All posts by amclaughlin2014

Member of Community of Grey Sisters of Pembroke; Masters Degree in Religious Communication, Loyola University, Chicago; Author: Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) Planted in the Sky (2006) both published by Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada Retreat facilitator: The Wooing of the Soul (2013) The Sophia Salons, beginning in February 2016, offer journeys to one's own inner wisdom for small groups of women. For information:

Entering the Rose Garden Part Four

Where might we who yearn to find the lost Divine Feminine seek for her? Anne Baring concluded her presentation on the Shekinah with directions for our quest.

Her first suggestion will be familiar to us: The Biblical Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom. These we have encountered in our earlier exploration of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s writings in The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature.  From this rich source, Anne Baring cites these examples:

In the Book of Proverbs (8: 23-31), Wisdom tells us she is the Beloved of God, with Him from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. She speaks from the deep ground of life as the hidden law which orders it and as the Craftswoman of creation. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo has painted her tucked into the crook of God’s arm. With their vivid imagery, these passages transform the idea of the Holy Spirit, speaking as Divine Wisdom, from abstract idea into living presence.

In the Book of Wisdom…Wisdom is described as sitting by the throne of the Lord in heaven (9:10) and is spoken of as the Holy Spirit (9:17).

Elsewhere, Wisdom speaks as though, like the Shekinah, she were here, in this dimension, dwelling with us in the midst of her kingdom, accessible to those who seek her out. She is unknown and unrecognized, yet working within the depths of life, striving to open our understanding to the divine reality of her presence, the sacredness of her creation, her justice, wisdom, love and truth. In the Book of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Wisdom, perhaps recalling the time when she was honoured and worshipped in the First Temple, proclaims herself to be the soul and intelligence of the cosmos, rooted in tree, vine, earth and water and active in the habitations of humanity. She is the principle of justice that inspires human laws. She appeals to all those who are desirous of her to fill themselves with her fruits, “For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb.” (24:20)

Anne Baring calls this “the language of the immanence of the Divine Feminine in the world”.  Anne continues: “To those who, like Solomon, prized her more highly than rubies, Wisdom was their wise and luminous guide.”

image of the Sacred Feminine by Marie Osos

I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me…I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for the light that cometh from her never goeth out…For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty… She is the brightness of the everlasting Light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodnessShe is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the Light, she is found before it… I loved her, and sought her out from my youth. I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty. (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 7,10, 25, 26, 29, 8:2).        

Anne Baring’s treasure map leads to another source where knowledge of the Shekinah may be found:

During the last fifty years or so, it has become increasingly clear that there was a great underground stream of human experience which flowed from the thriving city of Alexandria into several different channels—into the writings of the early Christian Gnostics discovered at Nag Hammadi, into the Hermetic Tradition and the later Alchemists, and the transmitters, both Jewish and Christian, of the ancient cosmology of Kabbalism. Hellenistic Egypt in the second and third centuries AD was the ultimate source of all these traditions yet we now know that the roots lie deeper, in the temple teachings of a far older time, whether in Palestine or Egypt. Alexandria was a Greek city, the meeting place of East and West – a vibrant crucible for the exchange of ideas and teachings between Egyptians, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, and also sages from far-away Persia and India….In Alexandria Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit was called Sophia –the Greek word for Wisdom – a name which descended to the time when the emperor Justinian built the great Christian Basilica in Constantinople called Hagia Sophia.  

The Gnostics were a group of early Christians, some descended from the Jews who fled Jerusalem in 70 AD following the destruction of the temple by the Romans. They claimed to have the secret teaching of Jesus, given by him to his closest disciples, including James and Mary Magdalene. There were many Gospels circulated among them in addition to the four we now know. One of these: “The Gospel of the Beloved Companion” attributed to Mary Magdalene, found its way to France from Alexandria in the First Century. This book has recently been translated from the Greek by Jehanne de Quillan.

Anne Baring quotes from Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels) on the fate of these other Gospels by the close of the second century AD: Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups revered was omitted from the canonical collection, and branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox. By the time the process of sorting the various writings ended…virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from the orthodox Christian tradition.

As Anne Baring tells us, until 1977 with the publication of the texts discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, “no one knew that some groups of early Christians had an image of the Divine Mother whom they had named ‘The Invisible within the All.’”  

In the Christian era, the “further and final loss of the Divine Feminine” was brought about. In AD 325, the Church Council of Nicaea associated Wisdom with Christ as the Logos, the Divine Word. 

From this time the Christian image of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit became wholly identified with the masculine archetype.  The ancient connection between the Holy Spirit and the Divine Feminine was irrevocably and, for western civilization, tragically lost. The monotheism of the three Patriarchal religions has led to the situation today where the Earth is no longer viewed as sacred and we are confronted with the catastrophic effects of the loss of the Divine Feminine.      

     Anne Baring offers this question for our Reflection:

“What difference would there be in your life if the Shekinah-Sophia was a living presence for you?”

Entering the Rose Garden Part Three

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

(This is the third Reflection based on the opening talk Anne Baring gave to Ubiquity University’s online course: “Madonna Rising” in August 2020. I am grateful to Anne Baring for making her lecture notes available to participants. Direct quotes are designated by quotation marks, or for longer sections, by the use of italics.)

The Feminine Face of the Godhead

In the mystical tradition of Judaism, the Shekinah or feminine face of the god-head is named as Cosmic Womb, Palace, Enclosure, Fountain, Apple Orchard and Mystical Garden of Eden. She is named as the architect of worlds, source or foundation of our world, also as the Radiance, Word or Glory of the unknowable ground or godhead. Text after text uses sexual imagery and the imagery of light to describe how the ray which emanates from the unknowable ground enters into the womb—the Great Sea of Light—of the Celestial Mother and how she brings forth the male and female creative energies which, as two branches of the Tree of Life, are symbolically King and Queen, Son and Daughter. A third branch of the Tree descends directly down the centre, unifying and connecting the energies on either side….The Heart centre of these three branches or pillars…is called Tiphareth.

As “the indwelling and active Holy Spirit”, the Shekinah is both “divine guide and immanent presence”. She it is who frees us from beliefs that separate us from our source, restoring the world to “union with the divine ground.” By bringing into being all that is ensouled by the divine source, “she generates the manifest world we know”, remaining here until “the whole creation is enfolded once again into its source.”

Image by Josephine Wall

Kabbalism sees “the divine Mother-Father image…expressed as the male and female of all species”.

Humanity, female and male, is therefore the expression of the duality-in-unity of the god-head. The Shekinah is forever united with her beloved Spouse in the divine ground or heart of being and it is their union in the god-head that holds life in a constant state of coming into being. Yet she is also present—here with us—in the material reality of our world. The sexual attraction between man and woman and the expression of true love between them is the enactment or reflection at this level of creation of the divine embrace at its heart that is enshrined in the cherished words of the Song of Songs: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”(6:3) Human sexual relationship, enacted with love, mutual respect and joy, is a sacred ritual that is believed to maintain the ecstatic union of the divine pair.

Dwelling as divine presence in all that is, the Shekinah assures that “nothing is outside spirit.”

In the radiance of that invisible cosmic Sea of Light, everything is connected to everything else as through a luminous circulatory system. Moreover, the Shekinah is deeply devoted to what she has brought into being, as a mother is devoted to the well-being of her child. All life on earth, all levels and degrees of consciousness, all forms of what we see and name as “matter” are the creation of the primal fountain of Light, and are therefore an expression of divinity.

The colours associated with the Shekinah are blue and gold. She is the ground of the human soul, its “light body”, its “outer garment, the physical body, and its animating spirit or consciousness.” The Shekinah is “the holy presence of the ‘glory of God’ within everyone.”

We, all of us, moving from unconsciousness and ignorance of this radiant ground to awareness of and relationship with it, live in her being and grow under her power of attraction until we are reunited with the source, discovering ourselves to be what in essence we always were but did not know ourselves to be—sons and daughters of God, living expressions of divine spirit.

Like Isis, widowed, mourning, searching for her beloved Osiris, the Shekinah wears a black robe. This signifies “the darkness of the mystery which hides the glory of her Light.” This imagery “was carried forward to the Black Madonna.”

The imagery of Kabbalism may also be discerned in fairy tales. The forgotten image of the Divine Feminine, the veiled Shekinah appears as the Fairy God-mother who “presides over her daughter’s transformation from soot-blackened drudge to royal bride”.

Might Cinderella represent, as Harold Bayley suggests in The Lost Language of Symbolism, “the human soul as it moves from ’rags to riches’.”

Cinderella’s three splendid dresses, which could be equated with the “robe of glory” of certain kabbalist and gnostic texts, represent the soul’s luminous sheaths or subtle bodies, as dazzling as the light of moon, sun and stars.

Just as the soot-blackened girl in the fairy tale puts on her three glorious dresses to reveal herself as she truly is, so does the human soul don these “robes of glory” as she moves from the darkness of ignorance into the revelation of her true nature and parentage.

Entering the Rose Garden Part Two

Tree of Life

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

 Anne Baring finds in the richness of Kabbalistic teachings and traditions traces of the luminous period of the First Temple in Israel. Thanks to her generosity in making her lecture notes available to those who participated in Ubiquity University’s online program “Madonna Rises”, I have Anne Baring’s own words to rely on. Short quotes are in quotation marks, longer ones designated by the use of italics. 

Last week, we reflected on The Tree of Life as an image of the soul of the cosmos. “Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.” In the Tree of Life there exists “one cosmic symphony”.

The Tree of Life is no hierarchical descent from invisible to visible. Rather it is “an image of worlds nesting within worlds, dimensions within dimensions emanating…from within outwards…the tapestry of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the visible fabric of this world…. At the innermost level is the unknowable source or god-head, at the outermost the physical forms of matter.”

And who or where are we in this “one unified web of life: one energy, one spirit, one single cosmic entity”?   

Anne Baring responds: “According to this Tradition, we are, each one of us, that life, that energy, that spirit.”

There is something still more wonderful: an intermediary between “the unknowable source” and “the physical forms of matter”: the Shekinah:

The Shekinah is the image of the Divine Feminine or the Feminine Face of God as it was conceived in this mystical tradition of Judaism. In the image and cosmology of the Shekinah, we encounter the most complete description of Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit as the indissoluble relationship between the two primary aspects of the god-head that have been lost or hidden for centuries.

The Shekinah- the feminine co-creator- is the Voice or Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Glory of God, the Compassion of God, the Active Presence of God: intermediary between the mystery of the unknowable source or ground and this world of its ultimate manifestation.

The concept of the Shekinah as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit ….transmutes all creation, including the apparent insignificance and ordinariness of everyday life, into something to be loved, embraced, honoured and celebrated because it is the epiphany or shining forth of the divine intelligence and love that has brought it into being and dwells hidden within it.

The elimination of the image of the Great Mother took away from us the concept that “the whole of nature was ensouled with spirit and therefore sacred”. People living through the millennia of Patriarchal religions lost “their age-old sense of participation in a Sacred Order.”

The Shekinah, named as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit- divinity present and active in the world- supplies the missing imagery of divine immanence which is absent from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And this mystical tradition brings together heaven and earth, the divine and the human, in a coherent and seamless vision of their essential relationship.

How would the recovery of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of the god-head, as Mother, Beloved, Sister and Bride transform our image of God? of Nature? of ourselves?

Anne Baring states that “the Shekinah gives woman what she has lacked throughout the last two thousand years in western civilization—a sacred image of the Divine Feminine that is reflected at the human level in herself.”

Yet prior to this in the ancient world Wisdom was always associated with the image of a Goddess: Inanna in Sumeria, Isis and Ma’at in Egypt, Athena in Greece… Anne Baring celebrates the recovery of these ancient images with the even greater richness of the Shekinah’s role in the web of Life:

The Bronze Age imagery of the Great Goddesses returns to life in the extraordinary beauty and power of the descriptions of the Shekinah, and in the gender endings of nouns which describe the feminine dimension of the divine. But the Divine Feminine is now defined as a limitless connecting web of life, as the invisible Soul of the Cosmos, as the intermediary between the unknowable god-head and life in this dimension. The Shekinah brings together heaven and earth, the invisible and visible dimensions of reality in a resplendent vision of their essential relationship and union.

Another aspect of this tradition preserves the image from the Bronze Age of the Sacred Marriage. Rather than a Father God there is a Mother-Father who are “one in their eternal embrace, one in their ground, one in their emanation, one in their ecstatic and continual act of creation  through all the dimensions they bring into being and sustain.”

Ann Baring comments:

From the perspective of divine immanence, there is no essential separation between spirit and nature or spirit and matter.  

In a burst of poetic praise, Anne Baring adds:

No other cosmology offers the same breath-taking vision in such exquisite poetic imagery of the union of male and female energies in the One that is both.

Not surprisingly, the kabbalists, in contemplating the mystery of this divine union, turned for inspiration to “The Song of Songs”.

Entering the Rose Garden

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

For seven days in mid-August, 2020, I spent time in an ancient Rose Garden, an imaginal space engineered by ZOOM, offered by Ubiquity University. The garden was peopled by scholars, archaeologists of the soul, dancers, storytellers, musicians, poets and mystics. Their great task is recovering, and offering to those who hunger for it, the knowledge and awareness of the Divine Feminine.

When COVID made Ubiquity’s fourteen-year tradition of a summer program in the Chartres Cathedral of France impossible, Madonna Rising took its place. More than one hundred participants joined in from countries across the planet. The central image for the program was the Mystical Rose, a title honouring the Sacred Feminine in ancient cultures, such as Egypt and Sumeria. Later, that title was given to Mary, Mother of Jesus.  

On Day One we were greeted by Banafsheh Sayyad from her home in Southern California. Over the following days, Banafsheh would lead us in sacred dance, inviting us to open our lives to the Divine Feminine Presence. Banafsheh introduced the theme of Madonna Rising by offering a Prophecy from the Cherokee Nation:

The bird of humanity has two great wings – a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed, while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed – half extended. So the masculine wing in all of us has become over-muscular and over-developed and in fact violent. The bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing…

In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.

From her desk, Banafsheh lifted a rose. It appeared to move off- screen to be received by Anne Baring, seated in her home in England.

In the first of her trilogy of presentations, Anne would begin to tell the tale of how the bird of humanity lost the power of gracious flight in its feminine wing. Author of Dream of the Cosmos (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England, 2013) as well asThe Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, (1992) Anne delves for light in history, following paths not yet made, seeking the story that came before the story in pursuit of clarity about so much that has been lost to us.

Was there a story that preceded the 6th c. BCE Creation Story in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible? And if so, how was it lost? Here is what Anne’s research found:

I loved her more than health or beauty,

preferred her to the light,

since her radiance never sleeps.

(The Book of Wisdom, 7:10 Jerusalem Bible)

Solomon, to whom the Book of Wisdom is ascribed, built the First Temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BCE. In the time of the First Temple, Israel had an ancient, shamanic, visionary tradition. Divine Wisdom was worshipped in this First Temple as the Goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh and the co-creator of the world with him. In this tradition the Tree of life was associated with Wisdom, Queen of Heaven.

Anne then told us how all this changed:

In 621 BC, in the reign of King Josiah, a powerful group of priests called Deuteronomists took control of the Temple….  The Deuteronomists had the statue of the Goddess Asherah and the great Serpent, image of her power to regenerate life, removed from the Temple and destroyed. Her Sacred Groves were cut down. All images of her were broken. The ancient shamanic rituals of the High Priest which had honoured and communed with the Queen of Heaven as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit were banished and replaced by new rituals based on obedience to Yahweh’s Law. The vital communion with the inner dimensions of reality was lost; the making of images was forbidden.

(As I listened to this, I felt something inside me twist in pain. More even than the destruction of her images, the cutting down of the trees sacred to the Goddess wrenched my heart.)

Anne spoke of the long-lasting effects of this rupture:

This is the crucially important time when I think it is possible to say that the whole foundation of Jewish and later Christian civilization became unbalanced. The Deuteronomists ensured that Yahweh was the sole Creator God. The Feminine co-creator, the Goddess Asherah, was eliminated. The Divine Feminine aspect of the god-head was banished from orthodox Judaism. The Deuteronomists went further: they demoted the Queen of Heaven – Mother of All Living – into the human figure of Eve, bestowing this title upon her. They created the Myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis (2 & 3), with its message of sin, guilt and banishment from the Garden of Eden, severing the Tree of Life from its ancient association with the Queen of Heaven.

Anne Baring suggests that the “heritage seeds’’ of the First Temple’s teaching were somehow preserved in the Jewish traditions of Kabbalism:

It seems highly significant that one of the most important images of Kabbalism is the Tree of Life, which is a clear and wonderful concept describing the web of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the fabric of life in this world. At the innermost level or dimension of reality is the unmanifest, unknowable Divine Ground; at the outermost the physical forms we call nature, body and matter.  Linking the two is the archetypal template of the Tree of Life— an inverted tree— whose branches grow from its roots in the divine ground and extend through many invisible worlds or dimensions until they reach this one.

Anne describes this cosmology as one where

Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect. All is one life, one cosmic symphony, one integrated whole. We participate, at this material level of creation, in the divine life which informs all these myriad levels of reality. Our human lives are therefore inseparable from the inner life of the Cosmos.

The Kabbalistic tradition is “vitally important” Anne says, because it celebrates…the indissoluble relationship and union between the feminine and masculine aspects of the god-head—a sacred union which the three Patriarchal religions have ignored or deliberately rejected.

I will end this excerpt from Anne Baring’s first talk with a statement she makes that is both stark and striking in its clarity:

If we want to understand the deep roots of our present environmental and spiritual crisis, we can find them in the loss of three important elements: the feminine image of spirit, the direct shamanic path of communion with spirit through visionary and shamanic experience, and the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspect of the God-head and the Divine Ground. Each of these was an intrinsic aspect of the lost traditions and practices of the First Temple.

(to be continued)  

How Should Anything Be Amiss?

The Wendy Tree at Galilee Retreat Centre, Arnprior, Canada

The winter had been long, dark, frigid, lifeless. As I drove to the Galilee Retreat Centre on that morning in late February, 2002, the fog that veiled the frozen Ottawa River on my left and the road ahead of me slowly lifted, revealing trees on either side in their winter nakedness. Suddenly I was aware of beauty: each delicate twig was encased in ice, a crystal carapace that caught the rays of the morning sun, sparkling like cut glass, throwing joy through the air, across the soft roseate sky. Inside, I felt a surge of joy as my inner winter melted, as new, previously unimagined possibilities for travel, for poetry, for a fuller life danced within me.

 I reached Galilee in a state of expectant joy. But what awaited me there was word of the overnight death of our beloved co-worker, Wendy McNamara. Her husband and two young adult sons, all of us who loved her, had walked the journey with her for over two years of cancer treatment, certain she would recover. She must get well. Any other outcome was unthinkable.

Yet the unthinkable is what happened.

Wendy had called her husband the previous morning from the hospital where she was having routine tests. She was crying, upset, so unlike our brave Wendy! “The coffee here is awful!” she told Mike. “Come, and bring me some Tim Horton’s coffee.” So he did, and spent the day with her. That night, Wendy died.

 I moved through the days that followed in a state of blank incomprehension. I felt betrayed by my own trust that she would recover. I felt, as Tennyson wrote, that “someone had blunder’d”. There was no time to grieve as I was preparing to offer the Julian play to some two hundred women in Ottawa. All my time and energy was needed to rehearse. Moving through the familiar lines of James Janda’s script, I was stopped short by the words Jesus spoke to Julian:

I lead all to the end I ordained it to be from without beginning, by the same Might, Wisdom, and Love whereby I made it. How should anything be amiss?

 Suddenly, I got it! This was not an error, not a blunder; rather, it was part of the guiding love that began with Wendy’s conception, and accompanied her through life to her death. The grief, the loss would not be assuaged by this, but the sense of betrayal was obliterated.

James Janda told me that the quotations he used from Julian’s writing in his script came from a 1927 edition of Revelations of Divine Love by Dom Roger Huddleston (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne). He had found the book in the New York Public Library. Later, as I read newer translations of Julian’s writings, I realized I had misinterpreted the word “end”. It was not, as I had thought on that February day, a reference to death (for death is not an end of our love relationships. It means something more like “purpose”.

Brendan Doyle in Meditations with Julian of Norwich writes the passage this way:

I lead everything

Toward the purpose I ordained it to

from without beginning,

By the same Power, Wisdom and Love

by which I created it.

How could anything be amiss? (p.39)

Marion Glasscoe’s almost-Middle English translation reads this way:

I lede althing to the end I ordeynd it to fro withoute beginning

be the same might, wisdam and love that I made it.

How should anything be amysse? (Chapter Eleven, p. 19)

What is so heartening here is the assurance of guidance towards our purpose, for many of us today the Holy Grail. We set forth on countless quests, seeking teachers, guides, seminars, webinars, books, programs, asking, asking, asking always: “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?”

Even our poets put that question to us. Mary Oliver writes: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Rilke reminds us that … all living things in nature must unfold in their particular way and become themselves at any cost and despite all opposition.

 Julian teaches us that the Love that embraces us also guides us towards that purpose. We need to find, in the midst of our searching outside ourselves, time each day for some quiet listening to the inner voice, the Beloved of our Soul. In sacred space, in stillness, we ask, “What is the purpose to which you are guiding me?”

We might in that quiet time also look, as Jean Houston teaches, at the recurring patterns, the fractals, to which our life returns in each new endeavour. Is it healing? writing? leadership? exploring new ideas? creating community? guiding youth? conflict resolution? peace-making? cross-cultural reconciliation? Our purpose may be written in our own footsteps across the sands of our lives.

For Julian, the recurring fractal was teaching. It is what led her to devote twenty years to write for us her Revelations of Divine Love, finding ever fresh ways to express what had been revealed to her in her night of visions, continuing to reflect, to deepen her understanding so she could teach us to trust in love. Seated at her window, which opened out to one of the busiest streets in Norwich, she was listener and teacher to those who came to her for guidance.

 In my friend Wendy, I see now a similar fractal of teaching about the Love in which we are held. Wendy had at times been invited to give the homily at St. Joseph’s Parish in Ottawa. In her last talk, she had spoken with her unique infusion of gentle courage and power: “There is NOTHING you can do that will make God love you more than you are now loved!” She said that was the one message she wanted to leave with us for always.

 I shall never forget her words. I know now that she was guided to fulfill the purpose ordained for her from without beginning. I believe the joy that surged through me after her death was a parting gift.

 How should anything be amysse?

Julian on Longing: Ours/ Love’s

As I write to you today, summer has come to Calabogie. Morning coffee has become a time of bliss. On the deck, above the lake, I watch the shimmer of silver on water while soft winds play with tendrils of my hair, cooling me in the sun’s sudden fire.

We had a long cold spring. Days of rain were interspersed with days when dark clouds hovered as though wondering whether to rain or not. Yesterday, scarcely visible buds that had been sitting in stillness on the tall deciduous trees around my home burst into leafy green abundance.

These fluctuations make me think of Julian who wrote of a time of prayer when in swift succession consolation was followed by desolation, then consolation, then desolation, thirty three times! “It was a marvellous mix-up!” she comments.

Perhaps the fact of Julian is as important as her teachings in Revelations of Divine Love. That such a woman lived on this planet, experienced its rain and wind, the beauty of its flowers and trees, the song of its birds, that she experienced bliss and sorrow, seeking as we do to know God, to understand the meaning of life, to love more deeply: that’s the gift.

Julian loved us, whom she would never know, writing her book for us, longing to share with us all she had learned of Love that we might share her joy:

Everything that I say about me I mean to apply to all my fellow Christians, for I am taught that this is what our Lord intends in this spiritual revelation. And therefore I pray you all for God’s sake, and I counsel you for your own profit, that you disregard the wretch (editor: !!!) to whom it was shown, and that mightily, wisely, and  meekly you contemplate upon God, who out of his courteous love and his endless goodness was willing to show it generally to the comfort of us all. For it is God’s will that you accept it with great joy and delight, as Jesus has shown it to you. (Showings Chapter Eight, 191, Colledge and Walsh editors, Paulist Press, New York, Toronto, 1978)

Today I’m choosing a few passages from Showings that speak of the way that all of life is held in love, passages that reveal how we especially are longed for and loved by the One whom Julian knew so intimately.

To any soul who sees the Creator of all things, all that is created seems very little…he who created it created everything for love, and by that same love it is preserved, and always will be without end…God is everything which is good, as I see, and the goodness which everything has is God. (Showings Chapter Eight, 190)

To any soul who sees the Creator of all things, all that is created seems very little…‘ image of Julian by Jane Joyner

This next passage from Julian’s tenth chapter reveals both the longing on Julian’s part and on the part of the One she seeks: I saw him and sought him, for we are now so blind and so foolish that we can never seek God until the time when he in his goodness shows himself to us. And when by grace we see something of him then we are moved by the same grace to seek with great desire to see him for our greater joy. So I saw him and sought him, and I had him and lacked him; and this is and should be our ordinary undertaking in this life, as I see it.

 Once my understanding was let down into the bottom of the sea, and there I saw green hills and valleys, with the appearance of moss strewn with seaweed and gravel. Then I understood in this way: that if a man or woman were there under the wide waters, if s/he could see God, as God is continually with (us), s/he would be safe in soul and body, and come to no harm. And furthermore, s/he would have more consolation and strength than all this world can tell. For it is God’s will that we believe that we see him continually, though it seems to us that the sight be only partial; and through this belief he makes us always to gain more grace, for God wishes to be seen, and he wishes to be sought, and he wishes to be expected, and he wishes to be trusted. (Showings Chapter Ten, 193-4)

I feel drawn to take a risk today. We know that, for Julian, the Love “that moves the sun and all the other stars” (as Dante writes) was contained in the person of Jesus. I trust that Julian would allow me to rephrase her references to “God” in the way I now understand the Presence of Love in its feminine form as Sophia, the one who tells us:

“Yahweh created me, when his purpose first unfolded;

before the oldest of his works….

The deep was not, when I was born;

there were no springs to gush with water….”

(excerpts from Proverbs 8 in The Jerusalem Bible)

Kathleen Duffy writes that 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.”

I rewrite Julian’s words to say that (Sophia) wishes to be seen, and She wishes to be sought, and She wishes to be expected, and She wishes to be trusted.  

All Your Living is Prayer

Early February, thirty years ago. I’m standing before a carved oak door  beside the sanctuary in St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. I press my thumb down on the iron latch.  When the door swings inwards, I enter the reconstructed anchorhold where Julian lived for the last forty years of her life.

Julian’s Reconstructed Anchorhold in Norwich, England

The sense of her presence is so powerful that I have to sit down on the wooden bench beneath the mullioned window. I commune with this wise and kindly woman. Only later do I take in other aspects of the room. On the wall just inside the door, there is a small white card on which someone has printed in careful calligraphy Julian’s words: prayer oneth the soul to God.

 What did Julian understand about prayer? Diid Julian, like us, wonder if there was anyone there to listen to her longings? What was revealed to her in the sacred intimacy of her night of “Showings”? Julian writes a great deal about prayer in the Longer Text of her Revelations of Divine Love.  She writes for us, to us, that we might know the confidence and joy that she knew.

For many years, I found Julian’s writing difficult to read. I felt as though I were being spun around in circles. Until the invention of moveable type by Johann Gutenberg in 1450 (thirty years after Julian’s death), the compression of thought we associate with the written text was undeveloped. People wrote as they spoke, expressing an idea, repeating it, then underscoring it to be sure it was understood. Julian was writing at a time when the English language was just coming to birth. Her words and expressions are fresh, sometimes invented for her purposes.

 I was slow to read and appreciate the full richness of her thought.  In reparation, I offer Julian’s own words on prayer. From among the several different translations of Julian’s Showings, I choose Not for the Wise (Darton, Longman and Todd, London 1994), by Ritamary Bradley, Professor Emerita at St. Ambrose University in Iowa. This translation is based on Marion Glasscoe’s Middle English edition of A Revelation of Love. Julian leads into the theme of Prayer by offering us assurance of how much we are loved:

Then I understood truly that all manner of thing is made ready for us

– by the great goodness of God

To the degree that whenever we are ourselves in peace and love

-we are, in fact, saved.

But since we may not have this in fullness while we are here

it behooves us always to live

– in sweet prayer

-in lovely longing,

with our Lord Jesus.

For he longs to bring us to fullness of joy…

God is love and teaches us to do as he does.

He wants us to be like him

-in wholeness of endless love

– for ourselves- and for our even-Christians.

Just as God’s love for us is never broken because of our sins,

In the same way God wills that our love

– for ourselves

– and for our even-Christians

Should never be broken.

This word that God said is an endless comfort:

“I keep you securely.”

(Chapter Forty: Fourteenth Showing)

After this, our Lord showed me about prayer.

In this showing I saw there are two conditions our Lord intends for it.

– one is that we pray aright;

-the other is that we have unwavering trust.

But oftentimes we do not trust completely,

for we are not sure that God hears us, as we think

– either because we are unworthy

– or because we feel absolutely nothing.

– for we are as sterile and dry oftentimes after our prayer as before.

And this, in our feeling and our folly, is the cause of our weakness.

At times I have felt this way myself.

Our Lord brought all of this (about trust)

suddenly to my mind, and said:

“I am the ground of your beseeching.

– first, it is my will that you should have it;

– and since I make you to want it

– and you do ask for it,

How should it then be that you should not have what you ask?”

….where he says: “And you do ask for it”,

he shows a very great pleasure,

and the endless reward he will give us for our petitioning.

And in the part where he says:

“How should it then be that you should not have what you ask?”

he is indicating that this is impossible.

For it is a most impossible thing that we should ask for

mercy and grace

and not have it.

For all these things that our good Lord makes us to ask for,

God has already ordained to give us from the beginning.

Glad and merry is Christ over our prayer.

He awaits it, and he wants it.

For with his grace

– he makes us like to himself

– in our hearts

-as we already are in our humanity.

This is his blessed will.

Here is what Christ says:

“Pray earnestly -though you have no taste for it, as you think.

“For it does you good

– though you do not feel that it does;

– though you see nothing;

– yes, even though you think you are powerless.

“For when you are dry and empty, sick and frail, then your prayer is most pleasing to me

-though there seems to you to be little pleasure in it.

And thus all your living is prayer in my sight.”

Thanking also belongs to prayer.

Thanking is a new, inward, knowing

Accompanied with great reverence and loving awe

– inclining us to do, with our whole strength,

what the good Lord draws us towards;

– and inwardly

– to give thanks

– and to enjoy.

Sometimes, in its abundance, thanking breaks out into

words, and we say:

“Good Lord, grant us mercy. Blessed may you be!”

… (Chapter 41 Fourteenth Showing)

Julian of Norwich “Thou art enough”

Julian’s words of guidance in her book Revelations of Divine Love (also called Showings) were written out of love for us, whom she considered her “even Christians”, or “kindred spirits”. Five of these words leapt out at me on that February day in 1992 when, entering the reconstructed anchorhold in the tiny Church of St. Julian in Norwich, I saw incised in a marble slab: Thou art enough to me.

 Looking back to that moment now, I wonder that I did not immediately turn around and exit by the door through which I’d just entered. Those five words struck me to the heart, challenging me to make a complete turn-around in my life, to let go of what I had until that moment considered necessary. I had left a place, a ministry and a friendship that had been the threefold source of my life’s happiness. Now I faced a future without all three. There was no way that I could accept that Julian’s unseen “Thou” could be enough.

I see now that I understood almost nothing of the One Julian addressed as “Thou” and even less of the meaning of “enough”. Later, as I prepared to offer Julian’s words to others through James Janda’s play, I found the context for those words:

For this is the loving yearning of the soul through the touch of the Holy Spirit, from the understanding which I have in this revelation:

“God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing which is less which can give you full worship. And if I ask anything which is less, always I am in want; but only in you do I have everything.” (Showings Colledge and Walsh, 184)

Look now at the same words in a different translation. Marion Glasscoe’s Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Love is my personal favourite among the dozens of newer renderings of Julian’s “Showings” because it comes closest to the Middle English of Julian’s time (sending my spell-check into orbit):

For this is the kinde yernings of the soule by the touching of the Holy Ghost, as be the understondyng that I have in this shewing: “ God, of thy goodnesse, give me thyselfe; for thou art enow to me and I may nothing aske that is less that may be full worshippe to thee. And if I aske anything that is lesse, ever me wantith, but only in thee I have all.”  (Glasscoe 7-8)

 Julian is not asking us to set aside our desires; she is not saying that to find God we must relinquish everything for which we long. Quite the opposite. Julian is saying that the deepest yearning of our souls will only be satisfied when we know the One who both made us to yearn and can alone fill that yearning. What Julian found for herself she wants us to know: Only in you (the one to whom we entrust our longings) do I have everything, or in the Glasscoe translation: only in thee I have all.

 This is a startling revelation for Julian, for each of us.

As Julian says in Janda’s play: 

Some of us believe that God is Almighty

And may do all,

And that God is All-Wisdom,

And can do all,

But that God is All-Love and will do all…..

There we stop short.

 The Presence of Love that we in the 21st Century are coming to know as permeating all of life in the metaverse, as well as in the depths of our own souls, our very being, may be differently imaged for us than it was for Julian. Yet our experience of that all-pervading Love within our lives is very like Julian’s. However we name that Love, however we call upon it, we can know ourselves held safe in its embrace. Our deepest yearnings are for Love, for knowing our life has meaning, that we matter to that Love, that our longings are not only understood, but even prompted by that same Love.

 Our task then, is to journey within those longings to find how they are drawing us into the embrace of the One who can satisfy them, who can fill us with the kind of joy that might lead us one day to say with Julian: Thou art enough to me.

 In that same passage, Julian goes on to say:

And these words of the goodness of God are very dear to the soul, and very close to touching our Lord’s will, for his goodness fills all his creatures and all his blessed works full, and endlessly overflows in them. For he is everlastingness, and he made us only for himself, and restored us by his precious Passion and always preserves us in his blessed love; and all this of his goodness. (Colledge and Walsh ,184)

The Glasscoe text reads this way:

And these words are full lovesome to the soule and full nere touchen the will of God and his goodness; for his goodness comprehendith all his creatures and all his blissid works and overpassith without end, for he is the endleshede. And he hath made us only to himselfe and restorid us be his blissid passion and kepith us in his blissid love. And all this is of his goodness. (Glasscoe, 8)

 May we stay safely, joyfully within that “blissid love”.

Love Is His Meaning

love was our lords mening

(A Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich, trans. Marion Glasscoe)

In the darkened room, the slides of the Hubble photographs radiate like jewels. There are perhaps a dozen or more, each dancing onto the large screen, then disappearing, each one stunning in its play of light on darkness, its brilliant colours, its unimagined beauty. One image imprints itself deeply on my memory, so strongly that now, years later, I recall it vividly. It is a segment of sky somewhere in the universe where the black darkness is pierced with uncountable rose-pink lights. “This photo shows an expanse of some trillions of miles in space,” the speaker tells us. “Look at the rosy colour that fills the darkness. This is the LOVE that fills the Universe.”

Hubble Photo of Spiral Galaxy

Julian of Norwich would never have seen a photograph, could not have imagined deep space or the wonders that the Hubble telescope offers us for our enchantment.  Yet she too knew from her mystical experience that it is love that pervades the universe. She knew this absolutely. She trusted it despite her own experience of intense suffering in 14th Century England, a time of plague, endless war, religious persecution. 

Julian does not give us this news of the centrality of love lightly, as one might share a passing feeling, a response to a moment of spiritual bliss. This is Julian’s carefully considered understanding of what she learned from her dialogues with Jesus, the Presence of Love in her life. She tells us clearly that it took fifteen years of reflection for her to finally know that love is at the centre of all that has been revealed to her, that love is her lords mening.

 As Julian writes the final Chapter of her book, she seeks to summarize for us all that she understands from her visions over the two decades she spent reflecting on them. She asks (as each one of us does when we look at our life): “What does it all mean?”

Here are the closing words in the Colledge and Walsh translation (Paulist Press 1978) of her Showings:

This book is begun by God’s gift and his grace, but it is not yet performed, as I see it. For charity, let us all join with God’s working in prayer, thanking, trusting, rejoicing, for so will our good Lord be entreated, by the understanding which I took in all his own intention, and in the sweet words where he says most happily: “I am the foundation of your beseeching.”

 For truly I saw and understood in our Lord’s meaning that he revealed it because he wants to have it better known than it is. In which knowledge he wants to give us grace to love him and to cleave to him, for he beholds his heavenly treasure with so great love on earth that he will give us more light and solace in heavenly joy, by drawing our hearts from the sorrow and the darkness which we are in.

And from the time that it was revealed, I desired many times to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: “What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.”

 So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning. And I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which love was never abated and never will be. And in this love he has done all his works, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had beginning, but the love in which he created us was in him from without beginning. In this love we have our beginning, and all this shall we see in God without end. (Showings Chapter 86)  

 In Anne Baring’s magnificent book, The Dream of the Cosmos : A Quest for the Soul (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England 2013) there is an account of a mystical experience. It gently weaves together Julian’s awareness of love at the heart of the Universe with our present day visual awareness of a Universe birthed and bathed in love. Baring offers Richard Bucke’s account of returning from a poetry reading and discussion with two friends on a night in 1872:

 My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe.

Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. (Baring, p. 443)

This experience, recorded six centuries after Julian wrote her Showings, echoes two of her great mystic teachings: “love is his meaning” and “all manner of thing shall be well.”

The Easter Mystery 2022

Through the cold, quiet nighttime of the grave underground,

The earth concentrated on him with complete longing

Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond

To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.

The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.

He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.

(John O’Donohue “Resurrection”)

he Easter Mystery of life-death-life 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 mystery. Through their careful observations they constructed buildings such as the mound in Newgrange Ireland where a tiny lintel receives the first rays of dawn only on the winter solstice.

The ancients wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptians had the story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened. The Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Erishkigal. There she was stripped of all her royal robes and insignia, and 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.

The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the ancient Near East. 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 illumination 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. We know our call to green our lives, our times, our planet:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)

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?

How would my life be more joyful if I knew that my yearning for the Love at the heart of the Univers is matched by the same longing of Love for me?

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 through the death of what no longer serves us into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.