Category Archives: Biblical Wisdom Literature

Weaving our Days with Wisdom-Sophia

Being faithful to a spiritual practice of deep listening brings about a change in our daily living. We notice a presence of Loving Wisdom that embraces us in the ordinary moments of each day, assisting in decisions and choices, lifting our spirits when clouds obscure our inner light, opening us to see the beauty in the life, the beings, around us. She befriends us in every activity, every aspect of our lives.

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro unpacks the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, we learn that the sages who honour Sophia/Chochma have known this guidance, this companionship for millennia.

Although She is one,
She does all things.
Without leaving Herself
She renews all things.
Generation after generation She slips into holy souls
Making them friends of God, and prophets,
for God loves none more than they who dwell with
Wisdom.
(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27-28)

 

Commenting on this passage, Shapiro writes: This is what Wisdom can make of you: a friend and prophet of God. A friend of God is one who dwells in Wisdom. A prophet of God is one who shows others how to do the same. To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come. To see the ground is to open yourself to what is rather than what you desire. Opened to what is, you engage the Way of things in this very moment. Things arise from the conditions that precede them, but options are always present. The prophet works with the current embedded in the conditions to nurture justice rather than injustice, compassion rather than cruelty. (pp.32-3 The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Rabbi Rami Shapiro Skylight Illuminations. Woodstock Vermont 2005)

 

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“To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come.”

Long before the words about Wisdom Sophia were recorded in the Bible, long before recorded history of any kind, Wisdom was present in the human heart, though never possessed fully:

The first human did not know Wisdom fully,
Nor will the last ever fathom Her.
For Her mind is more spacious than the sea,
Her counsel more deep than the great abyss.
(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach: 28:29)

Wisdom cannot be contained, Shapiro writes, and that which cannot be contained cannot be known completely….Wisdom is the ground out of which you come, and cannot be separated from your self …. You can no more know Her than your nose can smell itself or your ear can hear itself. Wisdom is not a thing you can know but a Way you can follow…. The way to follow Wisdom is to surrender narrow mind to spacious mind— the mind that knows to the knowing itself. (pp. 26-7)

Yet Wisdom’s overflowing presence extends far beyond the humans who honour her:

She is more beautiful than the sun,
And the constellations pale beside Her.

Compared to light, She yet excels it.
For light yields to dark,
while She yields to nothing.
She stretches mightily throughout the cosmos,
and guides the whole universe for its benefit.
(Wisdom of Solomon: 7:29-8:1)

Reflecting on this passage, Shapiro comments: What is to your benefit? To be wise, to immerse yourself in the Way of Wisdom. Wisdom’s desire is for you; She wants what is best for you, and that is for you to embrace Her. (pp.34-5)

Wisdom is not only all-pervasive, but also timeless:

Before time,
At the beginning of beginnings,
God created Me.
And I shall remain forever.
(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24: 9)

Referring to the English language translation of Genesis:

In the beginning God created…(Gen 1:1)

Shapiro writes: This is a misreading of the Hebrew. A more precise translation would be, By means of beginning, God created… Creation is the stuff of beginnings. There is no beginning unless there is something that begins.
Wisdom is said to have been created before beginnings. This shows the limits of language, for in fact this cannot be. If She is created, then there is a beginning. What, then, is this Wisdom Who was created before the things of creation? She is the pattern of creation, the Way of God’s unfolding from eternity into time. (pp. 22-23)

Wisdom is the earth’s foundation,
and understanding the sky’s pillar
She is the divine order patterning all creation,
from the ancient oceans to this morning’s dew. (Proverbs 3: 19-20)

Reflecting on the way Wisdom patterns all creation, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is not separate from creation; She is the order of creation. She is the grain of wood, the currents of wind and sea. Everything rests on a metaphysical order, a principle that patterns all reality. While the world you encounter is impermanent, the principle of Wisdom is limitless. To know Wisdom is to know the current in the midst of the chaos….There is a guiding principle that orders even that which appear as random. That guiding principle is Chochma….

Using the metaphor of a game of dice, Shapiro suggests:

The extent to which you fixate on any one throw is the extent to which you are lost in chaos. As you step back and see the pattern, you are free to engage the game with equanimity. (pp. 14-5)

 

Sophia:Discipline as a Way of Love

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,
care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

These words about discipline from the Wisdom Literature of the Bible have been with me in recent days. As I thought about them, I noticed how I have come full circle with the concept of discipline. When I was young, I accepted it as a denial of pleasure, like giving up candy for Lent, harsh but ultimately good for me. Later, I rejected that self-denying approach to life, embracing joy and a sense of being loved without having to “earn” it through sacrificing what I enjoyed. In recent years, I have discovered discipline in a new way, a commitment to “showing up” in a relationship with the Beloved each day…

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :
The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.
“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”
“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”
“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”
The next day, the little prince returned.
“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”
“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.
“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one
day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”
(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

This wisdom from the fox echoes the teaching of spiritual writers that we must be willing to show up, at the same time each day, or at least at some time each morning and evening, for perhaps a quarter hour. During this time, we need to be willing to wait, to listen, to quiet the inner chaos of anxiety or questioning, of self-reproach or self-justification, just to allow ourselves to be in the silent presence of Love.

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:
While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….
Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:
Listen to Me:
Follow Me and be happy.
Practice My discipline and grow wise….
(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

Commenting on this, he writes:
To listen you must first be silent. When you are silent, the narrow mind, the small self of thought and language, melts into the spacious self of clarity and compassion. To be mindful is to be present. When you are present, the distracted self recedes and the greater self emerges. With this comes Wisdom, joy and happiness.

Sometimes, and I find this usually happens just at the end of the brief listening time, Love surprises us with a fresh thought, a somersault of insight, that lifts us to new place. And when Love is wholly silent and I long for words, I open my book of poems by Hafiz, to find at times a gift that eases my heart. Like this verse, found on day when my soul was dark and troubled:

 

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
(I Heard God Laughing trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

Truly, as Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma assures us in Proverbs:

I bring joy to those who listen;
I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…
Find Me and find life,
Find Me and find grace…
(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

The Little PrinceThe

Wisdom Sophia: Companion of our Days

Greece 2015 138So I prayed, and understanding
was given me:
I called upon God, and Wisdom came to me.
I preferred Her to scepters 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.

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 moonpath 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. Two days ago, 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.

Eight 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)

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?

Walking the sand shore by the lake at our Community’s holiday house “Stella Maris”, I have been reflecting upon Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005). Again and again I 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 heavy, hard-cover book of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. The tale I turned to over and over again 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 graveyard to say goodbye, promising he will be good and kind, as he, 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, 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 I have held the longing for such 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.

Even more, 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 she whom I now recognise as the presence who sometimes speaks in the poetry of Hafiz, especially in this one, 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 us and push us to seek Her again…. Her gifts of simplicity and grace cannot be matched. And when we 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!)

Coming to Know Sophia

We come away from the magic of the Storyteller’s Well on the Hill of Tara. It is time for us to seek Sophia’s Wisdom in other places, in other times, through other voices.

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).

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, adding: “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 levelling: 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 also 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, 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 form 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.

Sophia’s Presence in the Universe

In recent weeks, we have been reflecting upon the Powers of the Universe
as they have been described in Brian Swimme’s teachings: allurement and emergence,
cataclysm, synergy, transmutation, transformation… In the Hebrew Scriptures Sophia speaks of being present in the very beginning of the Universe,  an inherent part of the whole amazing story of its unfolding.

In the Book of Proverbs we read:

(Sophia/Wisdom) is the divine order patterning all creation,
from the ancient oceans to this morning’s dew.

In the song-prayer “Ancient Love” composed by Carolyn McDade, we find a
beautiful tribute to the Sacred Feminine Presence in the Universe:

Long before the night was born from darkness
Long before the dawn rolled unsteady from fire
Long before She wrapped her scarlet arm around the hills
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before the grass spotted green the bare hillside
Long before a wing unfolded to wind
Long before She wrapped her long blue arm around the sea
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before a chain was forged from the hillside
Long before a voice uttered freedom’s cry
Long before She wrapped her bleeding arms around a child
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before the name of a God was spoken
Long before a cross was nailed from a tree
Long before She laid her arm of colours ‘cross the sky
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Wakeful our night, slumbers our morning
Stubborn the grass sowing green wounded hills
As we wrap our healing arms to hold what her arms held
This ancient love, this aching love, rolls on.

T
And in this meditation written by Bridget Mary Meehan, we find an invitation to embrace this loving presence of Sophia, to make space for her within our lives:

I therefore determined to take Sophia to share my life,
knowing she would be my counsellor in prosperity,
my comfort in cares and sorrow…
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,
gladness only, and joy.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 8)

“Take a deep breath, as if you were breathing through your toes
and let your breath be carried up through your feet, legs,
abdomen, lungs, mouth, nose – your entire body.

“As you breathe in, say silently, ‘Sophia’ while taking in
whatever you need from Sophia: wisdom, knowledge,
strength, joy, courage, comfort, peace, love….

“Do you remember a time when you felt whole?
… peaceful?…strong? … joyful? …loving?…

“Do you remember a time when you felt alienated? …
broken?…hurt?…angry?
lonely?… guilty?…

“How did you feel? What was it like? Why were these experiences
significant for you? How have these experiences continued to influence you?

“Did you experience comfort and counsel in any new way because of these experiences?

“Image Sophia, God’s Wisdom, as Counselor, wise guide,
who helps you discover meaning in your experience
and aids you in recognizing these experiences
as important touchstones of your unique spirituality.

“Image Sophia as Comforter who assists you to find
your own identity and strength in the midst of disappointments and sorrows of your life.

“As you reflect on your experiences what insights, feelings, thoughts,
images, memories, sensations, are you conscious of?”

Choose a creative way to record your insights, feelings, thoughts, images, memories, sensations, whether in poetry, art,song, writing, dance or any way you wish.

( Meditation adapted from Bridget Mary Meehan: Exploring the Feminine Face of God

pp 28-9 Sheed and Ward Kansas City Missouri 1991)

Coming to Know Sophia

I have been enchanted in these summer weeks by the book Goddesses:”Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” (New World Library, Novato, California,2013) a compilation of lectures, articles and workshops offered by the late Joseph Campbell, mostly in the 1980’s. In all the richness Campbell offers from ancient mythology throughout time and around the planet, there is but one brief reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, the source book for Muslims, Jews and Christians:

 

The biblical and  Goddess traditions were radically against each other, and while the biblical has remained the authorized tradition, there has been in European culture this waterway of the living Mother Earth flowing underneath. In the Old Testament, we read in early Genesis: “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”. Well, the Earth is not dust, the earth is life, vital, and this intrusive god who comes in late, wanting to take everything over to himself, he denigrates the Earth itself and calls it dust? What he tells you there is, “You really are your mother’s child and you’ll go back to her. She’s nothing but dust, however.” Similarly, you read in Genesis 1:1 , “When God created, the breath (or Spirit) of the Lord brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say he created the waters. The waters are the Goddess — she was there first.

Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” She says it. What you have is the same old mythology that the Babylonians and the Sumerians had of two powers, the female and the male power in tension, relationship and creative co-action. But what happened in the Bible was that the male power was anthropomorphized in the form of a man and the female power was reduced to an elemental condition — just water. It says, “God’s breath brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say the waters of the Goddess, it just says the waters. She’s screened out, but she always comes back. (pp.234-5)

In these words of Joseph Campbell, I find the heart of my work, the inspiration which led me to begin this blog in October of 2014: the intuition that Sophia/ the Divine Feminine Presence is rising in and among us. Her awakening is the underlying theme of all I write.

In her book, Praying with the Women Mystics, (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006) Mary T.Malone offers us a poem in Sophia’s voice, based on Proverbs 8:27-31:

When God established the heavens I, 

Sophia, WomanGod, was there.

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

When God assigned to the sea its limit…

When God marked out the foundations of the earth,

There I was beside Him like a master-worker.

And I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before Him always,

Rejoicing in the inhabited world 

And delighting in the human race. 

 

Sophia is present within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. We glimpse “Sophia in Splendour” in this poem of Mary Malone’s, based on Wisdom: 7:26-8:11

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

Jean Houston in her book Godseed  takes us on an imaginal  “Visit to the Sophia”:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…

 

Mystics, the Universe and Sophia

As we awaken to the presence of Sophia in our lives, we are coming to know her as creative partner of the Love at the heart of our universe. In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom/ Sophia 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)

For the next several weeks, we take on the magnificent task of exploring the new story of the evolutionary universe, seeking within it a new way of knowing the Love at its deep heart. Mystics, like Julian of Norwich, Teilhard de Chardin, and Hildegard of Bingen were so in tune with the sacred centre of themselves that they intuited things about life in the universe that are only now being affirmed scientifically.

Julian of Norwich, fourteenth century English mystic, writes that God showed her:
in my mind’s eye…something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and I perceived that it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought “what can this be?” And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God. (Showings, Colledge and Walsh p. 130)

Look now at the photo that has become a major icon in our lifetime:

earth from Apollo 17

(earth from Apollo 17)

Seven hundred years after Julian saw the earth as something small…as round as any ball in the palm of her hand, the U.S. Astronaut James Irwin wrote:

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. (p. 158 The Hand of God)

If you have ever had, in a moment of deep prayer, in an out-of-body or near-death experience, a knowing beyond that available through your senses, you, like Julian, have had a mystical experience. Mystics fascinate philosophers, psychologists and scientists especially now when perceptions by mystics and physicists about the universe are coming into startling coherence.

Who or what is mystic? Theologian Margaret Brennan offers a response that opens the door where we all might enter with grace:

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. When we have come in touch with the deep centre of ourselves/our lives we realize that we are more than what we seem to be, that there’s something deeper in ourselves than meets the eye.

Evelyn Underhill, early 20th c. English scholar and mystic, gives this descriptor:

Mysticism…is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience – one whose religion and life are centred, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which (s)he regards as first-hand personal knowledge.

In Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood, 2002, Mary Conrow Coelho speaks of the relevance of mystics for us today:

The contemplative tradition certainly provokes many questions about the nature of matter, the identity of the person, the meaning of the word God.
It once seemed impossible to understand and accept the contemplative’s claims, given Western assumptions about matter and God. But now this has changed. Within the new story of the evolutionary universe and the new cosmology and new physics by which it is informed, the contemplative tradition finds a central place.

When the 20th c. Physicist David Bohm said that we are “frozen light” did he know that in the 12th century, Hildegard had proclaimed that “every creature has a radiance”?

The mystics intuited the interconnection of all of life long, long before physicists in our time made the same discovery. Hildegard of Bingen wrote: Everything that is in heaven, on the earth and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness…with relatedness.

W.T. Stace, a contemporary scholar of mysticism writes: The whole multiplicity of things which comprise the universe are identical with one another and therefore constitute only one thing, a pure unity. The Unity, the One…is the central experience and the central concept of all mysticism, of whichever type.

He quotes the medieval Dominican Mystic Meister Eckhart:

All that a (person) has here externally in multiplicity is intrinsically One. Here all blades of grass, wood and stone, all things are One. This is the deepest depth.

20th century mystic Thomas Merton experienced this oneness with life: One only ceases to be absurd when, realizing that everything is absurd when seen in isolation from everything else, meaning and value are sought only in wholeness. The solitary must return to the heart of life and oneness, losing himself, not in the illusion but simply in the root reality, plunging through the center of his own nothingness and coming out in the all, which is the void, and which is, if you like, the Love of God. (Journals, June 20, 1966)

As we journey together into the insights now available to us about our universe, we shall also be deepening our understanding of ourselves, for we are beings who live in the universe and the universe lives in us.

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?

For the past weeks, I have been reflecting upon Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” (Skylight Illuminations, 2005). Again and again I 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 heavy, hard-cover book of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. The tale I turned to over and over again 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 graveyard to say goodbye, promising he will be good and kind, as he, 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, 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 I have held the longing for such 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.

Even more, 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 she whom I now recognise as the presence who sometimes speaks in the poetry of Hafiz, especially in this one, 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!)