Category Archives: Mary Mother of Jesus

Entering the Rose Garden

Entering the Rose Garden

Whatever their ways,

they are all in love with you,

Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden

Niyazi Misri

For seven days in mid-August, I spent time in an ancient Rose Garden, an imaginal space engineered by ZOOM, offered by Ubiquity University, peopled by scholars and archaeologists of the soul, dancers, storytellers, musicians, poets and mystics whose great task is recovering and offering to those who hunger for it, the knowledge and awareness of the Divine Feminine. This on-line program, whose over one hundred participants joined in from countries across the planet, was a blessed side effect of COVID which made Ubiquity’s fourteen-year tradition of a summer program in the Chartres Cathedral of France impossible this year. The program was called “Madonna Rising.” Its central image was the Mystical Rose, a title honouring the Sacred Feminine in ancient cultures, such as Egypt and Sumeria. Later, it was a title given to Mary, Mother of Jesus.  

On Day One we are greeted from her home in California by Banafsheh Sayyad, who over the following days would lead us in sacred dance, inviting us to open our lives to the Divine Feminine Presence. Banafsheh introduced the theme of Madonna Rising by offering a Prophecy from the Cherokee Nation:

“The bird of humanity has two great wings – a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed, while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed – half extended. 
So the masculine wing in all of us has become over- muscular and over-developed and in fact violent and the bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing that became over- muscular and violent. In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.”


Banafsheh lifted a rose from her desk and it appeared to move off- screen to be received by Anne Baring, seated in her home in England. In the first of her trilogy of presentations, Anne would begin to tell the tale of how the bird of humanity lost the power of gracious flight in its feminine wing.

Author of Dream of the Cosmos (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England, 2013) ;The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, 1992) Anne delves for light in history, following paths not yet made, seeking the story that came before the story in pursuit of clarity about so much that has been lost to us.

Was there a story that preceded the 6th c. BCE Creation Story in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible? And if so, how was it lost? Here is what Anne’s research found:

I loved her more than health or beauty,

preferred her to the light,

since her radiance never sleeps.

(The Book of Wisdom, 7:10 Jerusalem Bible)

Solomon, to whom the Book of Wisdom is ascribed, built the First Temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BCE. In the time of the First Temple, Israel had an ancient, shamanic, visionary tradition. Divine Wisdom was worshipped in this First Temple as the Goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh and the co-creator of the world with him. In this tradition the Tree of life was associated with Wisdom, Queen of Heaven.

Anne then told us how all this changed:

In 621 BC, in the reign of King Josiah, a powerful group of priests called Deuteronomists took control of the Temple….  The Deuteronomists had the statue of the Goddess Asherah and the great Serpent, image of her power to regenerate life, removed from the Temple and destroyed. Her Sacred Groves were cut down. All images of her were broken. The ancient shamanic rituals of the High Priest which had honoured and communed with the Queen of Heaven as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit were banished and replaced by new rituals based on obedience to Yahweh’s Law. The vital communion with the inner dimensions of reality was lost; the making of images was forbidden.

As I listened to this, I felt something inside me twist in pain. More even than the destruction of her images, the cutting down of the trees sacred to the Goddess wrenched my heart.

Anne spoke of the long-lasting effects of this rupture:

This is the crucially important time when I think it is possible to say that the whole foundation of Jewish and later Christian civilization became unbalanced. The Deuteronomists ensured the Yahweh was the sole Creator God. The Feminine co-creator, the Goddess Asherah, was eliminated. The Divine Feminine aspect of the god-head was banished from orthodox Judaism. The Deuteronomists went further: they demoted the Queen of Heaven – Mother of All Living – into the human figure of Eve, bestowing this title upon her. They created the Myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis (2 & 3), with its message of sin, guilt and banishment from the Garden of Eden, severing the Tree of Life from its ancient association with the Queen of Heaven.

Anne Baring suggests that the “heritage seeds’’ of the First Temple’s teaching were somehow preserved in the Jewish traditions of Kabbalism:

It seems highly significant that one of the most important images of Kabbalism is the Tree of Life, which is a clear and wonderful concept describing the web of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the fabric of life in this world.  At the innermost level or dimension of reality is the unmanifest, unknowable Divine Ground; at the outermost the physical forms we call nature, body and matter.  Linking the two is the archetypal template of the Tree of Life—an inverted tree—whose branches grow from its roots in the divine ground and extend through many invisible worlds or dimensions until they reach this one.

Anne describes this cosmology as one where

Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect. All is one life, one cosmic symphony, one integrated whole. We participate, at this material level of creation, in the divine life which informs all these myriad levels of reality. Our human lives are therefore inseparable from the inner life of the Cosmos.

The Kabbalistic tradition is “vitally important” Anne says, because it celebrates…the indissoluble relationship and union between the feminine and masculine aspects of the god-head—a sacred union which the three Patriarchal religions have ignored or deliberately rejected.

I will end this excerpt from Anne Baring’s first talk with a statement she makes that is both stark and striking in its clarity:

If we want to understand the deep roots of our present environmental and spiritual crisis, we can find them in the loss of three important elements: the feminine image of spirit, the direct shamanic path of communion with spirit through visionary and shamanic experience, and the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspect of the God-head and the Divine Ground. Each of these was an intrinsic aspect of the lost traditions and practices of the First Temple.

(to be continued)  

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.”

 

Nativity

 Reflection for December 24, 2019

 On this Christmas eve, only a mystic or a poet might find words to offer us. Tonight we have such a gift from both John O’donohue and from Teilhard de Chardin

John O’donohue opens to our imagination Mary’s experience on this sacred night:  “Nativity”

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue, Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000

 Gazing into the mind, heart, and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder how he would mark the celebration of Christmas. As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith, Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. His faith in the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.

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Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.

But how would Teilhard himself speak about the mystery of Incarnation? Let’s bend space-time imaginally to place ourselves in a small Jesuit Chapel somewhere in France, just after the Second World War. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin walks to the pulpit to give the Christmas homily.  At first, his words sound like an overture to the symphony we have come to hear.

 

I shall allow … (a) picture to emerge — at first in apparent opposition to the dreams of the Earth, but in reality to complete and correct them — that of the inexpressible Cosmos of matter and of the new life, the Body of Christ, real and mystical, unity and multiplicity, monad and Pleiad. And, like a man who surrenders himself to a succession of different melodies, I shall let the song of my life drift now here, now there — sink down to the depths, rise to the heights above us, turn back to the ether from which all things came, reach out to the more-than-man, and culminate in the incarnate God-man.” (1)

 

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The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration, of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Centre, the End, of the whole of animate and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified. This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers), and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it, and generations to come will go on repeating it, without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance, bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.

 

With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which the forces of determinism, obediently and lovingly, lent themselves and directed themselves in the preparation of a Fruit that exceeded all hope and yet was awaited. The world’s energies and substances – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they produced the glittering gem of matter, the Pearl of the Cosmos, and the link with the incarnate personal Absolute—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter… and when the day of the Virgin came to pass, then the final purpose of the universe, deep-rooted and gratuitous, was suddenly made clear: since the days when the first breath of individualization passed over the expanse of the Supreme Centre here below so that in it could be seen the ripple of the smile of the original monads, all things were moving towards the Child born of Woman.

 

And since Christ was born and ceased to grow, and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fullness of his form. He has not gathered about him the last folds of the garment of flesh and love woven for him by his faithful. The Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth…and it is in the continuation of this engendering that there lies the ultimate driving force behind all created activity…Christ is the term of even the natural evolution of living beings. (2)   

 

 We leave the little chapel, our hearts ablaze. Now we truly have something to celebrate at Christmas.  Now too we have a task: co-creating, and through our own embodied lives bringing divine love more fully into every aspect of life on our planet. This could take some time. At the very least, it could take the rest of our lives!

 

(1)– Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War, pp. 15-16

(2)Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man translated from “L’Avenir de l’Homme (1959) by Norman Denny p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964

Mirroring Each Other’s Secret

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Gospel of Luke: 1: 39-45)

Visitation

This moment in Mary’s story is so familiar that we may miss its deeper meaning. As a child, I was taught that it was about Mary being so unselfish that her first act following the angel’s visit was to rush over to assist Elizabeth who was six months pregnant.

I see it differently now. Now I know that when annunciation happens, when life is upturned with an unexpected invitation to birth newness, our hearts, like Mary’s, long for the presence of someone with whom to share the joy. Each of us experiences in those moments the absolute requirement of being with someone who knows mystery in the depths of her own being, as Elizabeth does.

Would not each one of us set out at that time and (go) as quickly as (we) could to the embrace of a friend whose gaze mirrors our wonder and delight?

John O’Donohue puts words to Mary’s longing in this poem:

The Visitation

In the morning it takes the mind a while

To find the world again, lost after dream

Has taken the heart to the underworld

To play with the shades of lives not chosen.

She awakens a stranger to her own life,

Her breath loud in the room full of listening.

Taken without touch, her flesh feels the grief

Of belonging to what cannot be seen.

Soon she can no longer bear to be alone.

At dusk she takes the road into the hills.

An anxious moon doubles her among the stone.

A door opens, the older one’s eyes fill.

Two women locked in a story of birth.

Each mirrors the secret the other heard.

(John O’Donohue  Conamara Blues)

 

As we take this fragment of Mary’s story, seeking for a likeness between her story and ours, what do we glimpse? How does her song resonate with ours?  When have we known what it is to awaken as “a stranger to (our) own life”?

Is there not in each one of us the fragility of something so utterly unimagined, yet wholly real, appearing in a morning’s glimpse, disappearing in evening’s shadow…. that we require a mirroring presence to affirm its existence?

Each of us has been invited to provide the inner space for newness to gestate in preparation for birth. Each of us knows the need to nurture this newness in times of solitude. Yet we know also the absolute requirement of being companioned by one another if our hearts are to remain open, nourished, and (as Hildegard says) juicy!

Each of us, like Mary, is walking a wholly new path, one whose gifts, ecstatic joys, shuddering griefs, are as unknown to us as Mary’s were to her. But I believe Elizabeth would bless each one of us as she did Mary:

Yes, blessed is the one who believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled.

 

 

Waiting to be Found

Waiting to be Found

 

Veiled in Mystery, and yet nearer to us than we are to ourselves, the Presence of Love that we are coming to know as the Sacred Feminine wants to be found. As we read a few weeks ago, “Wild Woman” leaves a trail for us to follow:

Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream. Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards …we knew that something blessed had passed our way. We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground…we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.

(C.P. Estes Women Who Run with the Wolves, Random House, New York, 1992, p.457)

Pursuing this presence, lured by her tracks, we come upon not great thick books, but rather small hints: the story of a brief encounter, the way that someone’s life has been upturned into joy by her, powerful clues put together by the wise about the way She manifests.

One such small clue has been a beacon in my own search. Jean Shinoda Bolen, Jungian analyst, author of Goddesses in Every Woman, wrote of a moment in her own life. One of her patients had unexpectedly died, filling her with grief that had to be kept under wraps:

No one supposed that I needed any comforting, including me, until this woman who was my analysand sensed something and reached out with compassion to ask if I was all right. And when my eyes moistened with sudden tears, she broke out of role, got out of the patient’s chair to come over to mine, and held me.

At that moment, I felt a much larger presence was there with the two of us. When this woman put her arms around me, I felt as if we were both being cradled in the arms of an invisible, divine presence. I was profoundly comforted and felt a deep ache in the center of my chest. This was before I had ever heard of a heart chakra, which I know now opened widely then.

I now also know that this is a way that the Goddess (of whom I had no inkling) may manifest. It differed from the mystical experience I had had of God. Then, no other human presence was necessary…

Here, in contrast, the compassion and arms of a woman were the means through which a numinous maternal presence was felt…. 

(Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon, Harper Collins, New York 1994, p.73)

I now think of this profound moment as a Grail experience in which the Goddess was the Grail that held us. This, and what others have told me about their experiences of the Goddess in their lives, has made me think of the Goddess as a nurturer and comforter whose presence is evoked through human touch. (Bolen, 74)

Recounting experiences of other women during rituals and meditation, Bolen concludes:

In these moments, when each of us felt held in the arms of the Mother Goddess, a compassionate woman mediated the experience, leading me to understand that this feminine divinity comes through the body and heart of a human woman, created in Her image. (Bolen, 77)

Almost 20 years after Women Who Run with the Wolves was published, Clarissa Pinkola Estes brought forth a new book:  Untie the Strong Woman (Sounds True, Boulder Colorado, 2011).

The powerful mysterious feminine presence is seen by Estes as aligned with titles and qualities given in the Christian story to Mary; yet they are part of a much longer heritage. In her opening  pages, Estes traces the lineage of THE GREAT MOTHER:

She is known by many names and many images, and has appeared in different epochs of time to people across the world, in exactly the shapes and images the soul would most readily understand her, apprehend her, be able to embrace her and be embraced by her.

She wears a thousand names, thousands of skin tones, thousands of costumes to represent her being patroness of deserts, mountains, stars, streams and oceans. If there are more than six billion people on earth, then thereby she comes to us in literally billions of images. Yet at her center is only one great Immaculate Heart.

Since we staggered out of the Mist eons ago, we have had irrevocable claim to Great Mother. Since time out of mind, nowhere is there a feminine force of more compassion and understanding about the oddities and lovability of the wild and wondrous variations to be found in human beings.

Nowhere is there found a greater exemplar, teacher, mentor than she who is called amongst many other true names, Seat of Wisdom.(C.P. Estes,  Untie the Strong Woman, 2)

The Memorare, an ancient prayer that calls on Mary in time of need, was learned by many of us as children. It takes on richness and depth in this adaptation by Estes:

“Have you forgotten? I am Your Mother. You are under my protection.”

There is a promise Holy Mother makes to us, that any soul needing comfort, vision, guidance, or strength can cry out to her, flee to her protection, and Blessed Mother will immediately arrive with veils flying.

She will place us under her mantle for refuge, and give us the warmth of her most compassionate touch, and strong guidance about how to go by the soul’s lights. (Untie the Strong Woman, inside cover)

How might our lives be different if we remembered, if we then trusted in this promise?

What is our role in the Christmas Story?

As children we may have taken part in the “Nativity Play”. Festooned with cardboard wings and glitter, we may have played the angels, or in our father’s old bathrobe, hitched up with a rope belt, taken our part as shepherds. If we were judged to be wholly lacking in dramatic gifts, we may have been cast as a palm tree. Secretly most little girls longed to play Mary, though the part usually required both an angelic expression and a cascade of golden ringlets thus disqualifying a child with red braids, freckles and a taste for mischief…

Our child’s heart quickly learned not to aspire to dreams beyond our reach.

And yet the Christmas Story continues to carry its own enchantment. Year after year we enter it, welcoming its familiar storylines, greeting its supportive cast of shining angels, stumbling shepherds, overburdened innkeepers, royal camel-driving Wise Ones, with affection.

Each year we experience something more. As with all great archetypal tales, what we bring to the listening becomes part of the story. No other story holds this power of transmutation, this gift of shape-shifting into what each of us most needs to hear… this capacity to take us beyond ordinary time into mythic time where we ourselves become part of a greater story.

As Jean Houston describes it in her book Godseed:

In the telling and the taking of the myth, you leave behind your usual time and are symbolically and psychologically projected into Great Time, into a paradoxical moment that cannot be measured because it has no duration. There is a breach in time and in the surrounding world. The inner psyche opens and a passage to the possible human is revealed. (p.33)

In this sacred experience of Great Time, we recognize that we are living the Christmas Story in our own time on this planet. We do not have to imagine the displacement, the discomfort, the life-endangering journeys resulting from the call of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world be taken and people must travel to their own towns to be counted… Today’s emperors initiate through their inhumane policies a huge migration of people away from their home towns and countries with appalling results in human suffering.

We live in a time of immense longing for a more humane and life-enhancing world… as a young songwriter reflected: giving a Christmas meal to the hungry is a lovely gesture, but in a better world, the hungry would be fed every day….

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

In the midst of the suffering across the planet that is reported to us hourly in words and pictures, the Universe invites us to play the role to which we may once have aspired: to be a bearer of new life for a world that hungers for so much.

The Universe invites each of us to play the role of Mary (golden curls not required).

Here is how John O’Donohue imagines that invitation:

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.

Jean Houston encourages us to take this invitation to heart:

Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you,

which you have probably disowned over and over again

because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe,

because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),

because it didn’t fit conventional reality,

because… because… because….

What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?

It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

What are your “becauses”?,

the reasons that you disowned your divine potential,

your divine conceptions.

(“because I felt unworthy…” “because of what people would say…” ) Godseed p. 38

This Christmas, as we listen once again to the story’s unfolding, let us see ourselves as Mary, guided by John O’Donohue’s Visualization:

The Nativity

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue (Connemara Blues

Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000; Bantam Books, 2001)

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Waiting in Advent Darkness

Advent: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment       November 27, 2018

Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.

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full moon of Novmber caught in a tree

There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas.

These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ. It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…

Further, as O’Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in their artwork and ritual an awarenss of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth’s ages before the coming of Christ…

So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story?  The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.

And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God, told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease”?

Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe.

Bruce Sanguin who has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article on “Evolutionary Cosmology”:

The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One.

We have a bias against darkness privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter….for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate. Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed.

When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.

To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities

Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence – to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?

So bring on the Christmas pageants….and when that cardboard star-on- a- stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born.   

Re-enchantment.

We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary

And on one night when a great star swings free

From its high mooring and walks down the sky

To be the dot above the Christus i,

I shall be born of her by blessed grace.

I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectation of nativity.

I knew for long she carried me and fed me,

Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,

But only now, with inward jubilee,

I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:

Someone is hidden in this dark with me.

 

 

Embracing the Divine Feminine : Part 3

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Introduction to his book on the Song of Songs offers us rich insights into the Sacred feminine as she is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The One we know as Sophia/Lady Wisdom has a Hebrew name: Chochma. In translations of the Hebrew Scriptures she is referred to as “Wisdom”. As Shapiro points out in his earlier book on the Divine Feminine, Scripture Scholars often saw “Wisdom” as a quality or virtue, preferring not to recognize the clear indicators that the word refers to a sacred presence, one that is shown in the Hebrew language as unmistakably feminine.

Shapiro writes: “Wisdom’s goal isn’t to bring you to one set of beliefs or another but to make you wise. What does it mean to be wise? In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer defines it this way:

Simply I learned from Wisdom: the design of the universe, the force of its elements, the nature of time—beginnings and endings, the shifting of the sun and the changing of seasons and cycles of years, the positions of stars, the nature of animals and the tempers of beasts, the power of the wind, and the thoughts of human beings, the medicinal uses of plants and roots. These and even deeper more hidden things I learned, for Wisdom, the Shaper of All, taught me. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-22)

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Shapiro comments: “Wisdom teaches us physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, ethnology, meteorology, psychology, pharmacology and more. Wisdom reveals to us the explicit and the implicit, the visible and the hidden. How can she do this? Because she is the means by which the universe came to be.”

For those of us who are familiar with the Christian Gospels, Shapiro makes enlightening comparisons:

“Just as the Logos is both with God and God in John’s Prologue, over time Chochma shifts from being a separate entity who exists with God to being an expression of God: God as we experience God here on earth. The presence of God is called Shekhinah, and she, no less than Chochma, is feminine.”

Shapiro continues:

“In Proverbs 8:22, Wisdom tells us she is God’s daughter, the first of God’s creations, established before the universe. Eight verses later, she tells us she is the architect of creation, but in neither case is she synonymous with the Creator. The intimacy between God and Wisdom intensifies but still remains dualistic in the second-century text the Wisdom of Solomon, where the relationship between God and Wisdom changes from daughter to lover. Solomon says of Wisdom:

She embraces the universe in its infinite power

and orders all things for their benefit.

Wisdom I loved and sought after her from my youth,

to take her as my bride.

I was intoxicated by her beauty.

She proclaimed her noble birth

and that she lived with God.

And YHVH loved her.

(Wisdom of Solomon 8: 1-3)

Shapiro cites the writings of Philo, the first century Jewish philosopher and Hebrew Bible commentator (20 BCE -50 CE), who makes an even more intimate connection between God and Sophia:

“And thus the Demiurge (God as Creator) who created our entire universe is rightly called the Father of all Created Things, while we call Episteme/Sophia/Wisdom mother, whom God knew and through this knowing created all reality, albeit not in human fashion. However, she received the divine seed and bore with labor the one and beloved son…the ripe fruit of this world.”

Shapiro comments: “We can see in Philo the beginnings of John’s theology and even a prototype of the later Christian teaching of virgin birth, with Mary taking the place of Sophia/Wisdom. While Philo is willing to follow the Hebrew Bible’s teaching that Wisdom is with God, he is not ready to take the leap that John does to affirm that Wisdom is God. This changes when talking of Shekhinah.

“While Wisdom is related to God as either God’s daughter or God’s wife, Shekhinah is of God herself. The term is unique to Rabbinic literature starting in the first century BCE. The Shekhinah is God’s dwelling – not the place in which God dwells, but any place that God dwells. Whenever you find yourself in the presence of God, you are in Shekhinah. Hence the Rabbis taught:

If ten people sit together and study Torah,

the Shekhinah rests among them….

This is also true of five….It is also true of three…

It is also true of two…This is even true of one, for it says,

In every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned,

I will come to you and bless you.”

In the development of Rabbinic literature over time, the Shekhinah takes on a personification and gradually stands as separate from God, “a being in her own right.”

In the teachings of Jewish mysticism, in Kabbalah, Shapiro finds “the deepest meaning of and connection between Shekhinah, Wisdom, and the Song of Songs.”  The Kabbalistic idea of God is “dynamic.” God’s “creative power and vitality develop in an unending movement of His nature” flowing outward into Creation and “back into itself.”

Shapiro writes:

“God is YHVH, the be-ing of all being. God is intrinsically creative, indeed is creativity itself. Yet, God is more than observable reality. God is also the source of that reality. The metaphor I find most helpful is that of the relationship between an ocean, the waving of the ocean, and the waves that arise from that waving. Speaking metaphorically and not scientifically, God as Source is the ocean, God as Wisdom is the waving of the ocean, and God as Shekhinah is the wave that arises from that waving.”

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Shapiro explains that the Kabbalists differentiated between “two strata of the Godhead: one, its hidden being in itself, its immanence in the depths of its own being, and another, that of its creative and active nature, thrusting outward toward expression… the former stratum is designated in the language of the Kabbalists as Ein Sof, the undifferentiated unity, the self-contained unity…Root of Roots in which all contradictions merge and dissolve. The latter substratum is the structure of the ten Sefiroth which are the sacred names…the various aspects of God – or the ten words of Creation by which everything was created.”

And so “in the kabbalistic model of the sefirot, Shekhinah is the final manifestation and culmination of the divine activity: God as simultaneously mother, bride and daughter.”

 

 

Sophia by Another Name

On  September 8th, Christians honour the Birth of Mary, nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception. Those of us who grew up with Mary as the focus of our prayers and filial love may by now have grown into a more complex understanding of this woman who carried for us the face of the Feminine Divine.

Over recent weeks, we have been exploring the presence of Sophia in our lives, especially as she reveals herself in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Has Wisdom-Sophia  become entangled for you in a good and holy way with Mary of Nazareth?

This is deep mystery, as well as a reflection of our human need to name what we experience. I believe there is a presence of sacred feminine energy that holds us in an embrace of love, cares profoundly and personally for each one of us and is willing to respond when we call to her.

Three years ago, on September 8th, I was sitting at my computer to compose reflections on Sophia. An email arrived from Barbara Bizou, a spiritual teacher living in New York City whom I had met at Jean Houston’s July 2012 Manhattan Mystery School. During that session, Barbara, whose Spiritual Tradition is Jewish, spoke with me of Brigid’s fire and the waters of rebirth. Together we engaged in a powerful ritual of reconciliation of our two traditions.

In that September 2015 email, Barbara recalled being in Paris fourteen years earlier at the time of the 9/11 attacks:

In this time of existential uncertainty, it’s often difficult to trust that the Divine has placed us exactly where we are meant to be. On September 10, 2001, I arrived in Paris for a holiday with one of my dearest friends. I awoke on 9/11 with a sense of foreboding and anxiety, which was unusual in one of my most favorite cities in the world. Sharing this with my friend Elynor Johnson, who felt a similar sense of uneasiness, we decided to distract ourselves by window-shopping. But after twenty minutes of aimless gazing, we realized we needed to ground our energy. What called us was the chapel Notre-Dame de la Medaille dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. For me, this has always been a Temple to the Divine Feminine. As we sat and prayed and meditated, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Reading her words, I was touched to know that a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is for Barbara “a Temple to the Divine Feminine”.  I smiled, knowing I was reading this on Mary’s birthday.

Other writers have sought to untangle the Mystery of Mary. Here is Carol P. Christ, in The Laughter of Aphrodite:

…the Virgin Mary inherits many of the aspects of the Virgin Goddesses and functions as Goddess to many of her worshippers. Throughout the Near East, Europe and Latin America, churches to the Virgin Mary were built as places holy to the Goddess. Though she is not prominent in the New Testament, the myths and imagery surrounding her grew as the Goddesses were finally suppressed in Christian Culture. To the Greeks, she is Panaghia, which means simply, “the All Holy”….

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Jean Markale writes in his Women of the Celts:

Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed, and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state, and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever, but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines…. Our Lady of the Night. (p. 86)

Those titles that Markale recalls, water, briars, pines, are the sacred things of earth.

Star of the Sea. Guidance in the deep places within. Mystical Rose. There is a litany of sacred names given to Mary. As children many of us learned these names by heart.

While visiting Egypt, I was astonished and delighted to learn that millennia before Mary of Nazareth. the goddess Isis was honoured with many of these same titles. Over time as Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the sacred names were transferred to Mary.

We may choose to name this loving presence as we wish. She will not be bound by a name. Given the mystery that surrounds her presence, we may choose to call her Our Lady of the Night, and simply be at peace in her mystery. Her loving presence in our lives is what matters.

The sacred feminine presence needs us as her partners in the great tasks of our time, calling us to co-create with her, to experience directly the power for good that she works within us when we open ourselves to her.

In the voice of the Sealwoman in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story: “Sealskin, Soulskin”, she reminds us:

I am always with you. Only touch what I have touched… and I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.

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Sealwoman

Evening Prayer in Merton’s Hagia Sophia

We come now to the final section of Thomas Merton’s Hymn to High Wisdom. For Merton’s Catholic sensibility, Sophia and Mary are one. As we look more closely at Merton’s poem for the Hour of Compline, we are guided by Christopher Pramuk’s  Reflections from his book: Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota 2009) with citations from Susan McCaslin’s “Merton and Hagia Sophia” in Merton and Hesychasm: Prayer of the Heart: The Eastern Church  (Louisville KY, Fons Vitae 2003)

Christopher Pramuk notes that in this Hour of Compline Merton returns to his artist-friend Hammer’s image of the woman who crowns the boy Christ:

It is she, it is Mary, Sophia, who in sadness and joy, with the full awareness of what she is doing, sets upon the Second Person, the Logos, a crown which is His Human Nature.  Thus her consent opens the door of created nature, of time, of history, to the Word of God.

 

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Quoting Michael Mott, Pramuk adds, Where Merton expects us to see the image from the painting …he also expects us to hear music. Michael Mott The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1984), 362

When the Salve Regina is sung by the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, all lights in the abbey church are extinguished except for one directed at the image of Mary in a window over the altar. (McCaslin in MHPH, 249)

“Yet,” Pramuk continues, “Mary crowns her son not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty. It is thus through Mary’s wisdom and sweet yielding consent that God enters without publicity in the city of rapacious men. Indeed her sadness and full awareness of what she is doing reflect a wisdom well beyond her years…that will one day cause a sword to pierce her own heart.” (206)

As McCaslin notes, Mary’s crowning of the boy Christ is “an act of feminine power.” This contrasts with images of Mary being crowned by Christ, “rather than she actively empowering him.” (McCaslin MHPH 250)

Continuing to draw from McCaslin, Pramuk continues: “in crowning the Child with his human nature, the poem reminds us that all men and women come from a common womb (the earth, the Feminine) and are alike vulnerable, frail, and utterly dependent on the earth and the feminine matrix.” (McCaslin MHPH 250)

By depicting the Child on the brink of adulthood, both the picture and the poem show our common humanity with Jesus “as ones who have undergone birth” as McCaslin says. Pramuk adds that we are like Jesus as well “as a people called to serve in world riven by sin and contradiction.” (Pramuk 206)

As incarnation of divine Wisdom, “the Child goes forth to …crucifixion and resurrection. As humanity the child goes forth, an Everyman or Everywoman, into exile from paradise.” (McCaslin MHPH 249)

Pramuk continues: “Mary, in her wise answer accepts the contradiction. Through her understanding, God enters without publicity into human history. The final scene of the poem, as Michael Mott notes, is a scene of haunting ‘solemnity, great beauty, and a piercing loneliness’.”(Mott,363)

The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep.  Night embraces the silent half of the earth.

A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road.  A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification, without even a number, a frail expendable exile lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and entrusts Himself to sleep. (Thomas Merton 1962)

Pramuk quotes McCaslin who finds here “a strangely modern figure of the exile or God as exile in us.” (MHPH 250) This suggests that “human destiny in a world exiled from Sophia is not altogether different from that of Jesus, the Son of Man who “has nowhere to lay his head.”

Reflecting on this final scene of the poem, Pramuk writes:

“What meaning can our lives have, after all, in the ‘vast expanses’ of an evolutionary universe? Like the hospital patient in the opening section of the poem; like Mary, receiving with astonishment the message of the Angel Gabriel; like Joseph who struggles in faith to make sense of it all; like Mary Magdalene, Peter, Nicodemus, John, all the hidden but crucial players in the narrative subtext pf the gospels –

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when  night embraces  the silent half of the earth everything depends on our laying ourselves down under the sweet stars of the world and giving ourselves over to the hidden Wisdom of God. Though our heads may pound with the clamor of many doubts and fears, and though it is more difficult than ever to see the stars, or even to remember to look for them through the glow of towering, sleepless cities, there is an inner music of Love, Mercy and Understanding that rises up from the earth itself, Natura naturans, and from the still point of the human heart, asking to be set free in the world. She is Wisdom, our Sister: God-given and God Himself as Gift. When we attend to her tender voice and give our quiet consent, she effects in us a work greater than that of Creation: the work of new being in grace, the work of mercy and peace, justice and love.” (Pramuk 207)