It is Holy Week, April, 2015. The promise of Resurrection is everywhere: in birdsong, in the first green shoots appearing in the wet earth, in the budding trees, in the softer air.
A dream comes to me in the night. I am standing in a darkened room where the different aspects of my creative work: my writing, my ministry with women, the plays I offer, the stories I tell, appear within lighted frames on the walls.
My mentor, Jean Houston is there. We walk together, looking at each image. Jean tells me she must leave, for it is time for me to travel alone. I must go further into the darkness of this room where there are no lights.
I sense in the dream that the Sacred Feminine Presence is waiting for me in the darkness. This is where the dream ends.
Not long afterwards (though at the time I made no connection with the dream), Jean sent an email telling of her intuition that I should come on the Journey to Greece she was leading in September. I was hesitant, unsure. Then I recalled the dream. I sensed that the journey to Greece was part of this call to meet the Sacred Feminine.
The weeks in Greece were so rich in insights, experiences, rituals, and healing of archaic wounds that I did not think of the dream again.
On our last morning on the island of Paros in the Aegean, in the time before the ferry departed, I was walking in the town, disappointed to find that the shops were not yet open… on one narrow street I saw a small building with an open doorway.
I walked inside, found a tiny darkened chapel with lighted red lamps near Icons. On the right wall an Icon of Mary drew me.
I stood spellbound. I felt invited to rededicate my life to the Sacred Feminine as I had done four years earlier. Words from one of Rilke’s poems rose in my heart, as though spoken by the Sacred Feminine:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Still, I could not go. I kept gazing at the Icon. Then I saw the Child in Mary’s arms.
Icon in chapel on Paros Island, Greece
Suddenly the “Sealskin, Soulskin” story in C.P. Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves came to me.
I recalled the teaching that when a woman has found her soul, it is her spirit (her son) that she sends to do her work in the world.
I recalled the words that the Sealwoman spoke to her son as she placed him on the shore in the moonlight, “Only touch what I have touched and I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”
I felt that the Sacred Feminine was promising me the same, as well as inviting me to send my spirit – my work- into the world.
In that small dark chapel on Paros, the circle that had opened with the mysterious dream of the darkened room where I saw images of my work and was sent in search of the Sacred Feminine, was completed.
I offer this personal experience as an invitation to each of you to revisit moments in your life when you were touched by a Sacred Presence, one for whom you may have had no name. Until now. May Rilke’s poem speak to your heart.
May each of us “let everything happen to (us): beauty and terror”.
May we make “big shadows” where the Sacred One may walk.
May we too embody her, as we “go to the limits of (our) longing.”
Each of us began our life on this planet in darkness, within our mother’s womb.
The planet herself, our Earth, emerged out of an almost fourteen billion year process that began in primordial darkness.
When we speak of the Sacred feminine Presence, however we name her, we know intuitively that she is part of the fruitful darkness that is needed for every new birthing.
In recent weeks we have been reading and reflecting upon the gift of darkness in our lives, on our call to “do our work” in the birthing of new life, however it must come, in the darkness of our lives, of our time on this planet.
This week we add the call to deep work given to us by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her name for this Dark Feminine presence is “Wild Woman”:
The wild force of our soul-psyches is shadowing us for a reason. There is a saying from medieval times that if you are in a descent and pursued by a great power —
and if this great power is able to snag your shadow, then you too shall become a power in your own right.
The great wild force of our own psyches means to place its paw on our shadows, and in that manner she claims us as her own. Once the Wild Woman snags our shadows, we belong to ourselves again, we are in our own right environ and our rightful home.
Most women are not afraid of this, in fact, they crave the reunion.
If they could this very moment find the lair of the Wild Woman, they would dive right in and jump happily into her lap.
They only need to be set in the right direction, which is always down down into one’s own work, down into one’s own inner life, down through the tunnel to the lair.
We began our search for the wild, whether as girl-children or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavour we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near. Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream.
Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards….and we knew that something blessed had passed our way.
We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground,and we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.
We could not turn from it, but rather followed, learning more and more how to leap, how to run, how to shadow all things that came across our psychic ground.
We began to shadow the Wild Woman and she lovingly shadowed us in return. She howled and we tried to answer her,even before we remembered how to speak her language, and even before we exactly knew to whom we were speaking.
And she waited for us, and encouraged us. This is the miracle of the wild and instinctual nature within.
Without full knowing, we knew. Without full sight, we understood that a miraculous and loving force existed beyond the boundaries of ego alone.
The things that have been lost to women for centuries can be found again by following the shadows they cast….
We women are building a motherland; each with her own plot of soil eked from a night of dreams, and a day of work.
We are spreading this soil in larger and larger circles, slowly, slowly.
One day it will be a continuous land, a resurrected land, come back from the dead. Munda de la Madre, psychic motherworld, coexisting and coequal with all other worlds.
This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.
(Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, 457-9)
May each of us, graced to live in this time of fecund darkness, know its profound value and work to build a “world worth living in” a motherland woven “from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.”
Image of the Cailleach
We are moving further into the sacred season that follows the Celtic Feast of Samhain, the feminine womb time of darkness.
This is the time of the Cailleach, the Ancient Crone, the dark mother who calls on us to change our ways, to turn away from destructive behaviours that harm our planet and all that lives within and upon her.
It is the season of the great Cauldron of the Cailleach where the things that are unpalatable, the attitudes and activities that are endangering life, are to be transformed.
Where we ourselves are to be transformed.
“How might Teilhard’s teachings serve as a guiding light for this dark season?” I wonder.
As if in answer, these words leap out at me: “For Teilhard, autumn rather than spring was the happiest time of year.” Intrigued, I read on: “It is almost as though the shedding of leaves opened his soul to the limitless space of the up-ahead and the not-yet…”
(John Haught, “Teilhard de Chardin: Theology for an Unfinished Universe” Teilhard to Omega Ilia Delio, ed. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2014)
A scientist, a mystic, rather than a theologian, Teilhard deplored the way that theology continued to reflect on God as though the scientific fact of a still –emerging universe was either unknown or irrelevant.
Sixty years after Teilhard’s death, theologians are still engaged in the work of re-imagining a God who calls us forward into an as-yet-unknown reality.
And yet, even a limited grasp, a glimpse, of what Teilhard saw of the “up- ahead and the not-yet” is enough to inspire hope.
Neither scientist nor theologian, I am a storyteller. I know how a change in the story has power to alter and illuminate our lives. Changing the story that once shaped our lives changes everything.
If we live in a story of a completed universe where once upon a perfect time our first parents, ecstatically happy in a garden of unimagined beauty, destroyed everything by sin, what have we to hope for?
The best is already irretrievably lost. Under sentence of their guilt we can only struggle through our lives, seeking forgiveness, trusting in redemption, saved only at a terrible cost to the One who came to suffer and die for us.
The suffering around us still speaks to us of punishment for that first sin, and the burden of continuing to pay for it with our lives…. Despair and guilt are constant companions.
Hope in that story rests in release from the suffering of life into death.
But if we live the story as Teilhard saw it, seeing ourselves in an unfinished universe that is still coming into being, everything changes.
In a cosmos that is still a work in progress, we are called to be co-creators, moving with the universe into a future filled with hope.
Our human hearts long for joy, and we love to hear stories where suffering and struggle lead to happiness, to fulfillment, to love.
The possibility that there could be peace, reconciliation, compassion, mercy and justice to an increasing degree on our planet is a profound incentive for us to work with all our energy for the growth of these values.
The call to co-create in an unfinished universe broadens and deepens our responsibility: Our sense of the creator, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the redemptive significance of Christ can grow by immense orders of magnitude. The Love that rules the stars will now have to be seen as embracing two hundred billion galaxies, a cosmic epic of fourteen billion years’ duration, and perhaps even a multiverse. Our thoughts about Christ and redemption will have to extend over the full breadth of cosmic time and space. (Haught, 13)
Haught believes that “if hope is to have wings and life to have zest,” we need a new theological vision that “opens up a new future for the world.”
For Teilhard that future was convergence into God. His hope was founded in the future for he grasped the evolutionary truth that the past has been an increasing complexity of life endowed with “spirit”.
At the extreme term of the convergent movement of the universe from past multiplicity toward unity up ahead, Teilhard locates “God-Omega”. Only by being synthesized into the unifying creativity and love of God does the world become fully intelligible. (18)
Teilhard saw God as creating the world by drawing it from up ahead, so that the really real is to be sought in the not yet.
And this means that: The question of suffering, while still intractable, opens up a new horizon of hope when viewed in terms of an unfinished and hence still unperfected universe. (p.19)
Haught believes that the concept of an unfinished universe can strengthen hope and love: … the fullest release of human love is realistically possible only if the created world still has possibilities that have never before been realized….Only if the beloved still has a future can there be an unreserved commitment to the practice of charity, justice and compassion. (19)
Teilhard’s embrace of an emerging universe is one of the reasons why his writings often lift the hearts of his scientifically educated readers and make room for a kind of hope…that they had never experienced before when reading and meditating on other theological and spiritual works. (20)
Today, November 5, 2019, a declaration, signed by 11,000 scientists, was released to the media.
It stated that we are experiencing a planetary climate emergency.
Rather than plunging us into despair, into guilt-ridden inaction, this intensifies our call to do what we can.
Working together communally, nationally, and internationally we can face this moment with courage.
The path has been set before us by scientists, by leaders in the ecological movement, by writers and thinkers who have known what is coming.
Even those signing the declaration believe it is still possible to act to meet this challenge.
Teilhard teaches us to see with clarity that even in this crisis we are being drawn forward by the Christic Presence, by the Love that is up ahead in a future that awaits us.
Knowing we are partnered and empowered for this time, this work, will give us the hope we need to do what we must.
The call to awaken to the presence of Sophia comes at a time when much of our planet struggles with darkness.
Live-streaming news gives us an immediate knowing of disasters, disease, wars, weather-related devastation that can be overwhelming.
Yet the greater the darkness, the greater is our awareness of the need for light, the deeper our appreciation for it,and the more compelling our own call to be co-creators of light.
As these shorter days in autumn prepare us for the yearly plunge into winter’s darkness, we are entering into the sacred time of Sophia.
Our ancient ancestors, who knew almost nothing of events beyond their immediate homes, knew about the rhythms of the earth,the apparent movements of sun, moon and stars, the cycle of the seasons, with an accuracy of observation that fills us with awe.
The early peoples of Ireland were so deeply attuned to the shifting balance of light and darkness that they could build a monument to catch the first rays of sunrise on the winter Solstice. The Newgrange mound in Ireland, predating the Egyptian Pyramids,receives the Solstice light through a tiny aperture above the threshold.
Like the Egyptians and other ancient peoples, the Celts wove their spirituality from the threads of light and darkness that shaped their lives. Their spiritual festivals moved through a seasonal cycle in harmony with the earth’s yearly dance,associating the bright sunlit days with masculine energy, the darker time with contemplative feminine energy.
For the Celts, the days we are entering this week, days we name Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’,were one festival known as Samhain (Saw’ wane). These three days marked the year’s end with a celebration that served as a time-out before the new year. The bright masculine season with its intense activity of planting, growing, harvesting was over. The quieter days of winter were ahead, “the time of darkness, the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced and the season of non-doing is initiated.” (Dolores Whelan: Ever Ancient, Ever New, 98-9)
We in the twenty-first century may still draw on this ancient wisdom to live in harmony with the earth as the Northern Hemisphere of our planet tilts away from the sun. We can welcome this time of darkness as a season of renewal when earth and humans rest. Our energy can be gathered inwards to support what is happening deep within the earth and deep within our souls. The energy gathered in this season will be used when the winter has passed and spring has brought new life to the land and the people.
We too can accept the invitation of Samhain to release whatever is not completed at this time, letting go of the light and the activity of sun-time, surrendering ourselves to the restful moon-time, the darkness of holy waiting. Living within the wisdom of the earth’s seasons, we move towards the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, embracing a journey of deep surrender.
This is Sophia time. Within her sacred cauldron, our lives and our desires for our planet find a place of gestation, a safe darkness where, as with the caterpillar in a chrysalis, the great work of transformation of our souls and of all of life can happen. In this sacred season, this womb-time, we curl up near the fireside of our hearts.
From Sophia’s cauldron, we shall emerge in springtime in an interdependent co-arising with the earth,knowing ourselves renewed in soul, body and spirit.
Image of the Black Madonna, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Wisconsin
The Jungian Writer Sylvia Senensky describes our calling, our task:
We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.
When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core,and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face,that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
…. She is calling upon us, each in our way, to do our inner work, to become her allies,to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet….
Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy,our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves. (Sylvia Senensky Healing and Empowering the Feminine Chiron Publications, Wilmette Illinois 2003)
For several weeks, we have been companioned by the presence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin through the inspired and inspiring writings of Kathleen Duffy (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).
This week we will see Teilhard through the eyes of someone who knew him, walked with him for a time, engaged in conversation with him, encountering his transformative view of reality. In her autobiography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), Jean Houston gives us a perspective on Teilhard that is deeply personal and insightful. The great palaeontologist and mystic becomes for us, through Jean’s experience, a warm, enchanting, human presence.
At the time of their tumultuous first meeting in the early 1950’s, Teilhard was living in a Jesuit Residence in New York City, having been exiled from his native France, silenced, forbidden to write or to teach his advanced ideas about evolution.
Jean, a high school student, heartbroken over her parents’ impending divorce, had taken to running everywhere. Then, one day…
…on 84th Street and Park Avenue, I ran into an old man and knocked the wind out of him. This was serious. I was a great big overgrown girl, and he was a rather frail gentleman in his seventies. But he laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech,
“Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, thinking of my unhappiness. “It sure looks that way.”
“Well, bon voyage!” he said.
“Bon voyage!” I answered and sped on my way. About a week later, I was walking down Park Avenue with my fox terrier, Champ, and again I met the old gentleman.
“Ah,” he greeted me, “my friend the runner, and with a fox terrier.I knew one like that many years ago in France. Where are you going?”
“Well, sir,” I replied, “I’m taking Champ to Central Park. I go there most afternoons to … think about things.”
“I will go with you sometimes,” he informed me. “I will take my constitutional.”
And thereafter, for about a year and a half, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together as often as several times a week in Central Park.
He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which as far as I could make out was Mr. Tayer. The walks were magical and full of delight. Mr. Tayer seemed to have absolutely no self-consciousness, and he was always being carried away by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things.
He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time he suddenly fell on his knees in Central Park, his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, “Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhhh! ”
I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response.
“How beautiful it is,” he remarked, “this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite! Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis.”
He then regarded me with interest. “Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply-faced teenager.
“Then think of your own metamorphosis,” he suggested. “What will you be when you become a butterfly? Un papillon, eh? What is the butterfly of Jeanne?”
What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl, a question for puberty rites, initiations into adulthood,and other new ways of being. His comic-tragic face nodded helpfully until I could answer.“I …don’t really know anymore, Mr. Tayer.”
“Yes, you do know. It is inside of you, like the butterfly is inside of the caterpillar.”
He then used a word that I heard for the first time, a word that became essential to my later work. “What is the entelechy of Jeanne? A great word, a Greek word, entelechy. It means the dynamic purpose that is coded in you.It is the entelechy of this acorn on the ground to be an oak tree. It is the entelechy of that baby over there to be grown-up human being.It is the entelechy of the caterpillar to undergo metamorphosis and become a butterfly. So what is the butterfly, the entelechy, of Jeanne? “You know, you really do.”
“Well… I think that…” I looked up at the clouds, and it seemed that I could see in them the shapes of many countries.
A fractal of my future emerged in the cumulus nimbus floating overhead.
“I think that I will travel all over the world and … and … help people find their en-tel-echy.”
Mr. Tayer seemed pleased. “Ah, Jeanne, look back at the clouds! God’s calligraphy in the sky! All that transforming, moving, changing, dissolving, becoming. “Jeanne, become a cloud and become all the forms that ever were.” (A Mythic Life, 141-3)
Years later, as Jean looked back on Teilhard’s effect on her life, as well as that of a few other such beings, she would write:
To be looked at by these people is to be gifted with the look that engenders.You feel yourself primed at the depths by such seeing. Something so tremendous and yet so subtle wakes up inside that you are able to release the defeats and denigrations of years.
If I were to describe it further, I would have to speak of unconditional love joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one.
(The Possible Human, 123, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1982)
We have been travelling with Teilhard for several weeks, spiralling with his writings and wisdom, through the five circles that he visited over and over in his life, seeking wisdom.
From his childhood longing to find a substance that would last, through his growing awareness of a mysterious presence within all that exists on earth,through his explorations as a scientist into the secrets of energy, to his yearning to know the spirit within all of life, within himself, Teilhard spiralled to the deepest level where he encountered the presence of a love that would stay with him all his days.
What have we learned?
Do you, as I do, sense a desire to go back to the beginning? To revisit these explorations of Teilhard’s insights, longings and discoveries through which we have been expertly guided by Kathleen Duffy?
Might we on a second reading begin to grasp the sacred wonder, the unspeakable gift Teilhard has offered us through his life’s work?
I would like to propose something different by telling you of an unexpected “Teilhardian” experience I had a few days ago.
Here in the Valley of the Madawaska River, after days of slow emergence from a branch here and there of golden yellow, fiery orange and deep blood red, suddenly every deciduous tree around me exploded into full vibrant colour.
The day was warm and sunny. It might have been early summer, but for the absence of mosquitoes, black flies and high levels of sun-radiation.
I was walking in the nearby field delighting in the colours, camera at the ready, aimed high to catch the lofty golden crowns where they rested against the sky’s deep blue.
I was about to move on when I sensed something drawing me back. I lowered my gaze from tree tops towards the cluster of birches and lower trees to seek the source of this drawing. I found I was looking at a slender birch. As clearly as if it had a human voice, it was saying, “Look at me. Take my picture!” So I did.
one birch stands tall
What just happened? I wondered, as I continued on to the lake taking more photos. Now I ask that question again, dimly grasping that to take Teilhard at his word, we may acknowledge some mysterious presence of spirit in all that exists on our planet and in our universe.
Teilhard himself honoured the questions that arose, rather than demanding answers to every mystery, as Kathleen Duffy tells us in her final chapter:
Each branch of the spiral brought him into contact with new questions, questions that arose from life….Each time his knowledge of the physical world expanded, he found it necessary to reshape his understanding of the transcendent to the shape of the universe that was being revealed to him. He discovered that “truth …can be preserved only by being continually enlarged” (Writings in Time of War, 140). By engaging questions that were so intimate and by remaining faithful to his inner voice, he unearthed hidden mystical treasures as well as insights that have universal appeal. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 126)
As I write this, a different question arises, as it has also arisen for others in my country, over these recent weeks of increasingly divisive, and at times aggressively hostile, political discourse as we prepare for next Monday’s Federal Election.
Where is all this coming from?
“By chance,” (if such a moment ever comes “by chance”) while I was reading this final chapter in Kathleen Duffy’s book, I came upon these words from Teilhard:
Let us look at the earth around us. What is happening under our eyes with the mass of peoples? What is the cause of this disorder in society, this uneasy agitation, these swelling waves, these whirling and mingling currents and these turbulent and formidable new impulses? Mankind is visibly passing through a crisis of growth. Mankind is becoming dimly aware of its shortcoming and its capacities…. It sees the universe growing luminous like the horizon just before sunrise. It has a sense of premonition and of expectation. (The Divine Milieu, 153)
Teilhard‘s earthly life ended on Easter Sunday, 1955. Where had his questing spirit brought him through a lifetime of seeking?
Kathleen Duffy responds in the closing paragraph of her luminous book: In the end, nothing was lost. Everything of value found a place in his unique synthesis. Everything held together in the light of the Cosmic Christ. Each insight represented a spiritual advance that led finally to a tangible awareness of the Divine Grasp…Teilhard’s inner music sustained him, his love for Earth nurtured him, his interactions with others supported him, and his love for God compelled him to remain faithful. It was fidelity to his questions that made it possible for him, near the end of his life, to say to his fellow Jesuit and good friend, Pierre Leroy, “I really feel that now I’m always living in God’s presence.” (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 126)
I wonder what advice Teilhard would give for our lives today on Planet Earth? These words of his might guide our way of experiencing life, looking deeply at what is, and asking the questions that arise in the depths of our being:
(People) of earth, steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters, for it is the source of your life and your youthfulness.
Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the universe. It is to be found in the love of that unique, boundless Essence which penetrates the inmost depths of all things and there, from within those depths, deeper than the mortal zone where individuals and multitudes struggle, works upon them and moulds them. Purity lies in a chaste contact with that which is “the same in all”.
‘Oh, the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth!
‘Bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.’
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from The Hymn of the Universe, 1919)