Sophia and the Paschal Mystery

Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,

Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane,

Subsiding under the weight of silence

That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.

What light could endure the dark he entered?

The void that turns the mind into a ruin

Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds

Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.

Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;

Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

(John O’Donohue “The Agony in the Garden”)

We are now in the sacred weeks when Christians re-enter the life-death-life mystery that leads to the Celebration of Easter.

This year, as COVID 19 makes its silent way through the countries of earth, we are entering a planetary passion play.

We know at a depth never before imagined that this mystery is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of life on our planet, in the deep heart of our own lives.

From its birth out of the womb of a dying star, through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn, its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring, the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.

Ancient peoples understood this. They wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened allowing her to conceive their son Horus.

The Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal. There she was stripped of her royal robes and insignia, murdered by her sister, who then hung her lifeless body on a hook. Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.

Demeter calls forth her daughter Persephone from the kingdom of the dead; Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius return to life after being destroyed.

The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the Ancient Near East. Jean Houston tells us in Godseed (Quest Books, 1992): “In the Greco-Roman world, these acts of resurrection were celebrated in the Mystery Religions. These ecstatic forms of piety involved dramatic, highly-ritualized inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, resurrection, redemption, joy and ecstasy.

The Mystery Religions provided alienated individuals lost in the nameless masses of the Roman Empire with an intimate environment and community of the saved, in which they counted as real persons and found a deeper identity.

Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the mystery cult, the initiate died to the old self and was resurrected to personal transfiguration and eternal life.” (125-6)

What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person. The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain.”

In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe.

Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed into a deeper more joyous existence.

By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits, old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be, we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us.

As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.

“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed.

For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core to “the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits. It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed”.

“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues. “We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.”

Yet “the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us….the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone, the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life”. (Godseed pp.129-130)

The yearly miracle of spring awakens within us the confidence and joy that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live.

The timing of the COVID 19 crisis  just as spring is about to begin in the Northern Hemisphere offers hope that we too may green our lives, our times, our planet:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)

Something to ponder in the presence of Sophia/ Wisdom:

Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?

What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?

What attitudes, behaviours, surprising newness have I noticed within and around me since the COVID 19 crisis arrived?  

How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?

What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me? for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?

May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom, gently guide us as we, like Jesus, “stand in that nothingness … raising the chalice of kindness to bless” through this health crisis, through the death of what no longer serves us, personally and as a planet, into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.

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