Category Archives: Biblical Wisdom Literature

Call Upon Wisdom, She Will Come

So I prayed, and understanding

was given me:

I called upon God, and Wisdom came to me.

I preferred Her to sceptres and thrones;

Vast wealth was nothing in

Comparison to Her.

Before Her, gold is like sand;

Silver like clay.

I loved Her above health and beauty,

And chose Her eternal radiance

Over the most scintillating light.

All good things came to me with Her,

And I took joy in them because of Her,

But I did not then know She was

Their Mother.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-12)

 

Who is this wondrous being who so captivated the heart of Solomon? He writes of a living, an abiding presence, one capable of giving him “all good things”; yet the joy he found in everything is because of Her. His relationship with this feminine being of “eternal radiance” is one of love. Moreover this love unfolds, evolves as do our best human friendships. For he tells us that there was a time when he knew less of Her, and a time when he understood more: he came to know this Sacred Presence as “Mother” of all the good that She brought to him.

This is astounding. If a clay jar holding these words had been unearthed only in this century, we would be amazed. Yet, the very familiarity of these Biblical passages may have blinded us to their full power. Perhaps we saw them as “metaphor” for a way of knowing, a quality termed “wisdom” not unlike other qualities such as “courage” or “kindness” or “honesty”…

Who can fall in love with a metaphor? Solomon fell in love with a Someone.

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artwork by Meinrad Craighead

One of the more surprising insights in Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book on the Divine Feminine is that “The Song of Songs” attributed to King Solomon, is considered part of the Wisdom writings in the Hebrew Bible. Shapiro writes that the love affair described in exquisitely sensual images is between the “sage” (woman or man) and Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma.

You have captured my heart,

My sister, my bride,

You have captured my heart

With a single glance,

With one coil of Your necklace.

How sweet is Your love,

More intoxicating than new wine!

Your perfume more fragrant than the finest spice!

(Song of Songs 4:9-10)

 

Shapiro writes:

You want to be embraced by Wisdom; you desire Her love as much as She desires to love you. A part of you may doubt and question; a part may seek to hide from your desire in cynicism, but at your core you want Her.

A single encounter with Wisdom is enough to lift you out of your desperately reasoned ego, and to leave you breathless with love and desire. Wisdom is not a cool intellectual exercise, but a hot embrace. Wisdom is not dispassionate, but the Way of passion.  

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro explores the question of why Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma is so little known, he writes:

First because Wisdom is a woman and women haven’t fared well in the Western religious tradition of the past three thousand years. While you can point out significant exceptions, the norm in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to downplay the role of women. One way to do that is to ignore the role of the Mother, Chochma, in creation and the life of us creatures.

It is no small thing to note that Wisdom is feminine. The original language of the texts, both Hebrew and Greek, make this very clear: Hebrew Chochma and Greek Sophia are both feminine nouns. The authors of the Wisdom books took this gender specificity seriously and envisioned Wisdom as Mother, God’s consort and bride, the Divine Feminine through which the masculine God fashioned all creation. Further, they saw in the union of masculine and feminine a powerful analogy for the greater unity of all in the ineffable Godhead that transcends our imagination.

Shapiro makes an important clarification around language when he adds:

I do not believe that God is literally male or that Chochma is literally female. We are not dealing with biological facts but with theological archetypes residing within each of us. What is needed is a marriage of the two within the individual. The unity of these forces creates a new person, the divine anthropos. The fully integrated human is called the sage in these Wisdom books. The sage, regardless of gender, is married to Chochma; he or she is the partner of the Divine Feminine.

Shapiro calls on each of us to become a sage when he writes:

You and I have the capacity to be sages. As you read the teachings of Mother Wisdom, know that She is speaking to you, inviting you to Her home, to Her Hearth, to Her teachings that you may become a sage.

He encourages each of us to find the image of Chochma that most appeals to us:

As the Divine Feminine, Wisdom can appear to you as Mother, Lover, Bride, Sister or any number of feminine archetypal forms… Find the image that best suits you, and allow it to open you to the way that leads to the birth of the divine anthropos within you.

Aside from the feminine identity of Wisdom in Biblical writings, Shapiro believes there is another significant reason why the teachings of Chochma are ignored:

She is intrinsically antiestablishment and nonhierarchical. Wisdom is taught, so the student needs a teacher, but once She is learned there is a great leveling: Teacher and student share the same understanding.

 

Behold, days are coming…

when I will seal a new covenant

with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah…

I will place My Teaching within them

and I will write it on their heart…

They will no longer teach one another,

saying Know the Lord!

For everyone will know Me, from the smallest to the greatest.

(Jeremiah 31:30-33)

How might this change our way of relating to the Sacred Presence, to one another,

to ourselves?

Reference: Rabbi Rami Shapiro The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, Skylight Illuminations, 2005

 

Walking with Wisdom Sophia

Where do you seek wisdom? Do you have overflowing shelves where recently acquired books hide earlier treasures like the nine layers of settlement in ancient Troy? Do you seek teachers trained in ancient wisdom?  Select from among the many speakers now available on-line? Or have you been fortunate enough to find a truly wise teacher who leads you inward to your own source of deep wisdom?  If so, you have already found Wisdom: She has already found you.

Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim.

By those who love her she is readily seen,

and found by those who look for her.

Quick to anticipate those who desire her,

she makes herself known to them.

Watch for her early and you will have no trouble;

you will find her sitting at your gates.

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking

for those who are worthy of her

and graciously shows herself to them as they go,

in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

(Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-17 Jerusalem Bible)

Once we come to know and trust our inner “Sophia”, we have a treasure within us, and the eyes to recognize Her everywhere. The wisdom of the ages, of the sages, of the poets and the mystics. takes on a vibrant clarity, a singing resonance, for we have an inner lake that catches the light, reflecting to us the heart of reality.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005) which I have been referencing for the past weeks, has opened my eyes as well as my heart to the myriad facets of Wisdom’s presence in the natural world from its sunlit morning warmth to night’s radiant moon path stretching across the river, to its wild winds, crashing thunder, its rain suddenly rushing from the skies, a Niagara of unseen source. Within my own life, I have become aware of a presence of Wisdom, showing me the moonlit way through challenges in relationships, difficulties in my work, small or larger questions of “What now?” or “How next?” …  for, as The Wisdom of Solomon assures us:

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

I have experienced (as you must have done at times) how a day can suddenly open out in beauty, revealing patterns unseen until that moment, making sense of the journey of our life in ways we had not understood.  I recall a day, reflecting on the work I am called to do in Spirituality, I was led by Wisdom-Sophia to Jean Houston’s talk on the fluidity of time from her Quantum Powers course.

Following Jean’s guidance, I stood before a curtain of time, allowing a moment in my life I had not understood to reappear. A few years ago, I was invited into a new beginning. I have since thought I had missed the moment, had not taken the road shown to me, and somehow lost the gift being offered.

Now in a sacred moment, with the assistance of a true Wisdom teacher, I found that the invitation had taken me to just where I needed to be: to this place where I have everything I require for this work among you.  I experienced a moment of joy, a recovery of trust, finding the way right here under my feet, a yellow brick road, hiding under a layer of dust, pine needles, dried autumn leaves.

I share this with you, not that you need to know about my life, but that you may know more about your own, learn with Sophia to recognize your path, find the joy of walking in it, companioned by Wisdom.

We live now, as Jean Houston reminds us, in the time of the great confluence, when the wisdom of the ages, from many different sacred traditions, is available to us, along with the newest discoveries of the physicists, who have been called the mystics of our time. What we need is inner guidance to open our hearts to recognize wisdom when it presents itself to us. Often for me, especially when my spirit is deflated, when the moon of my soul is obscured by clouds, light breaks through with poetry. During such a moment this past week, I came upon these works of Hafiz:

You don’t have to act crazy anymore—

We all know you were good at that.

Now retire, my dear,

From all that hard work you do

Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.

Look in a clear mountain mirror—

See the Beautiful Ancient Warrior

And the Divine elements

You always carry inside 

That infused this Universe with sacred Life

So long ago

And join you Eternally

With all Existence—with God!

(trans. Daniel Ladinsky in I Heard God Laughing)  

 IMG_3819-775x522

May you too find that clear mountain mirror within, kneel there beside Wisdom-Sophia and be amazed at what you see, O Beautiful Ancient Warrior, bearer of Divine elements.

 

 

 

 

 

Sophia: Beloved Travelling Companion

What was your favourite story when you were a child? Have you reflected on how that story may have influenced your adult life, shaping your longings, your choices, in ways of which you were unaware?

Reading Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005), I have again and again found something as old as longing, as fresh and new as a summer breeze.

Like this, from the Wisdom of Solomon (6: 15-16)

Resting your thoughts on Her—

this is perfect understanding.

Staying mindful of Her-

this is perfect calm.

She embraces those who are ready for Her,

revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,

meeting them in every thought.

Now, seeking words to convey the wonder, the joy awakened in me, I think of guidance, then companionship, or having a wise friend to turn to in times of doubt or struggle…

A memory comes of summers spent in my grandmother’s home, entering the magic within a book: a heavy, hard-bound copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.  The tale I turned to over and over again, as summer succeeded summer, was “The Travelling Companion”.

Like many of Andersen’s stories, it begins with a young person who is sad: John’s father has just died and he is all alone. Before setting out into the wide world, he makes a last visit to the grave site to say goodbye, promising he will be good and kind, as his father had always been.

On his travels, John takes refuge from a storm in a church, where a coffin rests before the altar. To his horror, John sees two men approach the coffin, and open it. From their gruff words, he learns that the dead man owed them money so they plan in revenge to dump his body in a field. John offers the men his entire inheritance from his father if they will leave the dead man in peace. Laughing derisively at his foolishness, they agree.

Now penniless, John resumes his journey. One day, he is joined by a stranger who asks if they might travel together to seek their fortunes. This stranger becomes a companion to John, and much later, after many adventures, guides John to successfully solve magical riddles and thereby win the hand of a beautiful princess.

On the day following the wedding, the stranger, travelling knapsack on his back, walking stick in hand, comes to say goodbye. John is devastated, having hoped his friend would stay with him to share the happiness he had won for him. But the stranger says, “No John, my  time on earth is over. I have paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom the evil men wanted to harm? You gave everything you owned so that he could rest in his coffin. I am the dead man.”

With these words he disappeared.

Somewhere within me, that longing has remained for a “travelling companion”, for a friend who would walk with me, guide me, advise me when I was perplexed, comfort me when I was sorrowful, show me how to make my way along the pathways of life as they opened before me.

Through Shapiro’s unfolding of the Wisdom passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, I recognized in Sophia/ Chochma the beloved friend I had sought, the One who

embraces those who are ready for Her,

revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,

meeting them in every thought.

images

Even more wonderful, I recognized that I had already found Her. Through my lifetime, She has come to me in different guises, bearing different names, from Mary to Isis to Sophia to the “Friend” who offers daily guidance in the smaller and greater aspects of my life, walking with me, a light in darkness.

It is Sophia whom I now recognize as the presence who sometimes speaks in a poem, as in this one by Hafiz, sent to me by a friend shortly after the death of my sister Patti:  

Keeping Watch

In the morning

When I began to wake,

It happened again…..

That feeling

That you Beloved,

Had stood over me all night

Keeping watch.

That feeling

that as soon as I began to stir

 You put your lips on my forehead

And lit a Holy Lamp

Inside my heart.

 Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky:  I Heard God Laughing

Who among us does not yearn for such a presence of love?  And yet the beauty of Wisdom-Sophia is that we have only to desire her in order to find her:

Do you desire Me?

Come to Me!

Do you crave Me?

Eat My fruit!

Even the Memory of Me is sweeter than honey,

And to possess Me is sheer ecstasy.

(The Book of Sirach 24:19-20)

Reflecting on these words, Shapiro writes:

When it comes to Wisdom let your desire guide you. Take Her and eat of Her and do so without reserve or hesitation. She wants you to want Her, and desires to give Herself to all who hunger for Her.

And if we fear losing her, or even if we know we have in the past both found and lost, Shapiro encourages us that the Memory of Her love will stay with you and push you to seek Her again…. Her gifts of simplicity and grace cannot be matched. And when you receive them, the narrow self is overcome with joy and the spacious self unfolds in bliss.

 

For each one of us, May it be so!

(And so it is, should we desire that it be!)

 

Seeking Wisdom-Sophia

As we continue our search for Wisdom-Sophia, our guide for the next few weeks will be Rabbi Rami Shapiro speaking to us through the pages of his book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005).

rami-shapiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

In his Preface, Rabbi Shapiro tells of being pursued by the Sacred Feminine:

I began to see her everywhere. She started talking to me….She intruded on my meditation and prayer time, and just would not leave me alone….She had me. I would go for walks late at night and talk with her.

His friend Andrew Harvey advised that he had best surrender: “She calls to everyone, and to ignore her is to ignore the greatest gift you may ever be offered: the passionate embrace of the Mother. She is going to hound you until she has you, and then She is going to strip you of all your ideas and notions until there is nothing left to you but the ecstasy of her embrace.”

Yet still Shapiro struggled, for it seemed to him that the presence was the Virgin Mary, someone he could not commit to as a Jew.

Andrew said to me, “It isn’t Mary, but the Mother. She comes to the Christian as the Blessed Virgin; She comes to you as Chochma, Mother Wisdom.” And with that my whole life changed.

Shapiro writes: Chochma, the Hebrew word for “wisdom”, is the manifestation of the Divine Mother as She appears in the Hebrew Bible. She is the first manifestation of God, the vehicle of His unfolding, the Way of nature, the way God is God in the world you and I experience every day. Seeing her as Chochma removed the last of my defenses. I stopped running away, and gave myself to Her as best I could.

As he began to share Her teachings as found in the Jewish Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, Shapiro found his listeners “began to relax”, not because he had made Her ”kosher” but rather because “what they heard in the text was what they somehow already knew in their hearts”.

As you read the teachings of Mother Wisdom, know that She is speaking to you, inviting you to Her home, to Her hearth, to her teachings that you may become a sage….Wisdom is taught, so the student needs a teacher, but once She is learned there is a great leveling: Teacher and student share the same understanding. (from the Introduction)

As Shapiro began to move through the Hebrew Scriptures, citing passages, reflecting upon them, I as a reader felt I was hearing what I “somehow already knew in (my) heart.”  See if this is also how it is for you.

In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom/ Sophia/ Chochma speaks:

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.

I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…

When He established the heavens, I was already there.

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When He made firm the skies above,

When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…

I was beside Him, the master builder.

I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.

Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.

(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well.  (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

 To know her, according to Shapiro,  is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace.

She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy.

(Proverbs 3: 17-18) 

Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.  

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“When She Rises” Artwork by She Who Is Mixed Media 2017

Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.

I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)

Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes. She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.  Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.

….To  know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.

In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones. You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal them to your mutual benefit.

Sharing Life with sophia

On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Thomas Merton wakened in his cabin on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. He wrote of the “fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero,” yet he expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage, where his life is shared with Sophia. He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom: 8: 16:

When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy.

Thomas Merton

Reflecting on this text Merton writes: “But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom?’ For me, there is nothing else….I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear….” (p. 14 in  “Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton” Christopher Pramuk  Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)

When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I have come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005). Shapiro had opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures, and now I was finding my own way to sharing my life with Sophia.

Because of Shapiro’s insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs, I glimpsed the meaning of Merton’s dream of a young girl whose name was “Proverbs”.

Here is where Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks in Proverbs:

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.

I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…

When He established the heavens, I was already there.

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When He made firm the skies above,

When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…

I was beside Him, the master builder.

I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.

Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race. 

(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well. (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

 To know her, Shapiro adds, is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace. She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18) 

Moreover, writes Shapiro, Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.  

Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.

I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)

Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes.  She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.  Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.

….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.

In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones. You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal with them to your mutual benefit.

The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs Part Seven

Meinrad Craighead Song of Songs

As we continue to explore the mysteries of love, hidden within the Song of Songs, we pull back from the close-up offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro for an overview.

Here is part of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Foreword to Shapiro’s book:

“The Song of Songs has no plot, so to speak; its lovers simply play “hide and seek” through eight successive, almost surrealistic freeze-frames. Yet, something happens, and the spiritually-attuned heart picks up on it. Somewhere between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 the male lover goes missing, and the woman, with wrenching determination, confirms her fidelity to her beloved and to the path of love: I will leave my bed and wander the city, searching street and square for you for whom my breath pants. (Song of Songs 3:2)

“Reunion, consummation, erotic bliss hurtle by, again in the Song’s allusive, freeze-frame way, and then, at the beginning of Chapter 6 another separation allusively looms, along with hints of rejection by society and family members. Another reunion and, finally, out of the blue, comes that empassioned affirmation that is no doubt among the top ten of the most stirring and luminous proclamations ever uttered in all of literature:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as an insignia upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion as fierce as the grave;

its smallest spark is a flash of fire

igniting an inferno. (Song 8:6)

“All of a sudden thing have jumped from the launchpad of erotica to land in the domain of mystical union, with this soul-stirring proclamation of the ultimate dominion of love, the ultimate certainty of an alchemical fusion of souls that exceeds all space and time, all human loss and bereavement. (Cynthia Bourgeault, Foreword to Embracing the Divine Feminine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Illuminations, 2014)

Towards the end of his Introduction to the Song of Songs, Shapiro offers an interpretation of the Genesis story of the creation of the first earthling:

“In Genesis1:27, the Hebrew Bible says God created adam ‘male and female.’ The logical way to read this is to say God created man and woman at the same time. The problem with this reading is that just prior to telling us that God created ‘them’, the Hebrew Bible says God created ‘him’.”

Alluding to the centuries of rabbinical interpretation that arose from this, Shapiro offers his suggestion:

“My own reading of Genesis posits the original earthling as bisexual – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Adam is the sacred androgyne, to use religious scholar Andrew Harvey’s term, who actualizes the inter-being of feminine and masculine and who longs to be born in your body.”

Shapiro cites Harvey’s writings:

This oneness heals all divisions and fuses all “separate” powers and brings into the union of Sacred Marriage all the “male” and “female” powers of the self, unites and fuses intellect and divine love, imagination and ecstasy, the spirit and the body, the laws of the heart and the structures of the mind, the light and every breath, gesture, thought and emotion lived in its truth.

What is born from this fusion, this “Sacred Marriage” of all separate powers of heart, mind, body, and soul is the Sacred Androgyne, the one who in his or her being realizes the total interpenetration with the Christ of all normally “opposed” or “contradictory” qualities.

This Sacred Androgyne – birthed in what early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Thomas call again and again the “bridal  Chamber,” the place of fusion between “male and female” – is a divinized human divine being free of all normal categories of “male” and “female” because it exists in a unity that contains, absorbs, “uses,” and  ecstatically transcends both…the Sacred Androgyne… is the new Eve-Adam reuniting in his-her own being the Adam and  Eve that we separated at the “Fall.”  In such a being, “heaven” lives on earth: through such a being the divine radiates divine grace and power directly.

 (Andrew Harvey, Son of Man:The Mystical Path to Christ, New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998, 121)

Shapiro adds: “What the Song of Songs celebrates and awakens us to, is the unification that is an ever-present but oft over-looked reality.” 

As Shapiro notes, mystics have described their encounter with the Divine in terms of sexual union.

In my own study of the Medieval Christian Women Mystics I discovered that in their longing to share their experience, they found the Romantic Writings of the Medieval Troubadours to be the most helpful form of written expression upon which to model their work.

Here is a fragment from the writings of Mechtilde of Magdeburg (1208-1282):

The Youth: I hear a voice which speaks somewhat of love.

Many days have I wooed her

But never heard her voice.

Now I am moved.  I must go to meet her.

She it is who bears grief and love together.

The Youth comes to greet the Soul in the woods

where nightingales sing and invites her to dance.

The Soul: I cannot dance, O Lord, unless Thou lead me.

If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully,

then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!

Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge,

From knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

There will I remain and circle evermore.

The Youth: Thy dance of praise is well done.

Now shalt thou have thy will of the Virgin’s Son.

“Then is she overcome and beside herself with weakness and can do no more. And He is overpowered with love for her, as He ever was, He neither gives nor takes. Then she says, `Lord, Thou art my beloved! My desire! My flowing stream!  My sun! and I am thy reflection!’ “

 

Shapiro points to other sacred love songs found in many religious traditions.

He asks: “What are we to do with these songs? Are they simply poetic artifacts to be appreciated or can they be lived in our own bodies?”

His response is that the Song of Songs “has to be embodied, just as the Beloved has to be embraced.”

Like Mechtilde, we are invited to

leap for love, from love to knowledge,

from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

 

for your soul-thoughts:

How does this echo your desire for union with the Sacred Beloved?

Read the Song of Songs and look for traces of your own story in the finding, the losing, and being found once more by the Beloved, both human and divine.

The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs: Part Six

In his book Embracing the Divine Feminine: Finding God through the Ecstasy of Physical Love –The Song of Songs (Skylight Paths publishers)  Rabbi Rami Shapiro, explored the story of Eve, seeking insights into what her choices reveal of the Wisdom/Sophia/ Chochmah/Shekhinah presence within her. Now he turns to the Song of Songs.

Who is the woman whom we meet in this erotic love poem whose very existence in the Sacred Scriptures has led to so much controversy? Shapiro notes that like Eve, whose Hebrew name Chavah is really a title that means “mother of all the living,” the woman in the Song of Songs has a title, rather than a name: the Shulamite (Song of Songs 7:1).

Once more examining the Hebrew to seek a meaning that the text does not offer, Shapiro notes that the root letters of Shulamite – sh- l- m – “are also the root letters of the Hebrew words shaleim and shalom, wholeness and peace.”

He continues:

If, as I am positing in this book, the female Beloved in the Song of Songs is Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Wisdom, like Chavah, is the mother of all things…then we might understand the Shulamite as the Woman of Shaleim and Shalom, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace. The same title could be given to Chochmah in the book of Proverbs, for it is through her that the whole of creation happens, and all her paths are peace. (3:17)

“Lady Wisdom calls us to share a feast with her in the book of Proverbs (9:2-5). Lady Wisdom as the Shulamite is the feast in the Song of Songs. The Shulamite is called a garden in the Song of Songs (4:12), and hence union with her is returning to the Garden from which Adam was exiled. That is to say the Song of Songs completes the story of Eden by showing us the way back to the Garden.”

Shapiro writes eloquently of sexual intimacy as the way that one achieves “unitive knowing”. He quotes Alan Watts:

The full splendor of sexual experience does not reveal itself with a new mode of attention to the world in general. On the other hand, the sexual relationship is a setting in which the full opening of attention may rather easily be realized because it is so immediately rewarding. It is the most common and dramatic instance of union between oneself and the other. But to serve as a means of initiation to the “one body” of the universe, it requires…a contemplative approach. This is not love “without desire” in the sense of love without delight, but love which is not contrived or willfully provoked as  an escape from the habitual empty feeling of the isolated ego. (in Nature, Man and Woman, New York, Vintage Books, 1970 p.188)

Shapiro adds: “In other words, love must be spontaneous and unrestrained, and sex must be no less so. This is the love the Shulamite, Lady Wisdom, the archetype of the Divine Feminine, shares with her lover in the Song of Songs.”

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“Isis and Osiris” artwork by Susan Seddon Boulet

For Shapiro, the Song of Songs is the Jewish equivalent of Maithuna, the Sanskrit word for union, often spoken of in the context of Yoga “more specifically the union of the self with the All, or Atman with Brahman.” He adds that in the Song of Songs, in the words of Phyllis Trible,“eroticism becomes worship in the context of grace.”(God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1978) p.165

“The union of self and other and of self and All is a given. You are at this very moment part of the infinite singularity that is reality. You may call this Brahman, God, Spirit, Tao, Mother, or any number of other names, but the simple fact is, as the Chandogya Upanishad, one of the great texts of Hindu philosophy, put it over twenty-six hundred years ago, Tat tvam Assi: You are That.

Shapiro quotes Thich Nhat Hanh: “To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing.”

“Maithuna is not a way to achieve interbeing, it is a way to celebrate inter-being. The Song of Songs is not a method whereby one achieves union with Wisdom incarnate as the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace, it is way of awakening to that union.”

What is happening within you as you read through this interpretation of the Song of Songs?

What aspects of Shapiro’s insights and interpretations find resonance with your own? 

Mystics of many faith paths, notably the Sufi poets such as Hafiz, Rabia and Rumi, write of an erotic experience of oneness with the All, the Friend.

The Medieval Women Mystics of the Christian faith path are no less passionate in their accounts of their own experience of the Unitive Way.

Does this unfolding of the Song of Songs assist you in your understanding of these other experiences of Oneness with the Holy?

How does this resonate with your own experience, your own desires?

Embracing the Divine Feminine: Five

An ancient Persian tale, “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid Ud-Din Attar, tells of a great gathering of many kinds of birds who set out on a quest seeking a spiritual leader who would guide them. After all, they said, other creatures had their leaders, but birds did not. The journey was inspired by the discovery of a golden feather, so magnificent, so rare, that the birds believe it must have fallen from the breast of the greatest bird in the sky, a bird worthy to be their leader.

One of their number tells the others that the bird to whom the feather belongs dwells at a great distance requiring a hazardous journey over soaring mountains through mist-filled valleys. If they will allow this one to guide them she will take them to the golden bird.

An uncountable number of birds, a gigantic flying carpet of robins and bluebirds, canaries and sparrows, ravens and blackbirds, parrots and pheasants, seagulls and cormorants, nightingales and larks, bluejays and cardinals, goldfinches and mourning doves, herons and owls, chickadees and woodpeckers, begin the journey together.

birds in flight

a gigantic flying carpet

But over the days and nights, many turn back, discouraged, exhausted, or finally no longer believing that there is a great bird is to be found. Sadly, some die on the way, attacked by predators, lashed by storms, wearied to death.

At last there are only thirty birds remaining. At sunset they come to a great lake still as a mirror. They cry out in astonishment, in wonder, for they are gazing down at the most magnificent being they could ever imagine: her bird-body holds feathers that are the blue of the jay, the red of the cardinal, the gold of the finch, the soft white of the dove… Overcome with ecstasy, the birds prepare to dive into the lake.

Then a voice, more pure and melodious than nightingale or lark, calls to them: “Wait!” A great bird is flying towards them. She is the Phoenix, a bird they knew only in ancient tales. In her each birds sees her own bright feathers within  a rainbow of translucent Light.

“Do you not understand? The beauty and wisdom you have come so far to find is hidden within each one of you. You are Wisdom, feathered like me, and I am within you.

“Do not regret the price you paid, the labours of your great journey. You had to come that you might know this truth: I am you and you are me and we are all one.

“Rest here, then return to your own nests. Live as birds who know yourselves to   be Daughters of the Golden Feather. Rejoice: My wisdom and my love will be within you for all the days, all the flights, all the songs and all the loves of your life.”

In Attar’s original tale, translated in 1889 by Edward Fitzgerald, and published by GlobalGrey 2017 (globalgreybooks.com), the Great Bird’s words to the travellers are these:

…Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Road,

Was but Myself towards Myself: and Your

Arrival but Myself at my own Door;

Who in your Fraction of Myself behold

Myself within the Mirror Myself hold

To see Myself in, and each part of Me

That sees himself, though drown’d, shall ever see.

Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,

And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:

Rays that have wander’d into Darkness wide

Return, and back into your Sun subside.

 

Take time to allow this story to replay within your heart:

How does the quest of the birds resonate with your own journey in search of wisdom and love?

Listen carefully to the words the Phoenix speaks to the questing birds, as though they are being spoken to you. Notice the feelings that arise in your heart as She speaks.

How does this story illuminate these words about the Shekhinah?

 Shekhinah is “the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah.” (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. (Embracing the Divine Feminine by Rabbi Rami Shapiro)

Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part 4

Wisdom as Shekhinah

One of the great gifts to us of the Feminist Theologians of the mid to late twentieth century is the way they distinguish between the masculine and feminine ways of “doing” theology. The masculine way (oversimplified as it might be in a New Yorker cartoon) is to sequester oneself in a high lonely tower, removed from all distraction, to think about God. The feminine way is to reflect upon one’s own experience and to speak with other women of their experience and thus to come to recognize the common threads out of which our life with the Sacred is woven…

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro

As we continue to draw insights from the work of Rabbi Rami Shapiro, it is important that we take time to reflect on what we have experienced of the Sacred Feminine Presence in our own lives. His research into ancient Jewish thought and teachings as well as his own insights can be source of understanding and deepening for us where we find resonance with our own experience.

Shapiro writes: As Jewish thought works toward the unification of Wisdom and Shekhinah, it does so by reimagining Shekhinah as the feminine attribute of God rather than the presence of God.

Shekhinah is understood as an aspect of the way God’s self is shown to us.

Shapiro continues: The kabbalists refer to the manifestation of the Shekhinah in the world as “in everything.” She is “the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah.” (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. In this…she resembles the Hindu goddess Shakti, the active energy of Shiva (God) manifesting as the externalized creation.

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“(Shekhinah) is the same below us as she is above”

Sunset on Hardwood Lake in the Petawawa River 

Chochma in her purest form is, in the minds of some kabbalists, Koach Mah, the potentiality of all creation – as yet unmanifest creativity…. When Wisdom shifts from… the unmanifest to the manifest, God without form to God with form, we speak of her as Shekhinah. In this sense the Divine Feminine permeates all reality, material and spiritual, physical and mental. She is imminent in, with and as the world, binding all things together in her infinite being.

Embodying the Shekinhah

Shapiro writes of the medieval kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who “identified several women in the Hebrew Bible with the Shekhinah“: Sarah in Abraham’s time, Rebecca in Isaac’s time and Rachel in Jacob’s time.

Shapiro adds two more women to Gikatilla’s list: “in Adam’s time she is called Chavah (Eve), and in Solomon’s time (by which I mean the time portrayed in the Song of Songs) she is called the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace featured in the Song itself.” (Song of Songs 7:1)

Shapiro sees the Song of Songs as “completing the Garden of Eden story told in the third chapter of Genesis….That story ends with humanity exiled from the Garden; the Song of Songs tells us how to return.”

Retelling the Story of Eve

Shapiro offers a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden which he says is truer to the actual Hebrew text than the traditional reading which places “the burden of evil coming into the world on Eve and through Eve on all womankind.”

Working through centuries of Rabbinic scholarship related to the story, Shapiro finds intuitive leaps to suggest that the first human was androgynous and from that being the man and woman both came.  “…only when they unite with one another can they achieve the unity from which they originally derived.”

What about the Serpent?

The Hebrew language allows for a substitution of words sharing the same numerical value. Applying this tool of Rabbinic interpretation, Shapiro notes that the Hebrew word for “serpent” shares the same numerological value as the word for “messiah.” He suggests: “the snake is the messiah disguised as a serpent!”

But the messiah wouldn’t seek to trick the humans into sinning, so some other goal must lie behind the serpent’s efforts to get the woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The goal, I suggest, is to open the eyes of the man and the woman and to move them beyond their childlike state into adulthood.

Why does the serpent seek out the woman rather than the man?

 “Traditionally the answer has been that the woman’s will is weaker than that of the man, and it is this reading that has become foundational to so much misogyny over the past thousands of years,” writes Shapiro.  

Here is Shapiro’s alternate reading: The messiah/serpent sought the woman rather than the man because the woman…is the one with the potential to realize the internalized…intuitive knowing that is at the heart of Wisdom, and then take action…to move humanity in the direction of Wisdom. The serpent seeks out not the person most vulnerable to sin, but rather the person most capable of realizing Wisdom – the woman. 

Shapiro translates what happens next in the Hebrew Bible’s story:

The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to Wisdom, and she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis: 3:6)

Rather than seeing this “dawning realization” as a single happening, Shapiro suggests we see “three distinct encounters with the Tree of Knowledge”:

First the woman is attracted by the lusciousness of the fruit and the desire to consume it, but that isn’t enough to make her do so. She masters her hunger and moves on without eating the fruit.

Sometime later she passes by the Tree again and this time perceives that the fruit is beautiful, and she desires to possess it. But beauty also fails to move her, so she again masters her passion and moves on without plucking the fruit.

Only on a third encounter with the Tree does she see that the Tree will make her wise, and only then does she consciously and deliberately eat of the Tree of Knowledge….she is willing to risk her very existence for the sake of Wisdom.

What is your response to this retelling of Eve’s story?

Do you see Eve as an embodiment of Wisdom? A Shekhinah?

How does it resonate with times in your own life when you took a risk, made a choice, out of a desire for Wisdom?

 

  

 

 

Embracing the Divine Feminine : Part 3

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Introduction to his book on the Song of Songs offers us rich insights into the Sacred feminine as she is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The One we know as Sophia/Lady Wisdom has a Hebrew name: Chochma. In translations of the Hebrew Scriptures she is referred to as “Wisdom”. As Shapiro points out in his earlier book on the Divine Feminine, Scripture Scholars often saw “Wisdom” as a quality or virtue, preferring not to recognize the clear indicators that the word refers to a sacred presence, one that is shown in the Hebrew language as unmistakably feminine.

Shapiro writes: “Wisdom’s goal isn’t to bring you to one set of beliefs or another but to make you wise. What does it mean to be wise? In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer defines it this way:

Simply I learned from Wisdom: the design of the universe, the force of its elements, the nature of time—beginnings and endings, the shifting of the sun and the changing of seasons and cycles of years, the positions of stars, the nature of animals and the tempers of beasts, the power of the wind, and the thoughts of human beings, the medicinal uses of plants and roots. These and even deeper more hidden things I learned, for Wisdom, the Shaper of All, taught me. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-22)

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Shapiro comments: “Wisdom teaches us physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, ethnology, meteorology, psychology, pharmacology and more. Wisdom reveals to us the explicit and the implicit, the visible and the hidden. How can she do this? Because she is the means by which the universe came to be.”

For those of us who are familiar with the Christian Gospels, Shapiro makes enlightening comparisons:

“Just as the Logos is both with God and God in John’s Prologue, over time Chochma shifts from being a separate entity who exists with God to being an expression of God: God as we experience God here on earth. The presence of God is called Shekhinah, and she, no less than Chochma, is feminine.”

Shapiro continues:

“In Proverbs 8:22, Wisdom tells us she is God’s daughter, the first of God’s creations, established before the universe. Eight verses later, she tells us she is the architect of creation, but in neither case is she synonymous with the Creator. The intimacy between God and Wisdom intensifies but still remains dualistic in the second-century text the Wisdom of Solomon, where the relationship between God and Wisdom changes from daughter to lover. Solomon says of Wisdom:

She embraces the universe in its infinite power

and orders all things for their benefit.

Wisdom I loved and sought after her from my youth,

to take her as my bride.

I was intoxicated by her beauty.

She proclaimed her noble birth

and that she lived with God.

And YHVH loved her.

(Wisdom of Solomon 8: 1-3)

Shapiro cites the writings of Philo, the first century Jewish philosopher and Hebrew Bible commentator (20 BCE -50 CE), who makes an even more intimate connection between God and Sophia:

“And thus the Demiurge (God as Creator) who created our entire universe is rightly called the Father of all Created Things, while we call Episteme/Sophia/Wisdom mother, whom God knew and through this knowing created all reality, albeit not in human fashion. However, she received the divine seed and bore with labor the one and beloved son…the ripe fruit of this world.”

Shapiro comments: “We can see in Philo the beginnings of John’s theology and even a prototype of the later Christian teaching of virgin birth, with Mary taking the place of Sophia/Wisdom. While Philo is willing to follow the Hebrew Bible’s teaching that Wisdom is with God, he is not ready to take the leap that John does to affirm that Wisdom is God. This changes when talking of Shekhinah.

“While Wisdom is related to God as either God’s daughter or God’s wife, Shekhinah is of God herself. The term is unique to Rabbinic literature starting in the first century BCE. The Shekhinah is God’s dwelling – not the place in which God dwells, but any place that God dwells. Whenever you find yourself in the presence of God, you are in Shekhinah. Hence the Rabbis taught:

If ten people sit together and study Torah,

the Shekhinah rests among them….

This is also true of five….It is also true of three…

It is also true of two…This is even true of one, for it says,

In every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned,

I will come to you and bless you.”

In the development of Rabbinic literature over time, the Shekhinah takes on a personification and gradually stands as separate from God, “a being in her own right.”

In the teachings of Jewish mysticism, in Kabbalah, Shapiro finds “the deepest meaning of and connection between Shekhinah, Wisdom, and the Song of Songs.”  The Kabbalistic idea of God is “dynamic.” God’s “creative power and vitality develop in an unending movement of His nature” flowing outward into Creation and “back into itself.”

Shapiro writes:

“God is YHVH, the be-ing of all being. God is intrinsically creative, indeed is creativity itself. Yet, God is more than observable reality. God is also the source of that reality. The metaphor I find most helpful is that of the relationship between an ocean, the waving of the ocean, and the waves that arise from that waving. Speaking metaphorically and not scientifically, God as Source is the ocean, God as Wisdom is the waving of the ocean, and God as Shekhinah is the wave that arises from that waving.”

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Shapiro explains that the Kabbalists differentiated between “two strata of the Godhead: one, its hidden being in itself, its immanence in the depths of its own being, and another, that of its creative and active nature, thrusting outward toward expression… the former stratum is designated in the language of the Kabbalists as Ein Sof, the undifferentiated unity, the self-contained unity…Root of Roots in which all contradictions merge and dissolve. The latter substratum is the structure of the ten Sefiroth which are the sacred names…the various aspects of God – or the ten words of Creation by which everything was created.”

And so “in the kabbalistic model of the sefirot, Shekhinah is the final manifestation and culmination of the divine activity: God as simultaneously mother, bride and daughter.”