Category Archives: Mary T. Malone

Coming to Know Sophia

Inspired by Thomas Merton’s prayer–poem “Hagia Sophia” (High Wisdom), we have been reflecting on the presence of Sophia within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet.

In her book Praying with the Women Mystics, Mary Malone offers us a reworking of Hildegard of Bingen’s poem, “God: The Wisdom-Woman”.

For this is the Wisdom-Woman of God.

She watches over all people and all things.

She is of such radiance and brightness

That you cannot gaze on her face or on the garments she wears.

For she is awesome in terror and gentle in goodness.

She has the radiance of divinity in her face.

She is with all and in all and of beauty so great

That no one can know how sweetly she bears with people,

And with what unfathomable mercy she treats them.

 Our Lady of Guadalupe: 16th c. image

Allow a time of quiet as these words settle within you, creating an inner space of peace and beauty.

In her book Godseed (Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1992) Jean Houston offers a guided meditation inviting us into “A Visit to the Sophia”.

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral.

Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

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Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment.

Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…
 

The Lure of Sophia

For several years, I have been seeking Sophia. Or I thought I had been. What I now understand is that Sophia/Wisdom has been seeking me, luring me under other names, other guises, leading me into a way of living that is a companionship more intimate than I could ever have desired or imagined. What joy to begin to recognize that this Presence of Wisdom, of Love, has somehow been both following my steps and leaping ahead to greet me as I arrive…

This is Sophia’s way. Through the ages she has walked with countless others whom we shall never know. Those who have recorded their experiences with Sophia have left us a priceless treasure, a template for what we can experience for ourselves. As Thomas Merton has done, they speak of the joy of knowing her intimate companioning:

When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her, there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy. (Wisdom 8: 16)

When my friend Ellyn told me that this year’s theme for the annual Festival of Faiths in Louisville, Kentucky would be “Sacred Insight, Feminine Wisdom”, I was drawn to attend. For four days, we experienced Wisdom, a fountain of delight, shared by presenters, both men and women, from a wide spectrum of faith traditions.

Sophia’s is an embodied presence, within ourselves, within others. Through the days of the Festival her voice resounded, whispered, sang, laughed, spoke and taught in many accents, many keys, many cultures. From the moment when Hildegard of Bingen’s music  filled the Cathedral in Louisville with mystery and beauty, I knew that Sophia would be present within this gathering.

What was Hildegard’s experience of Sophia? Born just before the twelfth century, Hildegard wrote her brilliant theological treatise, “Scivias” in Latin, so in her writings Lady Wisdom is known as “Sapientia”. Mary T. Malone writes of Hildegard’s devotion to “Sapientia”:

Hildegard was fully aware of the biblical tradition stemming from Sophia, a female embodiment of God, which had been allowed to lapse from consciousness with the emphasis on the all-male metaphorical Trinity. For those of us in the Church of today, this is perhaps the most radical part of Hildegard’s teaching, but it occupies well near centre stage in her writings.

(Four Women Doctors of the Church Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2015, p.27)

For Hildegard, as for so many others among women mystics, a favourite biblical passage was the Book of Proverbs where Wisdom/ Sophia speaks:

Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
From the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.

Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world’s dust.

When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
— and the waters will not invade the shore —
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in the world…

The Jerusalem Bible: Proverbs 8:22-31

Feminine Wisdom embraces the sacredness of the earth and of the body. For Hildegard, this honouring of Sapientia would show itself in her wonderful teachings on “viriditas” or “greenness”.

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Malone writes:

Hildegard lived in the Rhine valley and writes with joy about the gardens and orchards of her monastery home. For her, the cycle of the seasons, especially the rising of the sap giving new life in springtime, was a primary metaphor of the spiritual life. Viriditas signified grace, the all-powerful presence of the Spirit….Hildegard saw aridity as the main sign of and metaphor for sin, and moistness and greenness as the principal sign of grace in our lives. We are told that she often concluded her letters with the words, ‘stay green and moist’, which for her meant openness to the Spirit of God. It is an approach to life that takes us right into the twenty-first century, with its emphasis on the environment and on God’s care for all Creation. Hildegard’s references to growing things, to clouds and rainfall and sunshine…are abundant throughout her work. As she worked to tend the sick in the monastery infirmary, Hildegard was intensely curious about the properties and powers of plants, stones and herbs….all part of the greening power of God’s Creation. (Malone, p. 28)

Hildegard’s music was a perfect beginning for the Festival which would have much to impart about “greenness” as an aspect of feminine wisdom.