Five sun-soaked, star-speckled days walking, listening, speaking, learning, even dreaming of a sacred- earth centered spirituality, inspired by the writings of Teilhard de Chardin have filled my writer’s quiver with fresh insights into the mystic path for our time. Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, brought her own love for Teilhard, her years of deep pondering on his life and writings, to Jericho House in Ontario’s Niagara Region from July 24-29, 2019, in her Retreat on “Teilhard’s Mysticism”.
Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, palaeontologist, mystic, France 1881-1955
Wondering how I might share this experience with you, I was drawn back to the words of theologian Margaret Brennan, IHM:
Mystics are people who come in touch
with the sacred source of who they really are and are able to realize and
experience that in their lives.
Teilhard’s life path led him to the sacred source not only of
himself but of the entire Universe. Beginning with his childhood enchantment
with rocks, through his work delving into the depths of the earth as a
palaeontologist in China, and, while he volunteered as a stretcher bearer in
the First World War, through watching the light that briefly illumined the eyes
of a dying soldier, Teilhard grew into knowing a divine presence at the heart
of all that exists. He wrote:
During my life, as a
result of my entire life, the world gradually caught fire for me and burst into
flames until it formed a great luminous mass lit from within.
The Diaphany of the
Divine at the heart of a glowing Universe, as I have experienced it through
contact with Earth – the Divine radiating from blazing Matter: this it is that
I shall try to disclose and communicate. (The Divine Milieu, translated by Bernard Wall, New York,
Harper and Row, Publishers, 1960)
During my life, as a result of my entire life, the world gradually caught fire for me and burst into flames until it formed a great luminous mass lit from within. (Teilhard de Chardin).
Thinking back to Kathleen Duffy’s unfolding of Teilhard’s story, I see in that quote above the significance of the word: “gradually”. Mystics are not born that way! And for Teilhard the path was truly a “long and winding road”.
I was touched by his struggles as a young Jesuit novice reading the book The Imitation of Christ by the fifteenth-century writer Thomas a Kempis. That spiritual handbook counselled that one must love ONLY Christ. Teilhard feared that his great love for the natural world would draw him away from his love for the Christ. His life experiences would gradually bring those two loves into a deep harmony so that he could finally write with deep joy:
Now Earth can certainly
clasp me in her giant arms. She can swell me with her life or take me back into
her dust. She can deck herself out for me with every charm, with every horror,
with every mystery. She can intoxicate me with her perfume of tangibility and
unity. She can cast me to my knees in expectation of what is maturing in her
breast. But her enchantments can no longer do me harm, since she has become for
me, over and above herself, the body of him who is and of him who is coming. (The Divine Milieu)
Of all that
I learned of Teilhard during Kathleen Duffy’s Retreat, this revelation of his
personal struggle and its resolution is what stirred me most. It reveals
Teilhard as a mystic not only OF our
time but FOR our time. He recognized
the allurement of the Universe for the people of our time:
The great temptation of
this century is (and will increasingly be) that we find the World of nature, of
life, and of humankind greater, closer, more mysterious, more alive than the
God of Scripture. (The Heart of Matter, translated
by Rene Hague, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978)
Yet that allurement was what he saw as most needed for spiritual healing: Our age seems primarily to need a rejuvenation of supernatural forces, to be effected by driving roots deep into the nutritious energies of the Earth. Because it is not sufficiently moved by a truly human compassion, because it is not exalted by a sufficiently passionate admiration of the Universe, our religion is becoming enfeebled…(Writings in Time of War translated by Rene Hague, New York, Harper and Rowe, Publishers, 1968)
Teilhard looked at the earth with the eyes of a mystic, with the heart of a lover. Finding the Holy Presence at the deep heart of all that exists, he could echo Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation: “Is the one I love everywhere?”
Teilhard’s eyes, we can learn to see what mystic-poet Catherine de Vinck calls
“the fire within the fire of all things”. Once we see that fire, we know the
call that Teilhard knew to put our hearts at the service of the evolution
towards love that is the call of the Universe, as well as our personal call
within the universal call, for the two are inseparable.
shows us that our deepest call is to love, that evolution is advanced by union
on every imaginable level of being. And, as another poet, Robert Frost observed:
Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
Nothing that lives on our planet is outside of us. We can no longer accept lines of division between religions, between cultures, between nations, between species. This Universe is evolving as one.
Our place within it, like Teilhard’s, is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union. In co-creative partnership with the Love at its heart, everything that we do contributes towards that great comingled work of the evolution of the Universe, the evolution of ourselves.
This article was prepared for the Winter 2014 issue of LCWR Occasional Papers, published by The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Silver Spring, MD, USA. It is reprinted with permission from the editor, Annmarie Sanders, IHM and the author, Kathleen Duffy, SSJ.
Although science continues to astound us with ever more detail about the cosmic story, we often miss its inner spiritual dimension. Cosmic processes happen slowly by our standards, making the emergence of novelty difficult to imagine. Despite the beauty of the story, we are often left wondering how to relate what we are learning about the cosmos to our daily lives, to the mission of our congregations and to the life of the world. Yet mystics who have contemplated Earth processes and spent time in intimate contact with Earth have been able to sense a parallel spiritual energy operating at the heart of matter.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
While searching for fossils, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was often overwhelmed by the spiritual power at work within earth’s rocky layers. Within Earth’s crust, he was able not only to read Earth’s amazing story but also to sense the Divine Presence at the very heart of matter, a personal Presence that kept him aware of the mystery of the world around him and sustained him in his vocation.
Merton suggests that the art of seeing the inner dimension of things requires a
spark of religious imagination: “Our faith ought to be capable of filling our
hearts with a wonder and a wisdom which see beyond the surface of things and
events, and grasp something of the inner… meaning of the cosmos which, in all
its movements and all its aspects, sings the praises of its Creator.” (2) Since
metaphor carries with it a raft of nuances and associations and provides
connections between entities that otherwise seem paradoxical, mystics often
rely on poetic expression to describe experiences that are unspeakable. For
Teilhard and Merton, contemplation of Sophia, the wisdom of God so beautifully
portrayed in scripture, integrated the beauty and power of the outer world with
the beauty and power that reside within. (3) Sophia became a powerful personal
image of God, one that suggests ways to co-operate with Divine Energy.
According to scripture, Sophia is the “breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of (God’s) goodness.” (Wisdom 7:25-27)
(Sophia) is the dynamic wisdom and life force…infused into every elementary particle…
She is the dynamic wisdom and life force that has been infused into every elementary particle from the beginning, the presence of God poured out in self-giving love. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing us to passion for the Divine. From the heart of matter, she gazes at us lovingly, urging us always towards greater union and deeper love
very beginning, when she first became immersed in the fiery plasma, she has
been catalyzing a process that Teilhard calls Creative Union, a process that
encourages union at every level of the cosmos, a process that creates novelty,
beauty, and eventually, the ultimate form of union which is love. She begins by
instilling into the protons a desire to become more. She urges them to open to
the other, to overcome their resistance, to let down their repulsive
barriers. And when they do, they are
transformed by the process of fusion into something greater than themselves
without ever losing their identity. Their courageous response prepares the way
for ever more diversity. Because fusion, like so many creative processes, is
violent, Sophia remains close at hand to motivate the protons to persist
despite inherent difficulties.
by the fruitfulness of her initial attempt to foster union, Sophia searches for
more ways to carry out her mission. Protons fuse, atoms form, then simple
molecules. Sophia thrills to see the amazing variety developing as matter responds
to her call for unification. Soon, her creative efforts become pervasive. She
gathers in clumps the gas and dust scattered throughout space and whirls them
in spirals. Eventually, the newly-formed galaxies are ablaze with the
brilliance of star light. Satisfied that stars have learned to produce new
elements, she moves on to the newly-forming planets to begin her next project.
life appears on planet Earth
After years of Sophia’s urging, life appears on planet Earth. Organisms take advantage of their potential for creativity by adapting to their changing environments and evolving into more and more conscious forms. Earth comes alive in a pattern of constant change. The brilliant greens of plant life, the delicate hues of flowers, and the graceful movements of animals are evidence for Sophia that her mission of Creative Union is being fulfilled. However, like the protons that struggle in their innate repulsion for other protons as they participate in the unification process, new life forms often find survival difficult. Crises such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and the bombardment of Earth by asteroids cause incredible changes in Earth’s environment making it difficult for some of them to adapt. However, under Sophia’s loving guidance, the extinction of some species often allows other species to flourish.
emergence of human life is a special moment for Sophia. We are able to
recognize her face and respond more fully to her impulses and her love. We
appreciate her handiwork and delight in her beauty. Through the ages she has
been with us as our inspiration and as the driving force of our developing
Sophia is “the fullness of participation in the life of God.”(4) To be aware of her presence, to experience her gracious smile, is to know that we are loved. When we are discouraged, she consoles us. When we encounter her, we are energized. She is always there at our fingertips ready to support us.
(Sophia) is at play in the splendour of a sunset
She is at play in the splendour of a sunset, in the gentle breeze, in the rustling leaves, in the songs of the birds. She shines out from the face of every human being, asking for love and mercy. Once we recognize her, we know that we are blessed. We want to be like her, to be with her, to work on her projects.
(Sophia) delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission
As we contemplate her loving gaze and feel the pulsations of her creative energy, we realize that we too are called to effect union in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. To ready us for the profound and sometimes difficult work of union, Sophia draws us out of our ego self and into our broken world. She encourages the kind of creativity that will find ways to comfort others. She delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission. Some respond to the needs of the homeless; others lobby for immigration reform; still others research cures for cancer; and many more care for those who live on the fringes of society. Artists and scientists, social workers and nurses, teachers and political leaders – the possibilities are endless.
religious, we are not alone in our efforts to transform the world. Sophia’s
concern extends to all – from the most exquisite galaxy to the smallest
bacterium, and to each and every person on Earth. Guided and urged forward by
Sophia, we are impelled to respond by embracing all peoples of the world, by
encouraging civil dialogue in the midst of hostility, and by caring for our
beloved Earth. Sophia is particularly pleased with our efforts at
reconciliation. When, like the protons, we are overwhelmed by resistance toward
the other, she remains close to us and urges us forward. She focuses our
activity on her next major task in the evolutionary process—to learn how to
bear the burden of a greater consciousness, how to harness psychic energy, and
how to transform this energy so that all may be one. She continues to draw the
human family into freedom.
Coupling the story of our universe with an understanding of Sophia’s work in the world of matter provides “a way to gain our bearings in the inner world.” (5) We begin to sense the spiritual power alive at every level of the cosmos and to trust its guidance. As we continue to critique the present structure of religious life and to seek new ways to live the Gospel message, we find comfort and inspiration in Sophia’s presence in our lives. At this critical time in the history of religious life, Sophia seems to be asking us to look more deeply at the roots of our call, to rediscover the rediscover the purpose of religious life, to refashion our lives so that they respond more clearly to the needs of our world.
For almost 14 billion years, she has been faithfully accompanying the cosmos as it has been responding to the desire to become “the more” that she has instilled into all of creation.
We can rely on her help as we discern the way. Although some of our congregations may become extinct, others will flourish. In either case, Sophia will always guide us toward what will bring forth greater life. As “the hidden wholeness in all visible things,”(6) she is the constant and loving presence of God at the heart of the world. She is our hope. For almost 14 billion years, she has been faithfully accompanying the cosmos as it has been responding to the desire to become “the more” that she has instilled into all of creation. She will certainly be with us at this moment, to help us to discern our way, and to challenge us just as she continues to challenge the protons in the core of the stars. Her voice will awaken in us the desire and the creativity to move forward. And she will be by our sides as we struggle to respond to the needs of marginalized persons, to the needs of a church in crisis, and to the needs of a broken world. Now, more than ever, we need her inspiration, her support and her energizing presence.
Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, PhD, is
professor emerita of physics at Chestnut Hill College where she directs the Institute for Religion and Science.
Adapted from Kathleen Duffy, “Sophia:
Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love,” in Ilia Delio, From Teilhard to Omega (Maryknoll, NY:
Orbis Books, 2013). I became interested in this approach after reading
Christopher Pramuk, Sophia: The Hidden
Christ of Thomas Merton (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009), especially
Merton’s poem, “Hagai Sophia,” which Pramuk quotes at the end of his book (301-305).
See John Dear’s critique of Pramuk’s book at http://teilhard.com/2013/10/20/stages-of-cosmic-consciousness/ (October 5, 2010)
Patrick Hart, ed. The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton,
New York, New Directions, 1981, p. 345
See particularly Teilhard’s essay,
“The Eternal Feminine” in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War trans. Rene Hague, New York, Harper &
Rowe, Publisher, 1965, pp. 191-202 and Merton’s
poem, “Hagai Sophia” in Pramuk, Sophia,
Mary Conrow Coelho, Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The
Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe, Lima, OH, Wyndam Hall
In the mid-April days leading towards Easter 2019, two events of startling significance took place on our Earth. On April 10th a photo was released, carefully constructed from images taken by eight radio telescopes around the planet. The photo shows the outer lip, the “event horizon” of a black hole, with brilliant fiery matter being drawn into fathomless darkness.
University of Hawaii-Hilo Hawaiian language professor Larry Kimura had the honour of naming this first ever photographed black hole. He chose the name “Powehi”, a Hawaiian word that means “the adorned fathomless dark creation” or “embellished dark source of unending creation” and comes from the Kumulipo, an 18th century Hawaiian creation chant. Po is a profound dark source of unending creation, while wehi, honoured with embellishments, is one of the chant’s descriptions of po…
With a group of women, I spent Palm Sunday reflecting on the awakening to the Sacred Feminine in our time. The image of Powehi and the meaning of its sacred name struck a chord for us… how often has the Sacred Feminine been given names that relate to darkness: “the dark feminine”, “the black Madonna” … for she is to us also a great mystery…
Then, as Holy Week began, the great Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was engulfed in flames. The grief of Parisians was shared around the planet. Already there is a resolve to rebuild this centuries-old church that honours the Sacred Feminine in her title of “Our Lady”.
Each of these events soars above the mundane preoccupations of our lives, giving us a sense of the greater story of which we are a part. They put the Easter Mystery in a larger context, one that embraces the whole spectrum of what we know and intuit of the Universe…. I needed to turned Teilhard de Chardin, for he understood so well that our story is far from complete.
“For Teilhard, autumn rather than spring was the happiest time of year,” writes John Haught in his essay, “Teilhard de Chardin: Theology for an Unfinished Universe.” (Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe, Ilia Delio, ed. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014) “It is almost as though the shedding of leaves opened his soul to the limitless space of the up-ahead and the not-yet, liberating him from the siren charms of terrestrial spring and summer.”
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. More than 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 illumine 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.
call to co-create in an unfinished universe broadens and deepens our Christian
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
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”.
Haught writes:At the extreme term of the convergent
movement of the universefrom 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.
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: (t)he 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. (p.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.” (p. 20)
Perhaps Teilhard’s hope-filled heart would smile in recognition if he heard the words from the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”:
All will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.
Dickinson’s words express the reality of these April days in mid-eastern Canada.
After one brief sunlit day of warmth, the frozen earth, snug under her fresh
coverlet of snow, seems set to sleep forever. As the Festival of Easter draws
very near, I understand at a deeper level than before, how the Earth is the
primary teacher of hope, the first manifestation of love, the earliest image of
the divine. In her rising each year from the death of winter, she restores our
joy, our trust in her all-encompassing love. And so, we wait in hope for the
snow to melt, for the solid ice to become flowing streams, for that first
emergence of green life, of flowering beauty.
Paul, the first Christian mystic, understood this primacy of the earth, though over the millennia we have misconstrued his words, as Richard Rohr points out in The Universal Christ (Convergent Books, New York, 2019):
Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection from death, Christ himself cannot have been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:13). He presents “resurrection” as a universal principle, but most of us only remember the following verse: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (15, 14)….the reason we can trust Jesus’s resurrection is that we can already see resurrection happening everywhere else.(169-70)
earth as the first Incarnation of God, Rohr writes:
In the mythic imagination…Mary
intuitively symbolizes the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth…( I am not saying
Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype and
symbol for it, particularly in art, which is perhaps why the Madonna is still
the most painted subject in Western art.) I believe that Mary is the major
feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery. This archetype had already shown
herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1 ff., Wisdom 7:7 ff.), and
again in the book of Revelation (12:1-17) in the cosmic symbol of “a Woman
clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.” Neither Sophia nor the
Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both
are – and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.” (123)
further upon the images of Madonna and Child in Western art:
The first incarnation (creation) is
symbolized by Sophia- Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful
Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability
Mary became the Symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation to us, while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child. (124)
Thomas Berry, the great eco-theologian wrote extensively on the universe as the incarnation of the Sacred. In this excerpt from his writings, Berry invites us to reflect on our experience of wonder.
“What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night, at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens?
What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer as the birds depart on their southward journey, or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away? What are your thoughts as you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?
Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. The other world was guardian, teacher, healer―the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned.
Above all, this world provided the psychic power we humans needed in our moments of crisis. Together with the visible world and the cosmic world, the human world formed a meaningful threefold community of existence. This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought, where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth…
We need to awaken… to the wilderness itself as a source of new vitality for its own existence. For it is the wild that is creative. As we are told by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The communion that comes through these experiences of the wild, where we sense something present and daunting, stunning in its beauty, is beyond comprehension in its reality, but it points to the holy, the sacred.
The universe is the supreme manifestation of the sacred. This notion is fundamental to establishing a cosmos, an intelligible manner of understanding the universe or even any part of the universe. That is why the story of the origin of things was experienced as a supremely nourishing principle, as a primordial maternal principle, or as the Great Mother, in the earliest phases of human consciousness…
We must remember that it is not only the human world that is held securely in this sacred enfoldment but the entire planet. We need this security, this presence throughout our lives. The sacred is that which evokes the depths of wonder. We may know some things, but really we know only the shadows of things.
We go to the sea at night and stand along the shore. We listen to the urgent roll of the waves reaching ever higher until they reach their limits and can go no farther, then return to an inward peace until the moon calls again for their presence on these shores.
So it is with a fulfilling vision that we may attain―for a brief moment. Then it is gone, only to return again in the deepening awareness of a presence that holds all things together.” ~Thomas Berry~
The Christmas Story holds an allurement for the human heart that never seems to fade. It is deceptively simple in its plot and characters: a young couple, exhausted, make a long journey by decree of a far-off Emperor. Unable to find lodgings in an inn, they take shelter in a stable, warmed by the breath of animals. And there the young woman gives birth to a son. They are visited by shepherds who have been minding their flocks in the fields nearby. Suddenly the story takes on mystery: these shepherds tell a tale of wonder: angels have appeared in the fields singing to them of the child’s birth, urging them to go to find him….
And then, sometime afterwards, a trio of guests arrives. These are men of royal bearing from the Far East, and they tell a stranger tale: “We have seen his star in the East and have come to pay him homage.” Opening their bundles, they lay gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Child. The story adds this line: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
As with so many ancient powerful tales, the truth of this story is within, and our hearts recognize its truth without having to seek proof of external elements. Great myths, like the dreams that sometimes appear in our sleep, carry treasures that we can unpack for ourselves, as we ponder them in our hearts. To do this, we must enter into the tale, find ourselves within the story, experience it as though it were happening now with us part of the tale.
In “The Journey of the Magi”, the poet T.S. Eliot offers us an intimate look within the hearts of these three mythical Eastern Kings, describing their journey in the “very dead of winter.”
Where might we find ourselves today within their part of the Christmas Story? For those of us now in the icy grip of a North American winter, the weather is familiar, as are the hazards of travel at “the worst time of the year.” If our December journeys were made to celebrate the Feast of Christmas with family and friends, we might say even our purpose is aligned with theirs…. But let’s go deeper.
Before the Feast of Epiphany, I happened to wake in the deep heart of the night. Some sound drew me to my window. Looking out, I saw a starlit sky shimmering with such brilliance in the absence of moonlight or city glare that my breath stopped in pure wonder. Though I could recognize Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, the uncountable number of bright stars made me ask HOW those ancient travellers identified the one they were meant to follow….
And that question has become my own question: the one so many of us are asking at this crucial time in our planet’s history when there are so many paths opening, so many possible routes…
Somewhere in the Universe my question was heard. Since then, stars have been separating out from the overall pattern, placing themselves in my path. I spent much of January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, recording these gifts of light:
By chance, on Friday, I had come across these words of Joseph Campbell:
If you are going to act on the basis of what you know, you cannot just hold onto your knowledge. You have to translate it into a movement.
That same evening, on CBC radio, I heard an interview with a researcher and teacher of English Literature at an Independent University in Barcelona. She has just received a two million euro grant to study forgotten writings of women from past centuries. Asked about emerging themes, she said the writings “demonstrate a very keen understanding and search for spiritual meaning in life”: Why are we here? What is our relationship to divinity? The women writers were convinced of the connection between their life and spirituality. “They have an understanding of spirituality which is very intimate.”
Joseph Campbell’s words stayed with me sparking ideas, raising questions:
“What is the knowing I act on?” The answer came that we each carry within us a guiding star, as does all that exists in the universe (guided as Dante says by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars). Our task is to learn to recognize and follow this inner star. This requires time, intention, deep listening and grace.
I knew with greater clarity that this is the purpose of my work: assisting people to find and follow that inner star within them. For my own journey, guidance has come through a deepened relationship with a Sacred Presence, a true co-creative partner in all that I do. This mysterious Friend is an aspect of the Sacred Feminine, the Sophia Presence of the Hebrew Scriptures. In dialogue with her, I have been shown the pathways to choose. This story is still unfolding for me, and it is my deep desire to invite others to find their own Star within and to follow it into joy and wisdom.
We must follow it with courage as well for Eliot’s poem has a less-often quoted ending:
But set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people, clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Yes, we must be prepared for radical change on our journey, for loss of comfort
“in the old dispensation”.
From the glimpse I have had so far of the journey to new life, I promise you it is worth the cost.
Advent: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment November 27, 2018
Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.
full moon of Novmber caught in a tree
There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas.
These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ. It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…
Further, as O’Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in their artwork and ritual an awarenss of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth’s ages before the coming of Christ…
So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story? The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.
And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God, told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease”?
Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe.
Bruce Sanguin who has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article on “Evolutionary Cosmology”:
The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One.
We have a bias against darkness privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter….for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate. Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed.…
When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.
To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities
Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence – to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?
So bring on the Christmas pageants….and when that cardboard star-on- a- stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born.
We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:
Winter has come early, as unwelcome as a dinner guest who arrives before the table is set, when preparations are still underway and the kitchen looks like the scene of an accident. Snow has been falling steadily, softly, resolutely upon the deck and lawn, the rooftops of nearby cottages, on the lakeshore, even on the lake itself where a thin skin of ice can bear its weight. The empty, wide-open arms of deciduous trees welcome it as a returning lover. The tamaracks and pine trees, spruce and cedar, stand proud as women draped in ermine…
The roads and highways leading to and from the lakeside where I live have shapeshifted from alluring pathways leading through autumn’s extravagant colours to treacherous passages, slick with ice, choked with snow.
Inside my new home, with more windows than walls, the early darkness has entered without an invitation, brooding over chairs and bookcases, curling up in corners, an unwanted black cat claiming her space.
I am surprised by my reaction to all this, feeling resentful, defeated, besieged by an invasion of events outside myself that I cannot tame or control. I take refuge in reading, sitting by the dancing, artificial flames of an electric fireplace, ignoring the weather outside.
The book I open is by Sharon Blackie, a woman whom I met in Ireland at the 2018 Brigid Festival. Sharon had spoken of the need for women to be rooted in the earth, to know their relationship with the homeplace where they live… I had written to you of her talk, of her book If Women Rose Rooted. Now, eager to read her more recent book: The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday. (House of Anansi Press, Canada and USA, 2018), I settle in. If there was ever a time when I craved enchantment it was now in this “winter of our discontent”.
But I did not at first find what I was seeking. Instead of the magic of myth and fairy tales, Blackie wrote of the challenges she faced while living in a croft on an island in the Hebrides:
“You couldn’t extricate the land from the weather – it hit me then that I didn’t live in a landscape – I lived in a sort of weatherscape. And I wasn’t walking on the surface of the land, while weather happened above it and apart from it: I lived inside a coalescing world of sea, land and sky, all tangled up together, in which the weather was dynamic, always changing, always engrossed in its own process of becoming. The wind was not happening to me. The wind was in relationship with me. (p. 116)
From that moment, Blackie altered her attitude, began to court the wind, to dance with the currents. “I let it hold me up, facing into a westerly so strong that when I threw my arms out to the side and tilted forward, the immutable force of it prevented me from falling. We became playmates of sorts, the wind and I—and every kind of wind offered a different way to engage with it.” (p. 117)
I read these words and something shifts in me. Here in rural Ontario, the experience of winter is not a reality separate from my life, even less an obstacle to the life I wish to pursue. It is part of my life, and I may learn to live in active relationship with it. I have what I need to do this: warm clothing, snow boots, — even snow-shoes and cross-country skis—enabling me to go outside and engage with what is happening.
I can experience living within the snow, allowing myself to be enchanted by knowing it as Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes it in her telling of the Inuit tale, “Sealskin, Soulskin” (in Women Who Run with the Wolves): “the white and abundant hair of old Annuluk, the old grandmother, the old sorceress, who is Earth herself.”
Earth herself, an aspect of the Sacred feminine, has something she needs us to learn about embodied life on our planet. Our souls, our psyches, require the grace notes of winter, require the darkness that may allure us into longer times of rest and sleep to balance our more active days in the brightness of sunlit seasons. Our hearts need time to heal from the engagements, the involvements with others that may have inflicted wounds we ignore when we are moving quickly through life.
Our winter dreams allow us time to recall what really matters most to us, to look ahead to the bright days that will blossom in late spring and perhaps change our focus. We may then pursue what we most desire for our lives, in our service to life on our beloved planet. A winter journal will assist us to record our night dreams and our daylight inspirations, to prepare for a new birth in our lives after winter’s incubation.
There are many ways to take winter as a partner in the dance of life.
Listen. The music is already starting…
awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives