual and mystery traditions, the central theme, the guiding passion, is the deep yearning for the Beloved of the Soul. This yearning for union with the Beloved lies at the heart of Sacred Psychology, for it is this profound longing—which transcends the desire for romantic love, the nourishment of parental love, and all the multiple and marvelous varieties of human love—that calls us to the Source.

As Jean so often reminds us, this time, our time, is the time of the great rebirthing, when the discoveries about the Universe by today’s physicists meld with the mysticism of ages and cultures and spiritual traditions of past millennia. These combine to offer us a whole new loom upon which our lives may be rewoven.

Jean writes: “We are truly in a time of partnership with God, whether the Divine Friend is known as the Beloved or a sense of Universal spirit, or a transmission of luminous energy and peace.”

Moreover, Jean says, “It is crucial, in any spirituality adequate to our time, that we have both the masculine and feminine sense of Divine Presence.” 

ARTWORK by Mickey McGrath OSFS

This must be an engaged spirituality which means that “one works, wherever one is, for the betterment of all…. the ruling commandment of radical empathy for the other is a manifestation of the true Self, the divine reality of Spirit.”

As I thought about Jean’s words on Partnership Spirituality, a memory rose: Jesus speaking to his beloved friends on the night before he died. The magnificent words in the Gospel of John are themselves an invitation to the adventure of Partnership Spirituality to those for whom the risen Jesus is the Beloved of the Soul:

I tell you most solemnly,

whoever believes in me

will perform the same works as I do myself,

s/he will perform even greater works,

because I am going to the Father.

Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,

so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

(Gospel of John 14: 12, 13)

You are my friends if you do what I command you.

I shall not call you servants any more,

because a servant does not know

her/his master’s business.

I call you friends,

because I have made known to you

everything I have learned from my Father. (John 15: 14, 15)

Summer Solstice with Sophia

The journey of increasing light continues with the approach of mid-summer, around June 21 in the northern hemisphere, when the light triumphs and brightness occupies a large part of both day-time and night-time hours. High summer celebrates the complete blossoming and fruition of the seeds sown back in the depths of winter. However, this triumph of light is, like all things, transitory.

Dawn of Summer Solstice over Calabogie Lake June 2020

Just as the journey toward the summer solstice began at the time of the winter solstice,so too the journey to the winter solstice is initiated at this moment.

The sun begins to lose some of its strength; it shines for a shorter time each day, as the year moves past the summer solstice.

The water energy, in the form of rain—so much a part of summer in the northern regions – tempers the fire energy and ensures that the crops reach full ripeness without being burned.

 (Dolores Whelan Ever Ancient, Ever New Celtic Spirituality in the 21st Century,  published by Original Writing Ltd., Dublin, 2010 )

For this almost-Solstice Reflection, I chose a piece on Sophia inspired by Thomas Merton.

On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Merton wakened in his hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

He wrote of the “fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero.” 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: 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.

Thomas Merton

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’ve come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005).  Shapiro opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures. I was finding my own way to sharing my 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”.

In Proverbs, Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks:

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.”

When we become her 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.”

Icon of Sophia from a Chapel on Paros Island, Greece

engaging with your archetype

Sophia Reflection for June 12, 2021

August 2011. On a high cliff above the Hudson River in a former Catholic Monastery, now a Buddhist Prayer Center in Garrison, New York, the East Coast Mystery School Community is gathered for its penultimate experience. Before the weekend ends, there will be a hurricane. We will gather outdoors, above the river, letting the winds blow where they will….

Yet, when I think back to that weekend, a different sort of hurricane fills my memory.

On Saturday night, Jean Houston offered a time called “The Gifting”. In a curtained alcove, we were each in turn invited to speak with Jean about the desires we held for our lives. This process would continue into the early hours of the morning. Everyone had a chance to ask for a gift. Jean was empowered by the Beloved to respond.

T couldn’t give you this gift until you asked for it

I had a complex request prepared, one that involved many aspects of my ongoing ministry of spirituality for women. As I waited for my turn to speak with Jean, my eyes were drawn to a cross carved in the wood above what had been the monastery’s sacristy. A knowing rose from my depths that this symbol belonged to an earlier form of spirituality. Suddenly I knew clearly what I needed to ask for in the gifting.

When I was seated across from Jean, I made my request: “I want to be an embodiment of the Sacred Feminine.”

“I have seen this in you,” Jean said. “You are ready. I couldn’t give you this gift until you asked for it.”

Looking back now over the ten years since that Gifting, I recall the different ways I have sought to grow in this sacred relationship. As a writer, I was drawn to engage in a process I’d heard Jean recommend: daily conversations with the Beloved. The unlined pages of my large hardcover journals began to fill up with my black ink handwriting at an alarming rate. You may wonder how I could call it “conversation. I was the one writing both my questions and the answers…

Trust me in this: I began to recognize a different writing voice in the responses, one that was both more certain and more gentle than my own. I noticed that often when I asked an important or perplexing question, for which I could find no guidance, the Beloved’s words would clarify for me what had been fogbound, showing alternatives that my conscious mind had not been able to see or imagine.

If you enjoy journal writing, I recommend this process, adding a caution of patience and perseverance. Early in the dialogue writing the suggestions I received were about small things: a nudge to send an email, make a phone call, complete a task, or even take a break! I admit I was rather disappointed, having expected to be asked something exciting, noble, life-altering….

Today I found in an old journal something I wrote in 2012. I share these suggestions with you. You may wish to add others.

Nurturing a Relationship with the Beloved:

Care for the relationship as you would a sacred garden.

Spend time within this garden.

Be aware of new plants, growing, emerging.

Water these with your time and attention.

Dance, so that your whole body is involved in this gift

Imagine yourself striding through deep waters to keep the lower chakras aware and alive.

Look for weeds- noxious ones or even other plants that begin to demand space, light, air, water, distracting you from the great gift you are fostering within you. It takes time, energy, focus.

Above all, it takes acknowledgement that this is your most important work, the one thing necessary, without which all your other tasks would come to nothing….

You must structure your life around (this gift), as you would make room for a lover or friend whom you invite into your life…

This gift asks for space, attention, nurture, even the sacrifice of your more self-centred concerns… refocus your energy towards what the Sacred Presence feels and enjoys and longs for…would wish to do in/through/with you.

 “Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke)

May you enter the adventure with trust and find delight in your relationship with the Beloved of your Soul.

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives