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.

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