What was your favourite story when you were a child? Have you reflected on how that story may have influenced your adult life, shaping your longings, your choices, in ways of which you were unaware?
For the past weeks, I have been reflecting upon Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” (Skylight Illuminations, 2005). Again and again I found something as old as longing, as fresh and new as a summer breeze.
Like this, from the Wisdom of Solomon (6: 15-16)
Resting your thoughts on Her—
this is perfect understanding.
Staying mindful of Her-
this is perfect calm.
She embraces those who are ready for Her,
revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,
meeting them in every thought.
Now, seeking words to convey the wonder, the joy awakened in me, I think of guidance, then companionship, or having a wise friend to turn to in times of doubt or struggle…A memory comes of summers spent in my grandmother’s home, entering the magic within a heavy, hard-cover book of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. The tale I turned to over and over again was “The Travelling Companion”.
Like many of Andersen’s stories, it begins with a young person who is sad: John’s father has just died and he is all alone. Before setting out into the wide world, he makes a last visit to the graveyard to say goodbye, promising he will be good and kind, as he, his father had always been.
On his travels, John takes refuge from a storm in a church, where a coffin rests before the altar. To his horror, John sees two men approach the coffin, and open it. From their gruff words, he learns that the dead man owed them money so they plan in revenge to dump his body in a field. John offers the men his entire inheritance from his father if they will leave the dead man in peace. Laughing derisively at his foolishness, they agree.
Now penniless, John resumes his journey. One day, he is joined by a stranger who asks if they might travel together to seek their fortunes. This stranger becomes a companion to John, and much later, after many adventures, guides John to successfully solve magical riddles and thereby win the hand of a beautiful princess.
On the day following the wedding, the stranger, travelling knapsack on his back, walking stick in hand, comes to say goodbye. John is devastated, having hoped his friend would stay with him to share the happiness he had won for him. But the stranger says, “No, my time on earth is over. I have paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom the evil men wanted to harm? You gave everything you owned so that he could rest in his coffin. I am the dead man.”
With these words he disappeared.
Somewhere within I have held the longing for such a “travelling companion”, for a friend who would walk with me, guide me, advise me when I was perplexed, comfort me when I was sorrowful, show me how to make my way along the pathways of life as they opened before me.
Through Shapiro’s unfolding of the Wisdom passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, I recognized in Sophia/ Chochma the beloved friend I had sought, the One who embraces those who are ready for Her, revealing Herself in the midst of their travels, meeting them in every thought.
Even more, I recognized that I had already found Her. Through my lifetime, She has come to me in different guises, bearing different names, from Mary to Isis to Sophia to the “Friend” who offers daily guidance in the smaller and greater aspects of my life, walking with me, a light in darkness.
It is she whom I now recognise as the presence who sometimes speaks in the poetry of Hafiz, especially in this one, sent to me by a friend shortly after the death of my sister Patti:
In the morning
When I began to wake,
It happened again…..
That you Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
that as soon as I began to stir
You put your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.
Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky:” I Heard God Laughing”
Who among us does not yearn for such a presence of love? And yet the beauty of Wisdom-Sophia is that we have only to desire her in order to find her:
Do you desire Me?
Come to Me!
Do you crave Me?
Eat My fruit!
Even the Memory of Me is sweeter than honey,
And to possess Me is sheer ecstasy.
(The Book of Sirach 24:19-20)
Reflecting on these words, Shapiro writes:
When it comes to Wisdom let your desire guide you. Take Her and eat of Her and do so without reserve or hesitation. She wants you to want Her, and desires to give Herself to all who hunger for Her.
And if we fear losing her, or even if we know we have in the past both found and lost, Shapiro encourages us that the Memory of Her love will stay with you and push you to seek Her again…. Her gifts of simplicity and grace cannot be matched. And when you receive them, the narrow self is overcome with joy and the spacious self unfolds in bliss.
For each one of us, May it be so! (And so it is!)