Category Archives: Jean Houston

Brigid A Woman for All Seasons

In the Celtic Calendar, Brigid makes her first appearance at the Feast of Imbolc (February 1st ) coming in her aspect as maiden, as promise of spring, breathing life into the mouth of dead winter.

At the Brigid weekend in February 2014 (Galilee Centre, Arnprior, Ontario) Dolores Whelan led us in a ritual of welcoming Brigid into our lives. 

The knocking on the wooden door is so loud it startles us, even though we are waiting for the sound. A woman’s voice, strong, certain, calls out from the other side: “I am Brigid. Do you have a welcome for me?”

We have our answer ready, “Yes, we do.” The door opens. The woman playing Brigid’s role enters.

Do we “have a welcome” for Brigid in our lives?

What does it mean to answer her question with a resounding, “yes”?

Brigid is a woman of great power, an archetype, an embodiment of the energies of the sacred feminine, another facet of Sophia. Our welcome of her will open up our lives in ways we cannot foresee, cannot even imagine. But the hints are already given in the stories about her.

Recall the legend that angels carried Brigid over the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem so that she might be present for the birth of Jesus, assisting Mary as midwife. Brigid, who was born in the fifth century after the event….

John Duncan 1913 Edinburgh Gallery

Immediately we find ourselves in sacred time, in what today’s physicists, following Einstein, would call the simultaneity of time. Mystery. We suspend disbelief, allow our linear, logical brains to take a break, invite the story to offer us its teachings. Ask how this applies to our own lives. Listen.Each one of us is asked, like Mary, to give birth to the Holy One. In Godseed, Jean Houston writes about the heart of our call, inviting us into a meditation, a visualization, of how this might be:

Lying down now and closing your eyes, imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams, you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News, a Resident from the Depths. This angel says to you, “Oh Child of God, fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership, for that which is conceived in you is of the spiritual Reality. And this Reality, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to…bring the Godseed into the world.”

And now see what the angel sees—the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you….see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future, of this Child in you, this Godseed that you are growing in the womb of your entire being, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.  (Jean Houston in Godseed Quest Books 1992 p.39)

This call to birth the Christ within us is as ancient as first century Paul, who wrote of being in labour until Christ is born in us. It is as modern as twenty-first century eco-feminist theologian Yvonne Gebara who entreats us to give birth to the Christic Presence in the Universe. Contemporary writer Diarmuid O’Murchu cites the words of the thirteenth century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart: What does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed, giving birth all day long.

Reflecting on Meister Eckhart’s image, O’Murchu continues:

This is a metaphor we have known as a spiritual species for thousands of years, long before formal religions ever came into being….The Great Goddess of our Paleolithic ancestors was perceived as a woman of prodigious fecundity, birthing forth the stars and galaxies, the mountains and oceans and every life form populating planet earth today. God, the great life-giver in the pregnant power of creative Spirit, is probably the oldest and most enduring understanding of the Holy One known to our species.

O’Murchu concludes that: we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. (Diarmuid O’Murchu Jesus in the Power of Poetry 2009 pp. 45-46)

 When we say yes to our call to give birth, we are embracing a lifelong partnership with the Holy One of “prodigious birthing”, a responsibility that has the power to take over our lives, to demand of us everything, to offer us a life that is at once profoundly meaningful, and intimately engaged with the ongoing renewal of the universe. There will be suffering, there will be hard work, but there will also be times of ecstatic joy, tasting our oneness with the Love at the heart of life.

“Brigid is the acceptable face of women’s divinity,” said Irish theologian Mary Condren during the Brigid Festival (Brescia College, London Ontario, May, 2015). Listening to Mary Condren, my understanding of Brigid expanded beyond her aspect of maiden to her embodiment of mother and crone. Mary’s research for a long-awaited book on Brigid is a seemingly endless process of pulling up a thread only to find a cluster of many more threads underneath. Now exploring the Cailleach (Crone) aspect of the threefold presence of the sacred feminine, Mary is discovering how central the Cailleach tradition was in ancient times. It seems that at the Festival of Samhain (November 1st), the maiden, mother and crone return to the Cailleach.

Irish Theologian Mary Condren

By uncovering old pilgrimage paths and excavating ancient ritual sites in Ireland, researchers are finding many earlier aspects of the sacred feminine that were then ”folded into” the Brigid tradition which in turn was interwoven with the 5th century abbess, Saint Brigid. Mary Condren longs for Adrienne Rich’s “dream of a common language” that would bring the Cailleach/Brigid tradition into harmony with the Christian tradition.  

Mercy was the beatitude Brigid chose when she took her veil. Mary Condren believes that the difference between mercy and sacrifice encapsulates the difference between a thealogy (based on feminine values) and patriarchal traditions.

Brigid’s cloak is a symbol of protection and of the creative womb of the earth. Collecting dew on the Festival of Imbolc is an ancient feminine ritual. Mary Condren’s research into dew in the sacred writings of many religions (including Kwan Yin where the dew symbolizes compassion and in the Hebrew Bible) shows the longevity of this tradition.

The dew of mercy becomes in Christianity the blood of sacrifice, the redemptive liquid of patriarchy.

Mary Condren believes that Brigid’s life and tradition offers an alternative to sacrifice in the practice of self-fragilization, a willingness to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to enter the darkness, to enter the well, and still to remain whole.

Brigid’s fire is an inner flame that does not burn out. Mary Condren suggests that we cultivate that inner fire of purification and protection rather than the spectacular destructive fire of sacrifice.

The Imbolc question echoes: Do we have a welcome in our lives for Brigid?

Dolores reminds us that it is only in us, you and me, that the energy of Brigid will rise again, take form and become a force for transformation in our world. (Dolores Whelan in Ever Ancient, Ever New Dublin 2010 p. 81)

This Place That You Belong To

  Voices, so very many voices fill the solitude of Covid days that stretch endlessly into an unseen future… voices on CBC Radio describing disasters: volcanic explosions beneath the Pacific Ocean inundating nearby islands… spectacular snowstorms in North America depositing more snow than some areas have seen over many winters past… political tensions around the globe. Between these realities my radio offers up Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Brahms … soaring melodies that speak a different truth about our lives…

         On Sunday afternoon, I turn off the sounds, dress in warm layers, set off for the nearby woods.

   After a challenging climb to higher ground, I enter the narrow snow path reserved for walkers and cross-country skiers….On either side of the trail the deciduous trees stand in stillness, unashamed to be seen leafless, naked. It takes some time before I notice the silence. No sound, not a breath of wind. In the quiet, though they say nothing to me, the trees welcome me home …peace rises in me, fills my being, body, mind, spirit, soul.

   Two days later, those of us who are journeying through Jean Houston‘s book The Quest of Rose, (co-written with Anneloes Smitsman, 2021) gather on ZOOM to continue our reflections on Chapter Eight. Our conversation begins with the wonder, the joy each of us experienced the night before as the full Wolf Moon lit up our skies, as her golden light made its way into our home places.

We’ve seen over these weeks since early November the possibilities of newness for our lives, for our planet, for all that lives upon and within her, all that is nurtured by her.

The vision is alluring, yet each of us struggles, as does Rose herself, with the disconnect between our dreams, hopes, visions and the daily news of the planet. Once again, we’re drawn to the way Rose’s grandmother Verdandi responds to these concerns:

Have you asked Mother Earth for her support? You are a child of the earth, composed of the same elements as the earth herself. Your bones are composed of the same minerals and elements as her rocks, mountains, and soil. Your blood and tears contain the same salt that is in her oceans. Your bodily fluids are fortified with the same waters of life. Your body has been formed by her and nature’s wisdom from billions of years of experimentation, learning and evolution. You literally contain within you all evolution’s intelligence and wisdom as her abilities extend into and become your abilities and you evolve each other. (The Quest of Rose, 192)

Today as I think of all this, I remember my experience on Sunday in the snowy woods. This sends me searching for a poem I’d read recently by Wendell Berry. It holds a deep wisdom that weaves the themes of hope and our earth-home into a tapestry for our time.

This Place That You Belong To
–by Wendell Berry

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, 2013).


Sophia for Christmas

What does it profit me if Gabriel hails the Virgin

Unless he brings to me the very selfsame tidings.

(Angelus Silesius)

“The infancy narratives…need to be approached afresh….as an archetypal statement of the God of prodigious birthing…. we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. Incarnation becomes an empowering and liberating dynamic, and Christians, instead of fleeing the world, are now challenged to embrace it in its full embodied existence.” (Diarmuid O’Murchu)

Jean Houston writes: Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world. It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being.  

“Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

“What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?  It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.” (Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

The Poet Christine Lore Weber imagines our calling in these words:

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain…

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain…

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open centre of you will be radiant.

I will call you Brilliant One.

I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.

What is the newness I long for in my life?

What newness is needed throughout our planet?

Where within me/us is the Holy Child awaiting birth?

How do we prepare our hearts for this new dawning of possibility?

How may we nurture that luminous numinous being as our lives unfold?

        Reflective Process based on Jean Houston’s Godseed :

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News. This angel says to you, “O Woman,  fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership of the One who is Holy, for that which is conceived in you is of the Holy, and this Holy seed, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to go beyond your fears, your limits, your inability to trust in your own goodness, so that you may bring forth the Light, the Godseed, into the world.” 

Now see what the angel sees – the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you. In the next few minutes, see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future of this Child in you,this Godseed, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.

Watch your Godseed self now. Let it grow, love it, observe its unfolding, Its future.

Let it come into the world. Begin now.

Acknowledge that Godseed and its future. Know its future as Mary must have known the future. Stretch and sit up, ready for whatever the next part of your life will bring you.

Receive these words of Rainer Maria Rilke as a Blessing for new life:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

Go to the limits of your longing.

Embody Me.

Flare up like flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.

Nearby is the country they call life

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.

Becoming Wild Inside

On the Greek island of Paros, we come upon a magnificent Church, built by Constantine to fufill a promise made by his mother Helena. 

The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece

In 326, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica.

Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople’s famed Hagia Sophia, to design it.

Inside we come upon two large, luminous icons of Mary. Affixed to the lower frame of the icons we see images made of gold and silver in shapes depicting eyes, legs, arms….. Our guide, Calliope, tells us that these are offerings given in thanksgiving for a healing. Kapi reminds us that we saw something similar in the Museum: plaster representations of an arm or a leg that was healed, offered in thanksgiving to the healer god Asclepius.

 The dogmas change; the traditions go on, our guide Kapi comments, revealing yet another way in which Greek spirituality is part of a continuum from ancient days. Where once the Greeks sought healing from Asclepius, they now turn to Mary in their need.

On this beautiful island in the Aegean, the mystery of Mary of Nazareth confronts us. A woman wrapped in silence, the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.

 As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year, Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.

 Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief, her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.

Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become, as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?

 When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered an invitation.

Here is how the Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time… when our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?

 From Jean Houston, we have learned that there’s no time left for us to refuse any call that smacks of greatness. The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness. Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:

 Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is), because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

 What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit? It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

(Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

Eccentric. Inconvenient. Perhaps. But nonetheless it is our call. Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”.

Walking with Wisdom/Sophia

Where do you seek wisdom? Do you have overflowing shelves where, like the nine layers of ancient Troy, recently acquired books hide earlier treasures? Do you seek teachers trained in ancient wisdom?  Do you 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 mirror that catches the light, reflecting the heart of reality.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005) has opened my eyes as well as my heart to the myriad facets of Wisdom’s presence. I find Her 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) how at times 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. 

While reflecting on the work I’m 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 to reappear.

About a dozen years ago, I was invited into a new beginning. I have since believed that I had missed the moment, had not taken the road shown to me, had somehow lost the gift being offered. Now in sacred time, 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, dried autumn leaves, pinecones.

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

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 so that we 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.

Sometimes I happen upon words 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)

Crater Lake, Oregon

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.

a visit to the sophia

Let’s turn our thoughts to the presence of Sophia, She who has been called the beating heart of the planet. Mary Malone’s poetry offers us images of Sophia inspired by the Hebrew Scriptures.

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.

“A Visit to the Sophia” is a short guided meditation from Jean Houston’s book, Godseed. We settle ourselves comfortably, preparing for this sacred journey:

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. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish share your experiences by writing them in a journal, or perhaps making a drawing or sketch.

The Morning After the Dark night of the soul

As we prepare to emerge from the darkness of COVID, these teachings from Jean Houston offer guidance.

October 21-23, 2016: Jean Houston is to facilitate a program entitled, “The Morning after the Dark Night of the Soul”. Early on Friday morning, I set out for the eleven hour drive to the Rowe Conference Center in Massachusetts. The way takes me through mountains softened through millennia to rounded hills. Trees wear autumn colours so achingly beautiful that I want to stop the car, to embrace them. The narrow road curves, dips, climbs. Quite suddenly a sharp hairpin turn opens to a space to park, to take photos…

 

Full darkness has descended when the car’s headlights pick up the small wooden sign: “The Rowe Center”. Over a narrow bridge that spans a swift-flowing brook, I enter the grounds. In the central farmhouse, a dinner of eggplant parmesan, fresh-baked bread, vegetables, salads and apple crisp awaits.

In a great circle that embraces the dining tables, I join fifty others as we sing a blessing, “Simple Gifts”.

The words pierce through my dazed fatigue, startling me into joy: “To turn, to turn, will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning we come round right.” I know my coming here is the grace for which I’ve been yearning. Before setting out, I’d written my desire: to be spun around, turned to face a new direction….. 

After dinner, we walk from the farmhouse along the path that climbs through the woods to the building that holds the meeting room.

Jean Houston welcomes us, assuring us that, “in the dark night, an enormous gift awaits you.” The music begins. We dance our way into a weekend of teachings, processes, insights, profound inner experiences, one on one conversations   spinning our lives into joy.

Jean Houston: “In the dark night an enormous gift awaits you.”

Using as loom the stages of the mystical path as described by Evelyn Underhill (Mysticism, 1911) Jean weaves together the present darkness of our planet, our personal lives, with the light that sustains the Universe, holding each of us in a fabric of beauty. We’re immersed for a time, brief, endless, in the heart of the spirituality that we’ve been longing to experience, to embrace.

Part of the dark night today, Jean tells us, is way beyond the personal self: this catharsis of refugees, war, weather, the breakdown of systems is “a ritual of initiation that life gives us to deepen”.

Jean turns to Connie Buffalo, her working partner, a member of the Anishnabe/Ojibway People, “How do your people deal with the dark night?”

“We walk in two worlds,” Connie responds. “We know ourselves as timeless beings, called to become more for the good of all people.”

“Mythologize the dark night. Don’t pathologize it.” Jean is introducing the theme when an urgent question from a participant requires a shift:

“What are we to do about the violence, the racism now erupting in our country?”

“The way is love,” Jean responds. “Be there and love. Drop down into the center. Let the facts fall away. Speak essence to essence. (In) very deep seeing, you see the levels of beingness in the person that are not normally seen. Practise going off automatic and into the essence.”

We learn about the practice of deep seeing, first by watching as Jean engages with volunteers from among us, then by working with one another in pairs.

Jean begins by asking the first volunteer to speak of a quality she dislikes in herself. “People say I’m a know-it-all,” the woman responds. Jean invites her to      step back a bit, to shake her body, loosening the posture of protection.

In the silence, Jean looks at her. “You are a pattern-keeper,” Jean says to the woman, explaining that one who sees and knows the higher pattern calls others to honour it in their behaviour.

The women nods, smiles, walks back to her place as one who has received a gift, one who sees that her darkness has light within it.

Jean explains that we have within us a “daemon”: our essential self. This daemon  keeps us in a state of negative life, a darkness, until the inner self has become strong enough to be seen in its fulness. Winston Churchill stuttered when he was young; his voice was protected by his daemon until it would be needed to save Britain. “The daemon protects you until you’re ready.”

Seeing deeply requires us to drop our ego, to focus on the other, Jean says, inviting us to experience this process of deep empathic seeing, working with a partner, someone we don’t know in the room. I’m surprised at the way this process opens my eyes to see the beauty and light in a stranger, the way it shows me the light beneath my own darkness.

Sunrise : “Look deeply to discover what’s trying to emerge”

“We’re looking at the other side of the dark night,” Jean says. “Look deeply to discover what’s trying to emerge.”

In the dark night of the soul, Jean explains, ordinary life shuts down so that deep life can reconstitute itself. If you could see it, it couldn’t happen. It’s like the caterpillar within the cocoon. Its cells turn into a moosh, a soup, until the new imaginal cells combine, become strong enough to emerge as a butterfly.

On the drive back, I know I’ve returned to the deep self once more. I’ve been spun around by my friend and teacher Jean to face into the firelight, into the joy. When I step out of the car beside my home, the stars above me are dancing with delight.

Where and how do you find light in the present darkness on our planet?

What emerging butterfly will we see after this dark night?

What do you see now?

Archetypes in myth

“What Would Maisie (or Robin or Psyche ) Do?”

“Archetypes are many things,” Jean Houston writes, “– primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order.”

Many of the stories we love best are indeed prompted by archetypes, characters whose life struggles, choices, suffering, triumphs, illumine our lives. They are, Jean writes, “our connection to the wider reality…. (they) bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strength to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.”

Last week, we saw how the story of “The Great Stone Face” by 19th century author Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates the power of an Archetypal Story to offer guidance for a lifetime. In the 21st century, English writer Jacqueline Winspear saw in her imagination her fictional character, Maisie Dobbs, emerge fully created from a London Underground Station. In the series of books which follow Maisie’s development as ”Psychologist and Investigator”, through the 1920’s and ‘30’s in London, Winspear presents a character so compelling that her readers tell her that Maisie has inspired them with guidance for difficult times in their own lives. That led Winspear to publish What Would Maisie Do? (Harper Perennial, New York, 2019), a Journal with quotes from the stories of Maisie Dobbs followed by blank pages for her readers’ reflections.

Have you one or more archetypal stories, perhaps heard in childhood, whose characters and their choices continue to guide you? You may have forgotten the original tale; yet, you are still influenced by it.

For me and my siblings, the story of Robin Hood with his band of adventurers in England’s Sherwood Forest was archetypal. Each evening at bedtime, our father would weave a fresh tale, made up in the telling, about Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and the merry band who robbed the rich to give to the poor.

When, as an adult, working in women’s spiritualty, I encountered the power of stories, especially very old ones, to illumine lives, I was re-enchanted. The great storyteller from Chicago, John Shea, came to speak at Ottawa’s University of Saint Paul. Afterwards, I approached him to ask, “How is it that stories, especially ancient ones, hold such power to transform us?”

“Three things,” he began. “First, the stories are very old. No one knows where they came from originally. Second, there’s the power in the one who tells the story. Third is the power within the one who hears and understands the tale.”

Later, I would learn more about archetypal stories from Jean Houston. In her book The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1987, 1997), Jean tells the ancient Greek Tale of Psyche and Eros. For 21st century women, this tale offers wisdom about the feminine way to approach difficult, seemingly impossible tasks.

Psyche, a mortal woman, has fallen in love with Eros, son of the goddess Aphrodite. In her desire to see the face of her lover, Psyche goes against his insistence that she must never look at him. As he sleeps, she lights a candle to gaze at him.

Psyche in Cupid’s Garden Paining by Waterhouse

At once he disappears. Aphrodite, jealous of her son’s love for a mortal, offers to break the spell that separates the lovers. She imposes three seemingly impossible tasks on Psyche. One of these is that the young woman must gather golden fleece from treacherous rams. Psyche weeps in despair, knowing the rams will surely kill her (as Aphrodite intends).

Reeds growing in the nearby river, symbols of the feminine, advise her. Guided by the moon, rather than the all-revealing light of the sun, Psyche is to approach the rams while they sleep. She is to take their fleece not directly from them but rather from the nearby bushes, where tufts of the golden fleece have been snagged as the rams passed by… Psyche completes this task in the feminine way: following the wisdom of moonlight and indirection.

How It All Works

“Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works,”  Jean Houston writes elsewhere. “As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe…. Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience.

“Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.

Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream

“At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the unread vision of the higher dream inherent in both self and society.” (Jean Houston on Archetypes)

partnership with the sacred

A day in late June. The scent of wild roses on the wind. The trees around your home that have been stark, bare, skeletal since November are suddenly lush, luxuriant with leafy canopies. The lake in the distance lifts small waves in greeting.

You cannot enter into the joy around you. Some inner darkness is invading your spirit, an inner voice, silent for so long you hoped it had been banished, begins its lacerating litany…

 “What have you been playing at? You do not deserve the love of the Sacred One you tell others about. Your life is a sham, and it’s time to admit it… Who do you think you are?”

When you are strong and focused you can silence this voice. Even mock it, laugh at it. Yet today, as clouds gather to swallow the June sunlight, you are defeated. The words eat into your joy, into your very heart, just as surely as the hordes of gypsy moth caterpillars are chewing the hearts of the leaves on the trees that shelter you….

A thunderstorm batters your home, rain drenches the deck. The caterpillars who swarm over railings, floor, table and chairs are delighted. If their many legs could dance, they would.

Finally you sleep that night, waken at dawn, still immersed in inner turmoil. Seated before the Icon of Sophia you offer a desperate prayer: “Send me words, any words that will take away this darkness.”

Not long after, though you’ve already forgotten your prayer, you open your phone to check emails. Five lines fill the small screen with words you haven’t seen before, perhaps the tail end of an earlier email? You have no idea who sent them or in what context. Your hungry heart receives them, wanting to believe they have just this moment arisen from the noosphere in response to your prayer. You read them again, a second, a third time.

You are the best we have

You are all we have

You are what we have become

We pledge you our whole hearts

From this day forward.*

And you know, even as your heart rises to sing once more, even as you, unlike the caterpillars, dance with joy, that these words are addressed to you, as well as to others who, like you, seek to serve Her, the Sacred Feminine Presence. This is the way that Partnership Spirituality can fill your emptiness and orchestrate your being.

* days later I would discover these to be the final lines of a poem by Maya Angelou

By grace of fifteen years of absorbing, learning how to integrate Jean Houston’s teachings, woven into our lives through her processes, seasoned with delight through dance, story, music and laughter, I have come to live a radically new way of relating to the Sacred Presence of Love that pervades our lives, as well as every aspect of life on our Beloved Planet and throughout the Universe. Yes, there are times, sudden, inexplicable, of darkness. Yet these moments or days allow the return of the Light to glow with greater radiance, as our earthly nights reveal the splendour of starlight.

Jean calls this new way of relating to a Sacred Presence “partnership spirituality.” Here is how Jean describes it:

It has been my belief and experience that a new order of spirituality is greatly enhanced with the concept of partnership with the Spiritual Friend, the Friend of the Deeps, the Beloved of the soul. This of course is an ancient archetype (as is) the communion with the Beloved whether seen as Christ or Krishna or the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence. The practice of living and loving the Beloved has enormous consequences for our spiritual growth and well-being. It is an essential form of partnership with the Divine. In all the great spiritual and mystery traditions, the central theme, the guiding passion, is the deep yearning for the Beloved of the Soul. This yearning for union with the Beloved lies at the heart of Sacred Psychology, for it is this profound longing—which transcends the desire for romantic love, the nourishment of parental love, and all the multiple and marvelous varieties of human love—that calls us to the Source.

As Jean so often reminds us, this time, our time, is the time of the great rebirthing, when the discoveries about the Universe by today’s physicists meld with the mysticism of ages and cultures and spiritual traditions of past millennia. These combine to offer us a whole new loom upon which our lives may be rewoven.

Jean writes: “We are truly in a time of partnership with God, whether the Divine Friend is known as the Beloved or a sense of Universal spirit, or a transmission of luminous energy and peace.”

Moreover, Jean says, “It is crucial, in any spirituality adequate to our time, that we have both the masculine and feminine sense of Divine Presence.” 

ARTWORK by Mickey McGrath OSFS

This must be an engaged spirituality which means that “one works, wherever one is, for the betterment of all…. the ruling commandment of radical empathy for the other is a manifestation of the true Self, the divine reality of Spirit.”

As I thought about Jean’s words on Partnership Spirituality, a memory rose: Jesus speaking to his beloved friends on the night before he died. The magnificent words in the Gospel of John are themselves an invitation to the adventure of Partnership Spirituality to those for whom the risen Jesus is the Beloved of the Soul:

I tell you most solemnly,

whoever believes in me

will perform the same works as I do myself,

s/he will perform even greater works,

because I am going to the Father.

Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,

so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

(Gospel of John 14: 12, 13)

You are my friends if you do what I command you.

I shall not call you servants any more,

because a servant does not know

her/his master’s business.

I call you friends,

because I have made known to you

everything I have learned from my Father. (John 15: 14, 15)

What would teilhard say?

On April 10, 2021, the anniversary of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s death on Easter Sunday, 1955, was quietly honoured. During a 10th anniversary celebration of the film, “Journey of the Universe,” Teilhard’s profound influence and inspiration on the life and work of Thomas Berry as well as on the film’s narrator and co-writer Brian Swimme, were noted.

I imagine Teilhard smiling as Brian Swimme wrapped up this 14 billion year story with the words; “Wonder will guide us.”

What words might Teilhard offer to us now as we experience the imminent loss of so much that is beautiful and filled with wonder on our planer? That question led me to a reflection by Jean Houston.

At the time of their tumultuous first meeting in the early 1950’s, Teilhard was living in a Jesuit Residence in New York City, having been exiled from his native France, silenced, forbidden to write or to teach his advanced ideas about evolution.

Here is Jean’s account of their meeting from her autobiography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996). The great palaeontologist and mystic becomes for us, through Jean’s experience, a warm, enchanting, human presence.

Jean, a high school student, heartbroken over her parents’ impending divorce, had taken to running everywhere.

Then, one day…

on 84th Street and Park Avenue, I ran into an old man and knocked the wind out of him. This was serious. I was a great big overgrown girl, and he was a rather frail gentleman in his seventies. But he laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech,

“Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, thinking of my unhappiness. “It sure looks that way.”

“Well, bon voyage!” he said.

“Bon voyage!” I answered and sped on my way. About a week later, I was walking down Park Avenue with my fox terrier, Champ, and again I met the old gentleman.

“Ah,” he greeted me, “my friend the runner, and with a fox terrier.I knew one like that many years ago in France. Where are you going?”

Well, sir,” I replied, “I’m taking Champ to Central Park. I go there most afternoons to … think about things.”

“I will go with you sometimes,” he informed me. “I will take my constitutional.”

And thereafter, for about a year and a half, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together as often as several times a week in Central Park.

He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which as far as I could make out was Mr. Tayer. The walks were magical and full of delight. Mr. Tayer seemed to have absolutely no self-consciousness, and he was always being carried away by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things.

He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time he suddenly fell on his knees in Central Park, his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, “Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhhh! ”

I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response.

“How beautiful it is,” he remarked, “this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite! Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis.”

He then regarded me with interest. “Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply-faced teenager.

“Then think of your own metamorphosis,” he suggested. “What will you be when you become a butterfly? Un papillon, eh? What is the butterfly of Jeanne?”

What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl, a question for puberty rites, initiations into adulthood,and other new ways of being. His comic-tragic face nodded helpfully until I could answer.“I …don’t really know anymore, Mr. Tayer.”

 “Yes, you do know. It is inside of you, like the butterfly is inside of the caterpillar.”

He then used a word that I heard for the first time, a word that became essential to my later work. “What is the entelechy of Jeanne? A great word, a Greek word, entelechy. It means the dynamic purpose that is coded in you.It is the entelechy of this acorn on the ground to be an oak tree. It is the entelechy of that baby over there to be grown-up human being.It is the entelechy of the caterpillar to undergo metamorphosis and become a butterfly. So what is the butterfly, the entelechy, of Jeanne? “You know, you really do.”

“Well… I think that…” I looked up at the clouds, and it seemed that I could see in them the shapes of many countries.

A fractal of my future emerged in the cumulus nimbus floating overhead.

“I think that I will travel all over the world and … and … help people find their en-tel-echy.”

Mr. Tayer seemed pleased. “Ah, Jeanne, look back at the clouds! God’s calligraphy in the sky! All that transforming, moving, changing, dissolving, becoming. Jeanne, become a cloud and become all the forms that ever were.” (A Mythic Life, 141-3)

Years later, as Jean looked back on Teilhard’s effect on her life, as well as that of a few other such beings, she would write:

To be looked at by these people is to be gifted with the look that engenders. You feel yourself primed at the depths by such seeing. Something so tremendous and yet so subtle wakes up inside that you are able to release the defeats and denigrations of years.

If I were to describe it further, I would have to speak of unconditional love joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one.

(The Possible Human, 123, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1982)

To watch “Journey of the Universe” go to https://vimeo.com/36950412 Password: whowouldyoube619