Category Archives: Jean Houston

Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm

 

Cataclysm is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.

Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.

But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity.

The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.

Cygnus Loop Nebula:  a small portion of the nebula which is actually the expanding blastwave from a stellar cataclysm — a supernova explosion — which occurred about 15,000 years ago. The supernova remnant lies 2,500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos.

This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies.

(For a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in Journey of the Universe co-authored by Brian Swimme & Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2011)

The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe.

Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now.

Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure. I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang a prayer of pleading:

 “ let them continue on….”

Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…

Concurrent with this extinction of species we have the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes as though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures. We see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.

Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects…

We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.

When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster for revealing what is really worth valuing in life?

Do we not experience this re-assessment of what really matters in our present COVID 19 crisis?

The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, at the age of twenty nine, wrote words that may be a light for us in this time:

 Etty Hillesum 

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.  And in others as well.

Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives.  Neither do I hold you responsible.

You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes: our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.

For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us.

Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence.

Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes.

Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds,

“You are blessed to be alive at this time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis

One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.

Diarmuid O’Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998


Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis:

*the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body;

*the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body.

  • The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.

The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas.  In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater.

In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode.  Homeostasis.

 

Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.

When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life requires for its continuance.

Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence,  the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and  a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.

When Brian Swimme’s DVD series was released fifteen years ago, he could already see that homeostasis was falling apart in major life systems: the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet… Why?

Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body.

The great search happening in 2005 for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, Swimme described as a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.

Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community.

There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.

Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet.

If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.

On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.

Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.

But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side.

Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”.

The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing.

The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.

When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play:

Cataclysm ….  

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence and the Spirituality of the Sacred Feminine

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge….the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.

Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination.

Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

In her teaching on the Powers of the Universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us.

We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly, to signal our intent to be open.

We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us.

We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred.

More than thirty years ago the eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:

the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us.

We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognize that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

Thomas Berry

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?

As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a fragment, a fractal, of the newness in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy.

For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought them here, that have awakened their awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies.

For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

Statue of the Black Madonna in Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery in Wisconsin 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men.

You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked.

Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?”

No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother…”

“At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”…

“A partner, inviting me to co-create with her.”

“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her?

Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

Statue of Brigid of Kildare  

Brigid of Ireland has been called “the acceptable face of the Feminine Divine”. Ancient Goddess and Christian Saint, Brigid is the threshold woman for our time.

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess.

There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a  film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about.

They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.

How will we assist in this Emergence?

Sophia and the Paschal Mystery

Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,

Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane,

Subsiding under the weight of silence

That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.

What light could endure the dark he entered?

The void that turns the mind into a ruin

Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds

Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.

Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;

Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

(John O’Donohue “The Agony in the Garden”)

We are now in the sacred weeks when Christians re-enter the life-death-life mystery that leads to the Celebration of Easter.

This year, as COVID 19 makes its silent way through the countries of earth, we are entering a planetary passion play.

We know at a depth never before imagined that this mystery is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of life on our planet, in the deep heart of our own lives.

From its birth out of the womb of a dying star, through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn, its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring, the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.

Ancient peoples understood this. They wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened allowing her to conceive their son Horus.

The Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal. There she was stripped of her royal robes and insignia, murdered by her sister, who then hung her lifeless body on a hook. Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.

Demeter calls forth her daughter Persephone from the kingdom of the dead; Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius return to life after being destroyed.

The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the Ancient Near East. Jean Houston tells us in Godseed (Quest Books, 1992): “In the Greco-Roman world, these acts of resurrection were celebrated in the Mystery Religions. These ecstatic forms of piety involved dramatic, highly-ritualized inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, resurrection, redemption, joy and ecstasy.

The Mystery Religions provided alienated individuals lost in the nameless masses of the Roman Empire with an intimate environment and community of the saved, in which they counted as real persons and found a deeper identity.

Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the mystery cult, the initiate died to the old self and was resurrected to personal transfiguration and eternal life.” (125-6)

What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person. The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain.”

In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe.

Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed into a deeper more joyous existence.

By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits, old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be, we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us.

As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.

“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed.

For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core to “the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits. It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed”.

“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues. “We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.”

Yet “the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us….the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone, the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life”. (Godseed pp.129-130)

The yearly miracle of spring awakens within us the confidence and joy that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live.

The timing of the COVID 19 crisis  just as spring is about to begin in the Northern Hemisphere offers hope that we too may green our lives, our times, our planet:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)

Something to ponder in the presence of Sophia/ Wisdom:

Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?

What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?

What attitudes, behaviours, surprising newness have I noticed within and around me since the COVID 19 crisis arrived?  

How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?

What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me? for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?

May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom, gently guide us as we, like Jesus, “stand in that nothingness … raising the chalice of kindness to bless” through this health crisis, through the death of what no longer serves us, personally and as a planet, into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.

Sophia and Mary of Nazareth

I write this on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2020 at a time when each of us is being called into a new planet-wide reality, invited to give our love, our trust, our assistance, our presence, (our respectful absence!) in a crisis unlike any we have experienced.

In this moment, we, like Mary of Nazareth, may feel astonished.

May we respond with the courage Mary showed to a request beyond anything she might have imagined.

Today, I travel back in time to my first encounter with Mary. I remember a day when I was perhaps eleven years old. Each afternoon, walking home from school, I passed our parish church. On this day, I was drawn to go inside.

I remember glancing at the marble statue of Mary, standing to the left side of the altar.

Her stone pale white face was shuttered, her eyes downcast. The statue radiated coldness. Though I did not understand what her title of “Virgin” signified, I associated the word with an absence of what I longed for most in my life: warmth, caring, love.

I turned my gaze away from the statue, noticed a small booklet on the bench where I was sitting. It contained the Scripture readings for the Sundays of each month, with reflections. On the inside front cover, someone had written of Mary, creatively presenting ideas in the form of a letter as though it had been written by her.I have now no memory of the letter’s content. Perhaps I did not even read it. I was transfixed by the words at the end, “Your Loving Mother Mary.”

 In that instant, my life shifted. A loving presence entered into my existence and has never left me.

As Jean Houston has written, “Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively, archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening.”

To grasp the true significance of Mary as Archetype, come with me now to the tiny sanctuary dedicated to Isis on the Island of Philae in the Nile River.

Crowded into a space never meant for a group as large as ours, stand here with the other travellers on this spiritual journey to Egypt, led by Jean Houston. Listen now to the words Jean is reading from the writings of Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian. In the story, a hapless magician named Lucius has cried out to the goddess for help. Isis responds.

The way the Sacred One identifies herself to Lucius may startle you:  I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names…

 Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing.

Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid.

Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.

After the reading, listen as someone suggests that we call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine.

Listen as voice after voice calls out wonderful names. Many of these names are familiar to you, titles you may have learned as a child. We knew them as part of a litany, composed in honour of Mary. Yet many of these titles were given thousands of years earlier to Isis:

Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory.  Gate of Heaven. My own voice calls out: Star of the Sea. Jean’s voice, strong, certain, proclaims: Mary in all her forms.

The human heart longs for a divine mothering presence. Ancient cultures honoured a feminine divine who over millennia was called by many names: Isis in Egypt; Inanna in Sumeria; Ishtar in Babylon; Athena, Hera and Demeter in Greece; Anu or Danu among the ancient Celts; Durga, Kali and Lakshmi in India; for the Kabbalists, Shekinah; for the gnostics, Sophia or Divine Wisdom.

In the early centuries of Christianity, Mary of Nazareth became an Archetype of a Loving Mother. How that came about is a luminous story.

Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate. In his book The Virgin, Geoffrey Ashe writes of his theory that Mary’s gradual ascension in Christianity was not an initiative of Church Leadership, but rather a response to the hunger of the early Christians for a sacred feminine presence.

Mary became for Christianity a portal for that sacred presence. Or, put another way, a sacred presence responded to the cries of her people when they called her “Mary”, just as that presence had responded over the millennia to other names cried out in love or sorrow or desperate need.

And yet, and still, before any of that happened, Mary, a young woman living in Nazareth, a town despised in Israel, was already a luminous presence who made a choice to say “yes” to a call that held mystery, uncertainty, unimaginable risk, a call to mother a child with a love that would ask of her everything.

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

Here is how 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”? When our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?

The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of new life.

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”. Mary comes as Archetype to each one of us who carries the Holy within us, seeking a place of birth.

We walk the dark road, with Mary, in trust. We walk companioned by one who knows our struggles to maintain our trust in the face of inner doubts and outer calamity.

We walk with one who loves us and encourages us, prepares us, to welcome “the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

 

Post-Christmas

December 31, 2019

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Christina Rossetti’s poem rises in me as I sit here at my computer, facing the window where “snow (has) fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow”. On this bleak mid-winter, post-Christmas day, I am wondering what words to send out to you, words that might bring hope, awaken joy, remind us all of the work that awaits us now that Christmas has come.

One Christmas morning a few years ago, my family’s pastor and friend Father Michael recalled words of Pope Francis. Speaking of Christmas celebrations, Francis called them a “sham” when we live in the midst of a world so riddled with wars. “Grinch” was Michael’s first response to the Pope’s words, he admitted…but he went on to accept the challenge that Francis issued. Michael ended his Christmas homily with a poem by American theologian Howard Thurman:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.

 

Now the work of Christmas begins…that awareness sends me to seek guidance from other writers whose words illumine our lives. I turn first to Jean Houston, to a Christmas message posted a few years back on her Facebook page:

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.

 

In the same spirit the poet Rilke urges:

 

Please celebrate this Christmas with the earnest faith that (God) may need this very anguish of yours in order to begin….Be patient and without resentment, and know that the least we can do is to make His Becoming no more difficult than Earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive. Be comforted and glad. (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

You and I hold within us such immense promise, such impossible possibility, in the “womb of new becoming” that Jean describes. Already we have experienced moments of knowing the “richer juicier story”, the “new myth” that we are invited to choose, to live. Already we have experienced moments of knowing ourselves sourced in “the love that moves the sun and all of the stars”. So let us “be comforted and glad” as we open to the newness descending into our heart’s womb, falling like “snow on snow” until all the space is filled with new life.

 

I offer to you a blessing for your new life, in these words

that poet Jan L. Richardson imagines Elizabeth speaking to Mary:

In blood

be thou blessed.

In flesh

be thou blessed.

In all you choose

in all you hold

in all you gather to you

be thou blessed.

In all you release

in all you return

in all you cast from you

be thou blessed.

In all that takes form in you

be blessed

in all that comes forth from you

be blessed;

in all thy paths

be thou forever blessed.

Walking With Teilhard

For several weeks, we have been companioned by the presence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin through the inspired and inspiring writings of Kathleen Duffy (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).

This week we will see Teilhard through the eyes of someone who knew him, walked with him for a time, engaged in conversation with him, encountering his transformative view of reality. In her autobiography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), Jean Houston gives us a perspective on Teilhard that is deeply personal and insightful. The great palaeontologist and mystic becomes for us, through Jean’s experience, a warm, enchanting, human presence.

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.

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)