Category Archives: Great Sphinx

Sophia in Egypt: Twenty -Nine

Inside the King’s Chamber (continued)

When everyone has been inside the sarcophagus, Jean invites us into a time of silence. I stay where I am, leaning against the base. I am neither praying nor thinking. Hope, desire, love… they seem to belong to another life, another time. I had read that sometimes initiates in this ceremony have felt an electrical charge surge through their bodies. I wonder if any of them had felt this utter nothingness. No thing ness.

Some words come at last, though I do not heed them, do not even know how to understand them. They are the stern, strong words I heard in the sanctuary of Isis, and before that in the ritual in our Community’s prayer room:  Send Sorrow Packing.

After an unmeasured time, I become aware of movement. My companions have begun to rise, to move towards the door. Peg is standing there, speaking to each one who leaves the chamber. I cannot hear what she is saying, but it sounds as though she is asking something. When I reach the door, Peg asks, “Anne Kathleen, is your heart now as light as a feather?”

Ah. It is the question put to the soul after death, when it is led to the great goddess of truth, its heart weighted against a feather on her scales. If the heart is heavier than that feather, the soul faces many difficult tasks ahead.

I know I should be able to say “yes”. But I cannot tell a lie to the goddess of truth. Because I cannot acknowledge the full truth, cannot bear to say “no”, I waver.

“It’s getting there,” I say, and walk out of the chamber, begin the descent.

The way down is no less treacherous than the climb upwards has been, though less taxing on the breath. We move with great care, having to resist gravity, the pull to hurry down, perhaps to stumble, fall, collide with those ahead of us.

Pyramid of Giza Passage 39m 26 degrees

descent from the King’s Chamber

At last, still with backs bowed, we each emerge into the light, surprised to see the sun, surprised to see it is still morning. Surprised, too, to see a photographer with a serious-looking camera waiting to take a photo as each one of us appears.

The same photographer is now shepherding us into more or less tidy rows in front of the Great Pyramid. Jean comes to stand just behind me, and, though she has no shawl to place there, rests her hand lightly on my shoulder. I have the first feather-like hope that the deeper desire was also heard.

And in a beautiful play of Egyptian magic, the photo, when we receive it that evening, shows our group with the Sphinx, posing proudly behind us. Egyptian magic, assisted by photo-shop.

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We return to the Mena House where a late, longed-for, bounteous breakfast awaits. I join Suzanne at a table, and between mouthfuls of pomegranate, oranges, yogurt, sweet rolls and coffee, share my experience of the ritual, my feeling of being five years old, left out of the Christmas play. Suzanne tries to comfort me, saying that perhaps Valarie and Deirdre had offered to play the roles. I don’t believe this, though I appreciate Suzanne’s kindness in suggesting it. There is a pause.

Suddenly, I begin to smile, then to giggle, to laugh. The utter ridiculousness of my grief explodes within me, and soon we are both laughing, like schoolgirls.

 

We have the afternoon free to enjoy the hotel grounds, the glorious turquoise swimming pool. But Suzanne has a better idea. The Funky Store, where we shopped on our first day in Cairo, is just across the street from the hotel. Though Samai has warned us against leaving the hotel grounds, it seems the perfect way to leap over the traces, have a final Egyptian fling.  After all, I reason, if the Sphinx left me cold, and the King‘s Chamber left me empty, perhaps shopping will hold bliss.

We make our escape, walking easily out the front gate at the foot of the hotel’s entrance way. But when we see the store, our hearts waver. It beckons from the far side of a wide avenue that is alive with six erratic lanes of traffic. We stand still as small cars and trucks full of produce hurtle past.

Suddenly a uniformed Egyptian policeman is beside us. With knightly courtesy, he offers to assist us across.

Inside the store, I go directly to the place where the shawls hang in rich colours, in soft and silky fabrics. I choose two for friends, one in shades of turquoise and red, the other in a medley of greens. I check my remaining Egyptian pounds, decide I may choose one more.

I look for something that will draw me, something magical. Then I see it.  A white silken shawl patterned in the swirling rose I saw in my prayer to Isis. Some of my inner emptiness quietly fills.

We return to Mena House. I shall spend these final afternoon hours in Egyptian sunlight, first sitting beside the pool under the palm trees, writing in my journal, then swimming in the luscious tingling waters. The pool is as large as a ballroom, and I am the only dancer.

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Sophia in Egypt Twenty-Six

We leave St. Catharine’s Monastery, begin our walk back down the hillside, pass a row of camels who sit waiting, perhaps for travellers who will hire them for explorations across the desert or up into the mountains. The camels have brightly woven rugs over their backs, modestly unaware of the fashion statement they make. Ahead of me on the steep downward climb, I hear Jean engage with Arthur in what sounds like a theological discussion. I catch up, join in.

“How did we get Yahweh so wrong?” I ask, telling Jean and Arthur about my conversation with Michael. Jean believes that the characterization of Yahweh is drawn in part from the fierce desert god, a god of wind and storm, who would have been known among the Israelites.

“And yet,” I say, “there is such great tenderness in Hosea and in Ezekiel. My favourite part of the Hebrew Scriptures is Ezekiel 16.”

“Recite it for us,” Jean asks.

I begin. I know this by heart, but nonetheless, the lines come out rather muddled.

I saw you in a field on the day you were born. You were lying in blood with no one to wash you, to rub you with salt. You were as unloved as that on the day you were born. I said to you, ‘Live and grow like the grass of the fields.’ Later I passed by again and saw that your time had come, the time for love. I wrapped my cloak around you. I made you my own…

The words, as always, stir me to delight. I spin around on the dusty road, my arms a windmill, saying, “What passionate love! There is nothing in the Gospels to touch it!”

“I like the funny parts,” Jean says. “My Dad was a comedy writer. Do you know that in the Beatitudes, the truer translation is not blessed are the poor in spirit but blessed are the debonair!”

Deidre has joined us, “But Jesus was so young,” she says. “He didn’t live long enough to get serious.”

“I’m glad we have lived long enough to live into joy!” I say.

We board the bus, now waiting for us after the return from the Bedouin market. I look back at a glorious view of the monastery, a garden nestled in the arms of the mountains.

We begin a seven hour journey across the Sinai to Cairo, still unaware of the border skirmishes, puzzled by our guide Samai’s unwillingness to make any stops. By late afternoon, we are hungry, thirsty. Samai relents, cautioning us to get something quickly in what looks like an Egyptian hamburger stand without the hamburgers, the food expensive and sparse. We continue on over mostly featureless land, driving through a tunnel that takes us under the Suez Canal.

When at last we reach Cairo, city lights pierce the darkness of full night. We enjoy a supper of char-broiled chicken at a comfortable, softly- lit restaurant. I am sitting near Suzanne, Rosemary and Marjorie, the woman who had led Chi-gong movements for us on the deck of the Moon Goddess. Our return to Cairo brings with it a sense of endings. “How do we talk about this when we return home?” The question hovers in the air above us, silencing us. How indeed…

It is Marjorie who responds, speaking with quiet assurance. “We come like Odysseus, like a beggar, listening to their stories of what went on in our absence, before we unfold our own stories.” There is a further silence as each of us recognizes the wisdom of Marjorie’s words, then imagines how that would be when we are home…

We return to the Mena House, whose marble halls welcomed us on our first night in Egypt. This time, the window of my room overlooks a busy Cairo street, a Mobil Oil station hovering protectively over its gas-thirsty cars and trucks. Egypt is already shedding itself of us, turning off some of its magic.

But not all of it. We’ll be up before dawn for a sunrise prayer between the paws of the Sphinx.

I waken at four, drawn into prayer, needing to prepare for this day, our visit to the Sphinx, our ritual in the Great Pyramid, our final day in Egypt. Time is running out for whatever miracles are still to happen. I catch myself getting caught in clock time, forgetting what I’ve learned of durative time. I remember that in the Gospel stories, people are sometimes only aware of a healing after they set out for home.

We are in the tour bus by 5:10, but Egyptian Security is still tight. After a long delay, we are given the necessary escort for the short journey.

The moon is a cup half full of golden wine in a sky that sings of night when we reach the Giza Plateau. We walk towards the Sphinx, full of awe, watch it grow larger as we draw near. Its great paws were deeply buried in sand for millennia. Cleopatra would not have seen them. This majestic storied presence is distant, even when we are at last standing beneath its chest, leaning against stones ancient beyond anyone’s reckoning. The face carved on the Sphinx, thirteen feet wide, is now thought to be that of a woman with Negroid features. Samai tells us that the face is more recent than the base, for it had to be realigned with the stars. The Giza Pyramids are oriented towards Orion. Over perhaps nine thousand years, the sky map has changed.

great_sphinx_of_egypt

The Great Sphinx Egypt

I stand now in the generous space between stretched-out paws. I have to tilt my head back to see the face that looks out across the sands to a far horizon, unaware of me. There is no message that I can understand in the far-off gaze. Here there is no sense of presence, neither the gentle one of Isis, nor the joyous one of Hathor. Not even the fierce presence of Sekhmet.

But when I turn to look in the direction the Sphinx is facing, the sky is opening in mango and lemon. Ra the Sun appears.

At the moment of the sun god’s appearance, Jean invites us into a time of silence. I try to be present to this experience of no thing. Surreptitiously, I take two photos, but it feels like a desecration.

After our sunrise prayer, as I walk away, I hear Jean say, “How people can stand before a mystery and a wonder and just take photos amazes me!” I feel chastened, thinking of Eliot’s words. Have I also “had the experience but missed the meaning”? I decide that I was at least open to the wonder, to the mystery.

Later, I will discover that my photos are double-exposed, worthless.