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.
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.
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.
“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?
“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.
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 unreadvision 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 unreadvision of the higher dream inherent in both self and society.” (Jean Houston on Archetypes)
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)
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 togetheras 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)
My sister Patti’s cottage sits on a hillside thickly braided with pines and deciduous trees. It could be a fairy tale forest, but this is no time for tales. Sitting here on the deck we cannot see the sand shore, but gaze beyond the tops of trees to where Lake Huron shivers in silver light. It’s the Summer Solstice of 2014. If we look to our right up through the tallest branches, we see the sky blushing from soft blue to delicate pink, deepening to rose madder, mirroring our thoughts, fading with longest day into night.
But this is not where the story begins. Come back with me to early May, 2014, to Greece. Stand with me on stones that predate the Christian era in an open theatre-like space in Eleusis, twenty kilometres beyond Athens. The grey rocks around us sprout blood red poppies, fiercely alive, dancing in the cool breeze, nourished by no visible earth.
Our Greek guide, Calliope, tells us that this is where the initiates, who came here to take part in the annual religious rites known as the Eleusinian mysteries, would have gathered. Unlike us, they would have undergone a ritual cleansing in Athens before beginning the walk to Eleusis. Along the route, known as the Sacred Way, they would have paused to place offerings in tiny cavern-like openings in the rocky outcrops beside the road. Crowds would have gathered to watch their progress.
At Eleusis, there would have been a welcome, some explanation of the ritual that would follow, a telling, perhaps even a re-enactment, of the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter, corn goddess, giver of the earth’s abundance, weeps for her daughter, Persephone, who has been seized by Hades, god of the underworld. Her grief and rage at this loss are so terrible that she tells Zeus she will wither the earth’s food crops until he forces his brother god Hades to send Persephone back to her.
Only when the earth’s plants wither, threatening starvation, does Zeus give in. A truce is agreed upon: Hades will release Persephone for half of each year, but she must return again to the underworld. It is the myth of the seasons, of the maiden who returns after each barren winter bringing spring’s abundance.
Though the story has survived, the details of the ritual have never been discovered. The initiates who took part in what we know as the Eleusinian Mysteries were bound to secrecy under pain of death. The Mysteries began in Greece around the first millennium before Christ and continued, spreading into the Roman Empire, until the 4th Century of the Christian Era.
It is believed that the ritual, based on the Demeter /Persephone story, had a three-part theme: the descent (loss), the search and the ascent.
Following their arrival in Eleusis, the initiates would have rested, spent a day of fasting to honour the grief of Demeter. The ritual would follow.
Calliope points to the earth beneath our feet, telling us that the initiates would descend underground for the ritual. Its focus was the overcoming of any fear of death, though how this was enacted is unknown. But as the ritual was drawing to a close, light would have begun to seep upwards from the underground. Soon after that, the initiates would emerge, radiant with their experience.
After Calliope’s introduction, we move further into the site to an ancient cave, its dark mouth appearing to us like an opening to the underworld.
Here members of our group have been invited to enact the story of Demeter and Persephone. Peg Rubin, an actor of immense power, plays Demeter.
The day before our journey to Eleusis, Jean Houston had prepared us for the experience by speaking of the Greek understanding of the need to “die before you die”. As we travelled by bus, Jean led us in a visualization/meditation. We were invited to imagine ourselves entering the underworld, being clothed in earth, masked by earth, resting in death….then asking, “What are the aspects of myself that no longer serve me, serve life?” These we name and allow to die….
We remove the mask of earth that covers face and body. We emerge, freed to live more fully, more joyously, set free from the burden of those behaviours, those needs, those fears, that have kept us captive. We rise: quiet, composed, centred, unafraid, ready to love.
Eleusis is the first of many journeys into the myths, the wisdom, the mysteries of ancient Greece. As the days unfold, I come to know the truth of words I found during a Canadian Authors’ poetry workshop in Ottawa before I travelled to Greece.
This poem was composed of lines chosen at random from several different books of poetry.
Greek light startles
the warm appreciation of one being for another
every life long or short is a pilgrimage
under the wide and starry sky
sea salt scouring my body
old skins shed
kindled by the tangelo sun
ignite into life
On the long journeys across mainland Greece the poem unfolds for me like a prophecy, except for the “warm appreciation”…
As our bus moves with the surprising grace of a large elephant, skimming edges of cliffs that hover above olive groves and waters of an impossible turquoise, we pass the time creating poetry, reading it aloud to our companions over the microphone.
The young man with the young name, Josh, exudes the relaxed arrogance that only the young can carry off with charm. His poem is a mockery of the ancient archaeological sites, the stunning beauty, the fairy tale wonder that others have been praising.
I whisper to my companion: “That young man needs to be broken open!”
Ever-confident, Josh takes the mike the following day to chide us for our comments on his frequent cigarette breaks. Yes, he knows we care about him, but he’s serving notice that our advice will only deepen his determination to continue smoking.
When, on the third morning, Josh again takes the mike, I’m fuming without the help of cigarettes.
“I had a dream last night,” he begins. “A friend came into my dream, talking really fast. He was really excited, with something important he needed to tell me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
” When I woke up there was a text message. My friend had died overnight in an accident. Then I understood what he’d been trying to tell me: It’s so much easier on this side. All the pain, all the suffering is only while we are alive.But afterwards, everything is good.”
Greek. Light. Startles.
Later that morning, as we’re walking down the stony hillside path towards the ruins of the Temple of Athena, I encounter Josh. No words come to me as our eyes meet, so I reach out to hug him. He holds me with a gentle strength, as though I were the one needing comfort.
“It’s OK,” he says. “Really. I’m OK with this. It’s a gift.”
It’s not a text message but a phone call that wakens me in my home in the Ottawa Valley, the day following my return from Greece. My sister, my beloved Patti, has had a return of cancer. There is no medical hope. She has perhaps three months to live.
So that’s why I’m here with her on the deck of her cottage, her holy sacred place, on the Summer Solstice. Why we are caught up in the beauty of the sunset. Why we have so few words.
Patti speaks quietly.” I’m afraid. What is death like?”
I say, “Let me tell you about Josh, the young man I met on our Greece Tour.”
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.
On this final morning of our weekend with Dolores Whelan at the Galilee Retreat Centre in 2014, we are enacting an ancient Celtic Ritual of Imbolc as we welcome Brigid in her Maiden form. Brigid, who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”, comes among us, announcing spring.
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 we have been recalling.
We 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….
artwork by John Duncan 1913
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 twentieth 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.
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)
Brigid, midwife of this birthing, stands at the door.
We hear her voice, “Do you have a welcome for me?”
Under an ancient tee on Mount Pelion, listening to Jean Houston retell the story of “The Wizard of Oz”, we have each begun to revisit our life as a heroic journey. Finding where we are now in the story will give us fresh insight about where we must go, what we must do, what needs to happen next.
The Road of Trials, the Belly of the Whale
Dorothy is offered Guidance, but not a map. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” What in the Hero’s journey is a road of trials, often for the heroine includes a time of what Joseph Campbell calls being in the “belly of the whale”. In “The Wizard of Oz”, this is symbolized by the poppy fields where Dorothy and her three companions suddenly fall deeply asleep under the spell of the Wicked Witch.
asleep in the poppy fields
The Belly of the Whale takes us by surprise, for just when we know what we must do, just when we manage to fool the guardian and pass the gate, we find ourselves blindsided… by a depression, an ingression, a call to the depths of being. Though we are clear about our mission, we are not yet prepared.
The Belly of the Whale gives us preparatory time, time for deep inner work. We enter our own depths, the source place for all endeavours. Find your form for this inner work: drawing or dance or journaling or music or drumming or nature or working with an archetype. “You may not know what your archetypal guidance is, but your archetypal guidance knows who you are.” (Jean Houston) When you discover who your archetype is, you have guidance. You are put on the path.
Live in the Temple of Inner Abundance where you are in the womb of your new becoming. Choose your daily practice and be faithful.
Assisted by her friends, Dorothy wakens and all four approach the Emerald City.
Once again they face a guardian at the gate who will not allow them to see the Wizard. Dorothy’s tears as she speaks of her longing to see her Aunt Em break down his resistance. Yet the Wizard, when they at last meet him, refuses to grant their request until they fulfill an impossible task: “Bring me the broomstick of the Witch of the West!”
The challenge here is to discover the task that you never believed you could do, but the Wizard of the inner sanctum of yourself always knew you could, and if you did, would change the nature of your belief about yourself….Your inner Wizard…the Friend, stands before you and asks you to recall the “impossible things” you have done….
Now the Friend-Wizard asks you to consider what “impossible things” you have yet to do in the near future. The Friend-Wizard also asks you to imagine as vividly as you can actually doing it, with all the difficulties and acts of courage that it may require. Remember that you have allies, a Protector and the Friend to help and accompany you. (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically p.202)
Emergence with Amplified Power
You discover now that your expectations become magnets, drawing to you what you need for your task, your life work. You have entered the path of wisdom, and with her come all good things. You experience the grace of ABBONDANZA. You are moving into the fullness of life.
Your entelechy holds the seed of what you truly are and draws you into the magic and mystery of being “a local outcropping of the Godself in time”. (JH)
The life force of Toto (“Run, Toto, Run), the support and cleverness of her three friends, and finally the life force of water accomplish the impossible. Dorothy and her companions return to the Wizard in triumph.
Returning home to a Kansas that may not have changed, Dorothy discovers that the real change is within herself. She has met and integrated her intelligence, her compassionate heart and her courage.
Now she is ready for her great task of greening the wasteland.
It is afternoon of the day when we wakened early to watch the eclipse of the Blood Moon. The magic still lingers. The eclipse had looked like great branches of light, inviting us, as Jean had said, into the next level of our human becoming, activating our essential humanness as it moves to its next possibility.
Now we are about to explore our lives, to see them as heroic journeys, to discover that next level of our human becoming, that next possibility that awaits.
Massive branches hover protectively above us as we gather beneath the ancient plane tree in the courtyard of St. Paraskevi Church on Mount Pelion. The tree is older than the story we are about to hear, older than the storyteller, older than the listeners.
Jean is going to take us through the story of “The Wizard of Oz” to illustrate the stages of the heroic journey, using the framework created by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The first stage is the CALL.
In the film version of the story we see Dorothy in a dying wasteland, living on a farm in a dust bowl with an aunt and uncle as grey as their home, so focused on counting their chickens that they cannot hear Dorothy’s cries for help. The only life in the scene is Toto and when he is threatened by Miss Gulch, Dorothy becomes desperate, longing for a new place, a place of safety and happiness, “somewhere over the rainbow”.
Miss Gulch arrives and takes Toto away. When the little dog escapes, Dorothy determines they must run away. They don’t get far. Professor Marvel receives them with kindness and understanding, then urges Dorothy to return home as her Aunt Em is sick with worry over her. That might have been the end of Dorothy’s search for a new life… the end of longing, the refusal of a call that feels impossible….
But then comes the twister, the twist of fate that knocks her on the head, picks up the house and carries it with Dorothy and Toto inside, to Oz.
So this is where our journey begins: the call to leave a way of life that we have outgrown, followed by a refusal… because we can’t find our way or we don’t feel ready or we must put it off until we have placated Aunt Em….
Then fate steps in and, ready or not, we are on our way!
What emotional or psychological twisters have you brought on yourself in order to get away from Kansas?….Taking on a twister is what human beings often do to get from here to there. And sometimes twisters just arrive on their own steam. (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically pp.183-4)
What call allures us now?
What are our reasons for refusing?
Meeting the Guide, Crossing the Threshold
In the heroic journey, following the hearing and refusal of the call, Joseph Campbell found that the hero(ine) was given a guide, a supernatural helper to assist in crossing the threshold, which was guarded by a fierce presence.
Arriving in Oz, Dorothy meets Glinda, the wise friend who can guide her steps in this wondrous strange land.
Glinda is the archetype of the benign protector, a figure who appears in all myths. It is a figure that lives in everyone. In fact, look inside now and ask for your Protector to come forward. You may feel or sense their presence in many ways….You can even begin by imagining a radiant bubble of light coming toward you, and then opening up to reveal…who? (Jean Houston p.187)
Glinda will be Dorothy’s protector. The ferocious Witch of the West is determined to punish the girl who killed her sister by dropping a house upon the Witch of the East.
In addition to Glinda, Dorothy will gather three more allies: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion who will assist her in what has become her quest: to find her way home, even as she will assist each of them in his quest. ( to be continued)
On our last morning on Paros, in the time before the ferry departed, I was walking in the town, disappointed to find that the shops were not yet open… on one narrow street I saw a small building with an open doorway.
I walked inside, found a tiny darkened chapel with lighted red lamps near Icons. On the right wall an Icon of Mary drew me.
I stood spellbound. I felt invited to rededicate my life to the Sacred Feminine…..I recited Rilke’s poem that seems to be spoken by Her:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing
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.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Still, I could not go. I kept gazing at the Icon. Then I saw the Child in Mary’s arms.
Suddenly the “Sealskin, Soulskin” story in C.P. Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves came to me.
I recalled the teaching that when a woman has found her soul, it is her spirit (her son) that she sends to do her work in the world.
I recalled the words that the Sealwoman spoke to her son as she placed him on the shore in the moonlight, “Only touch what I have touched and I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”
I felt that the Sacred Feminine was promising me the same, as well as inviting me to send my spirit – my work — into the world.
In the five years since that encounter, my understanding about what my work is has grown and deepened within the small circle that encompasses my life. The Year 2020 has called me beyond that space.
With you, I have come to see the expanded reality where so much more is being asked of us. Now, fifteen years after I first heard Jean Houston describe the calling of our time, I understand this is not about some future urgency. It’s now.
Here are Jean’s words:
Throughout history and all over the world, people have felt a yearning to be more, a longing to push the membrane of the possible. Never so much more as those living today. People feel called to a life of new being. Much of the urgency that you may have felt these last years, moving between stress and distress, the sense of living in an outmoded condition, the exhilaration before what is not yet, the dread of leaving the womb of the old era – comes from the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Birth is a journey. Second birth is as great a journey. In the womb of new becoming it means laying down new pathways in the body and in the senses to take in the news of this remarkable world. It means extending the field of your psychology so that there is more of you to do so much of this. It demands that you choose a richer, juicier story, even a new myth, by which to comprehend your life and that you begin to live out of it. And, most important of all, it asks that you be sourced and re-sourced in God, spirit, the cosmic mind, the quantum field, – the love that moves the sun and all of the stars. (Jean Houston)
For this new story, this new myth, we may look to Mary, Mother of Jesus, as an Archetype. Mary will guide us into this entirely new time. Mary, called from a quiet life in a small village to become the mother of a child who would change history by rebirthing all we understand of Love.
That is our calling: to birth, to rebirth life on our planet, to be willing, as Mary was willing, to endure the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Once more, I turn to John O’Donohue to guide our entry into Mary’s experience. Here is his poem, “Nativity”:
No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.
Someone is coming ashore inside her.
A face deciphers itself from water
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.
In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.
Outside each other now, she sees him first.
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.
John O’Donohue (from Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000)
awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives