Category Archives: Jean Houston

Discipline AS a Way of Love

Sophiawakens for August 19, 2020

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,

care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

These words about discipline from the Wisdom Literature of the Bible have been with me in recent days. As I thought about them, I noticed how I have come full circle with the concept of discipline. When I was young, I accepted it as a denial of pleasure, like giving up candy for Lent, harsh but ultimately good for me. Later, I rejected that self-denying approach to life, embracing joy and a sense of being loved without having to “earn” it through sacrificing what I enjoyed. In recent years, I have discovered discipline in a new way, a commitment to “showing up” in a relationship with the Beloved each day…

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :

The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.

“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”

“Please tame me”

“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”

“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”

The next day, the little prince returned.

“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”

“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.

“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one

day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”

(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

This wisdom from the fox echoes the teaching of spiritual writers that we must be willing to show up, at the same time each day, or at least at some time each morning and evening, for perhaps a quarter hour. During this time, we need to be willing to wait, to listen, to quiet the inner chaos of anxiety or questioning, of self-reproach or self-justification, just to allow ourselves to be in the silent presence of Love.

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:

While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….

Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:

Listen to Me:

Follow Me and be happy.

Practice My discipline and grow wise….

(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

Commenting on this, he writes:

To listen you must first be silent. When you are silent, the narrow mind, the small self of thought and language, melts into the spacious self of clarity and compassion. To be mindful is to be present. When you are present, the distracted self recedes and the greater self emerges. With this comes Wisdom, joy and happiness.

Sometimes, and I find this usually happens just at the end of the brief listening time, Love surprises us with a fresh thought, a somersault of insight, that lifts us to a new place. And when Love is wholly silent and I long for words, I open my book of poems by Hafiz, to find at times a gift that eases my heart. Like this verse, found on day when my soul was dark and troubled:

I wish I could show you,

When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

(I Heard God Laughing, translations by Daniel Ladinsky)

Truly, as Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma assures us in Proverbs:

I bring joy to those who listen;

I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…

Find Me and find life,

Find Me and find grace…

(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

Walking with Wisdom Sophia

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

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005) which I have been referencing for the past weeks, has opened my eyes as well as my heart to the myriad facets of Wisdom’s presence 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 at times) how 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.  I recall a day, reflecting on the work I am 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 I had not understood to reappear. A few years ago, I was invited into a new beginning. I have since thought I had missed the moment, had not taken the road shown to me, and somehow lost the gift being offered.

Now in a sacred moment, 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, pine needles, dried autumn leaves.

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

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 to 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. During such a moment this past week, I came upon these works 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)  

 IMG_3819-775x522

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Is Sophia?

What Wisdom is and how she came to be, I will now declare,

I will hide none of the secrets from you;

I will trace her right from the beginning

And set out knowledge of her, plainly,

Not swerving from the truth.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 6:22 Jerusalem Bible)

Last week, we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, aware that traces of her presence can be glimpsed in old stories, ancient wells, crumbling parchments, carvings of small feminine figures, buried ritual sites, in the names of hills and rivers. Yet if these ancient sightings were all we had, her tale would be a tragedy, telling of a great treasure irretrievably lost… Instead, the story of Sophia has never ended. Her presence among us is moving towards a shining moment, a fresh revelation.

Years ago, I purchased a book that sat for almost two decades in my library, unopened. When I decided I needed to know more of the Sacred Feminine for this blog, I drew it from my shelf, began to read, and knew almost at once that I had found a treasure: Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews (First Quest Edition 2001,The Theosophical Publishing House, PO Box 270, Wheaton, IL  60189 -0270)

Here are a few excerpts from the Prologue:

The Goddess simply did not die out or go into cold storage two thousand years ago to be revived today in the same forms she manifested then. If the Goddess wanted to survive and accompany her people, surely she would have done so in a skillful and subtle manner.

Sophia is the great lost Goddess who has remained intransigently within orthodox spiritualities. She is veiled, blackened, denigrated, and ignored most of the time, or else she is exalted, hymned, and pedestalled as an allegorical abstraction of female divinity. She is allowed to be a messenger, a mediator, a helper, a handmaid. She is rarely allowed to be seen in charge, fully self-possessed and creatively operative.  

Flo Schell Mother Earth

Mother Earth painted by Flo Schell 

Sophia is the Goddess for our time. By discovering her, we will discover ourselves and our real response to the idea of a divine feminine principle. When that idea is triggered in common consciousness, we will begin to see an upsurge in creative spirituality that will sweep aside the outworn dogmas and unliveable spiritual scenarios that many currently inhabit. When Sophia walks among us again, the temple of each heart will be inspirited, for she will be able to make her home among us properly. Up to now, she has been sleeping rough in just about every spirituality you can name. (Prologue xxv, xxvi)

What is it about our time that has lured Sophia to walk among us openly again? I suggest that it is what calls to every earthly mother most compellingly: our need. As we have been recognizing in the decades before and after the millennium, our planet is in crisis, and we are finally understanding that we cannot live a healthy life on a sick planet.

COVID has written this truth as clearly as if it were carried in the white smoke of an airplane across the skies. Scientists are connecting the dots. This pandemic and recent outbreaks of illness that arose among other species and became virulent in humans cannot be cured until we recognize that our lives are interconnected with all life on the planet. Our disregard for other species has sent them into crisis, and ourselves as well. A return in our time to our ancestors’ honouring of the earth and all her life as sacred is as crucial as it is alluring.

Decades before this pandemic, Caitlin Matthews wrote:

For the first time in two millennia, the idea of a goddess as the central pivot of creation is finding a welcome response. The reasons are not difficult to find: our technological world with its pollution and unbalanced ecology have brought our planet face to face with its own mortality; our insistence on the transcendence of Deity and the desacralization of the body and the evidence of the senses threaten to exile us from our planet.

The Goddess appears as a corrective to this world problem on many levels. In past ages she has been venerated as the World Soul or spirit of the planet as well as Mother of the Earth. Her wisdom offers a better quality of life, based on balanced nurture of both body and spirit, as well as satisfaction of the psyche. (Prologue xxix)

And so we take up our search for her with hope, trusting that our desire to find her is matched by her desire to be found. Jean Houston writes in Godseed: “The longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us.” (130)

In our quest, we may say that “The longing with which we yearn for Sophia is the same longing with which Sophia yearns for us.”

When we begin the search with longing and trust, we soon discover someone is coming to meet us: perhaps in a conversation with a friend, an article we read, a song we hear, an experience that holds that mix of surprise and joy that is her trademark…

For me, this happened only days ago when I was in a time of deep distress, too troubled to even pray for help. CBC Radio’s Classical Music station was offering the “signature series”. I was only half–listening, caught up in my own despairing thoughts, when I heard the announcer say with great conviction, “She will never leave you.” Though he was speaking of the key of F sharp major, the words pierced my darkness with a shaft of light as surely as though he were speaking of Sophia. At once they returned me to my senses, to my trust….

Let us offer ourselves to Sophia as co-creative partners in her coming more visibly among us. A simple practice of sitting in silence for ten minutes each day, perhaps at dawn and dusk, opens a window for her entry, creating a space for her to come to us bearing the wisdom we each need to do our part to assist in her return.

The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine Inter-Relatedness

On a summer morning seven years ago, while I was living in my hermitage in the woods beside the Bonnechere River, I sat outdoors, holding a mug of coffee, enjoying a warm breeze.  I was preparing to write about Inter-relatedness.

At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.

I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or pummelled by winds in a recent storm.

I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.

After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out. Then, I happened to look up at the tree.

Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.

Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.

Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks led down into the river. Embraced by the slowly moving water, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy.

The Bonnechere  River

But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. Again I sensed a presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…

It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.

Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.

Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.

Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish).  The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.

In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.

Mother Loon nestles babies on her back

Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.

How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.) What would be another way?

Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed–in perspective.

Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.

On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.

 

Powers of the Universe: Transformation

Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe.

Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.

One day in July, a few years ago at our community’s summer place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body.

Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly.

Transformation.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.

Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE.  Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth.

Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.

Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.

These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.

Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun.

That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it.  The memory is passed on by cells.

With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways.

The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.

The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.

A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community.

We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.

We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species.

With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.

Swimme asks what laws we are proud of : ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals? Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?

Today, as I write this, transformation is happening here in Canada, in the US, and spreading to countries around the planet that will affect the whole concept of policing, restoring a call to “serve and protect”. Practices such as racial profiling leading to harsh treatment, even to serious injury and death will no longer be tolerated either by political leaders or by the people of our countries.

As Canada‘s CBC News reported: Thousands of people took part in an anti-racism protest in downtown Toronto Friday (June 12, 2020). Protesters have called for greater accountability from Canada’s police agencies, cuts to policing budgets and acknowledgement of systemic racism in law enforcement. 

From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative.

We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.

The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century ago that, “We are the transformers of Earth.  Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.”

One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace.

She writes: It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes…. I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not somethinI had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.

Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this.  Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us. We are the recoding, the reset button

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.”