Category Archives: Chochma

WISDOM IMAGED IN NATURE

The ancient writers see in Wisdom’s flowing, all-pervasive presence an outpouring like rain or floodwaters:

Who knows the root of Her?

Who fathoms Her subtleties?

There is only one so wise and so wondrous – God!

He created Her and saw her true nature

God gave Her life and poured Her out

Upon all creation.

She is with you according to your ability to know Her;

For God has given Her to all who love Him.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 6-10)

Of these wonderful images, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is the way God lays out the foundation of creation….She is both the field and the rain that nurtures the field.

And just as rain falls on all, so too Wisdom. You do not deserve Her; you do not earn Her. You simply receive Her. And yet…

She is with you according to your ability to know Her. It is as if you were begging for pennies in the street without realizing that your pockets were stuffed with hundred dollar bills. Your love of God and your ability to know Wisdom are connected. Knowing Wisdom is the way you love God, and loving God is the way you know Wisdom. (pp.18-19 in The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Rabbi Rami Shapiro,Skylight Illuminations, Woodstock, Vermont 2005)

In the following passage, Wisdom speaks to us of Herself as Cosmic Being:

I am the breath of the Most High,

blanketing the earth like mist,

filling the sky like towering clouds.

 I encompass distant galaxies,

and walk the innermost abyss.

Over crest and trough,

over sea and land,

over every people and nation

 I hold sway.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:3-6)

Shapiro notes the many water metaphors that hint at Sophia’s nature:

She is poured out, She falls like mist, She rises like clouds. Like water, Wisdom is yielding, and yet, like water She is capable of wearing down the hardest stone. She holds sway not by attacking but by embracing.

In these qualities, Shapiro finds resonance with the “highest good” described in Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching:

The highest good imitates water,

Giving life to all without struggle or striving.

She flows in places you dismiss and in this She is like the Tao.

Shapiro adds:

There is no struggle in Wisdom’s way. She does not exert Herself, but simply is Herself. When you act in accordance with Wisdom, you act without coercion. You act in sync with the moment, engaging what is to nurture what can be. (pp. 20-21)

In our time, when we are beginning to grasp the truth that we are all interconnected, it is Wisdom-Sophia who draws us together:

She arises in God

and is with Him forever…

Established before beginnings,

She transcends time.

She is God’s word, a fountain of understanding;

Her ways are timeless, linking each to all,

and all to One.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 1-5)

Shapiro finds here another parallel with the Tao:

The valley spirit never dies;

She is woman, primal mother.

Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.

She is like a sheer veil, translucent, almost transparent.

Use her; She will never fail.

(Tao Te Ching: Chapter 6)

Wisdom arises in God, and is the gateway to God writes Shapiro. Referencing the Tao, Chapter 11, he adds:

She is the foundation of all things and the Way of all things. Wisdom is both timeless and timely, open to you now and capable of lifting you to eternity. She is the center that holds the periphery, just as the spokes of a wheel share a single hub. (pp. 16-7)

Wisdom is honoured as “Mother” in the Hebrew Scriptures:

I am the Mother of true love,

wonder,

knowledge, and

holy hope.

Beyond time, I am yet given to time,

a gift to all My children:

to all that He has named.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:18)

Shapiro writes: Wisdom is the Mother of quality as well as quantity. Wisdom is the Mother of the metaphysical as well as the physical. Wisdom is not only the Mother of the rose, but the Mother of the delight that arises when you smell one.

Wisdom is a gift to all God has named. The named are the seemingly separate things of the natural world. Until a thing is named, it is undefined and not fully alive. In Hebrew the root of the words “speak,” “word,” and “thing” is the same: dvr. Until the word is spoken, until the thing is addressed, it does not truly exist. Wisdom is the ability to reverse the process, to speak the name in such a way as to return to the silence of God that preceded it. (pp. 24-25).

Sophia reflects light and goodness as a mirror of the divine: 

She is God’s spotless mirror,

Reflecting eternal light,

and the image of divine goodness.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 24-26)

 Shapiro comments:

The Mirror of God reflects all things and is none of them. She reflects whatever is: good and bad, hope and horror. Wisdom is not one thing or another, but the Way to deal with all things in their time. (pp. 30-31)   

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

 

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.

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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!)

 

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.”