A most unlikely place to hide a promise. But here it lies. Within the writings of a little-known first century Roman, Lucius Apuleius, whose character, a hapless magician, turns himself into an ass. He cries to the Goddess for help. Suddenly, shining like the sun, she is there. She rescues him, refers to her many names, then makes this promise: I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon…shall the sun of your salvation rise…. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.
That darkness would envelop the sacred feminine presence, forgetting her many names, abandoning her temples, sending her into two millennia of hiddenness…
Well, almost, but not quite.
The light of the feminine holy, like the Buried Mother Moon of the old English folk-tale, would find a way to break through. The Shekinah of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Sophia of the Book of Wisdom and the Gnostic Gospels, Mary with her wonderful names drawn from the beauty of the planet: Mystical Rose, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of the Pines, of the Lakes, of the Mountains, Madonna of the Rocks… would find her way into hearts ready to receive her light.
We have been born into the time of the great recovery of ancient wisdom from story, myth, legend, from sacred writings, poetry, and ritual, from the peoples of earth-honouring religions: American and Australian Aboriginals; the Ancient Egyptians; the Celts. Within these rediscovered traditions, we find the presence of a Sacred Mother, a womb of life who calls us to honour the earth and all her living systems, to honour ourselves, to honour our bodies which are part of the earth. She calls us to accept the wisdom of the circle of life: its rhythms of dawn to day to dark to day; of spring to summer to autumn to winter to spring; of birth to life to death to rebirth. She calls us by our true name as she invites into the adventure of life in a time when each of us is needed to live fully.
She calls us into joy, through allurement to the hope, to the stunning beauty of a promise born in light. She reminds us that the universe herself is drawn, not through duty, despair, grim determination, but through allurement: the earth is allured to the sun, caught up into a dance of spinning wonder; the moon is allured to earth, circling her in ecstasy; the tides of the seas are allured to the moon, as are the cycles of women’s bodies. Each planet in our galaxy, like each of the galaxies of the universe, of the multiverse, twirls in a passionate dance of awe and delight.
Sophia calls us to awaken on this day which is being born from the womb of this present darkness. Her time is now.
From a Ritual for Epiphany, created by Kathleen Glennon in her book Heartbeat of the Seasons, (Columba Press, Dublin, 2005) I offer this chant/prayer:
Chant: The wisdom you desire will be given unto you. (Eccl. 6:30)
Dance of Wisdom
Wisdom of the Universe, come to me/us/all
raise hands over your head and bring down to your head
Wisdom of the Earth, come to me/us/all
bring hand upwards from the earth and bring to heart
Wisdom of the Ancestors, come to me/us/all
For the following verse, extend arms upwards,
palms facing upwards and sway to the music
Wisdom of the maiden, come to me/us/all.
Wisdom of the mother, come to me/us/all.
Wisdom of the crone, come to me/us/all.
May Sophia, the Wisdom of the Ages, the Wisdom of the Universe,
continue to journey with us.
May she meet us at our gates in the morning.
May she lie down with us at night.
May all who seek her find her.
May she bring the spirit of discernment into the lives of all.
May her company bring joy and happiness to all. Amen.
The “piece of iron” of my first days has long been forgotten. In its place it is the Consistence of the Universe, in the form of Omega Point, that I now hold, concentrated …into one single indestructible centre, WHICH I CAN LOVE. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter, 39)
Teilhard describes his mystical journey as a spiral through which he moves into a deepening reality, visiting, revisiting, five circles that map his journey into the heart of matter and the heart of God (“The Mystical Milieu”, Writings in Time of War, 115-49).
We have already explored, with Kathleen Duffy as our travel guide (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014), Teilhard’s Circles of Presence, Consistence, Energy and Spirit. Now at the deepest swirl of the spiral we come to his Circle of Person.
Seeking the elusive force that animates the cosmos, Teilhard stepped into the fifth circle, searching for its source. What image might assist?
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had once allured him but now, as he sought a more universal image, the figure of Christ and the world began to meltbefore his eyes into a single vibrant surface (Hymn of the Universe, 42-43). Surrounded by a cosmic tapestry of intricately woven thread,Christ’s face shone with exquisite beauty.Trails of phosphorescence gushed forth and radiated outward toward infinity. “The entire universe was vibrant ” (HU, 43);the cosmos had acquired a nervous system, a circulatory system, a heart.Teilhard was consumed by the fire streaming from this universal center and resolved to go deeper (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110).
Stepping into the fifth circle, Teilhard encountered a shadowy figure, a feminine presence: The figure of Sophia emerged from the mists.
She was radiant; her facial expression comforting. Teilhard recognized her as “the beauty running through the world….” (Writings in Time of War, 192)….
It is through her power, the power of love, that all things come together. Hidden within the very heart of matter,she ”bestirred the original mass, almost without form…and instilled even into the atoms…a vague but obstinate yearning to emerge from the solitude of their nothingness.”
She is “the bond that thus held together the foundations of the universe“ (W, 192-3),and she continually draws Earth into “passionate union” with the Divine. (W, 200)….
She is the raiment who is forming as she is being formed, continually creating the mystical milieu in which the forces of loveencourage all things to become one….The radiance from her countenance becomes brighter still when it shines out from the eyes of each human face….
The tenderness of her compassion and her holy charm aroused Teilhard’s passion for the Divine and sensitized his heart.He was enthralled with “the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth,” as it flows into the heart of the cosmos, toward its very center. He yearned to take hold of her, yet whenever he tried, he found that she eluded his grasp.
With great alacrity, he followed her lead as she guided him through the “luminous mist hanging over the abyss”and propelled him toward the heights into freedom. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110-111)
Teilhard brought the heart of a mystic, the eyes and sensibilities of a poet, the rigorous training of a scientist to his observations, his intuitions, his deep knowing so that his “vague intuition of universal unity became over time a rational and well-defined awareness of a presence…the presence of a radiant center that has all along been alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union…”(TM, 112)
Lured by the passionate love that this presence awakened within him, Teilhard experienced the universe “ablaze with the fire of divine love, suffused with the elements of a presence which beckons, summons and embraces” all of humanity, so that he was himself living “steeped in its burning layers” (Divine Milieu, 112).
Re- reading the letters of Saint Paul, Teilhard saw more clearly Christ’s evolutionary role: In “an explosion of dazzling flashes” (The Heart of Matter, 50),Cosmic Convergence coupled with Christic Emergence and became two phases of a single evolutionary movement.
The implosion caused by the coincidence of Christ with the Omega of the Universe releases “a light so intense that it transfigured…the very depths of the World” (HM, 82-3). All of the knowledge and love that Teilhard had for the universe was suddenlytransformed into knowledge and love for the God who is embedded within every fragment of matter (TM, 113).
Teilhard’s mysticism, now grounded in the Circle of Person, completed his synthesis. He was convinced that the universe would both continue to complexify, and become more centered in the Body of Christ until all would be one in Christ.
He now yearned to adore, which for him meant to “lose oneself in the unfathomable…to give of one’s deepest to that whose depth has no end” ( D, 127-8).
His desire was that all humanity might open their arms “to call down and welcome the Fire” as…” a single body and a single soul in charity” (Divine Milieu, 144).
“Drawn to follow the road of fire” (The Heart of Matter, 74) Teilhard “dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and of love” (TM, 116).
This article was prepared for the Winter 2014 issue of LCWR Occasional Papers, published by The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Silver Spring, MD, USA. It is reprinted with permission from the editor, Annmarie Sanders, IHM and the author, Kathleen Duffy, SSJ.
Although science continues to astound us with ever more detail about the cosmic story, we often miss its inner spiritual dimension. Cosmic processes happen slowly by our standards, making the emergence of novelty difficult to imagine. Despite the beauty of the story, we are often left wondering how to relate what we are learning about the cosmos to our daily lives, to the mission of our congregations and to the life of the world. Yet mystics who have contemplated Earth processes and spent time in intimate contact with Earth have been able to sense a parallel spiritual energy operating at the heart of matter.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
While searching for fossils, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was often overwhelmed by the spiritual power at work within earth’s rocky layers. Within Earth’s crust, he was able not only to read Earth’s amazing story but also to sense the Divine Presence at the very heart of matter, a personal Presence that kept him aware of the mystery of the world around him and sustained him in his vocation.
Merton suggests that the art of seeing the inner dimension of things requires a
spark of religious imagination: “Our faith ought to be capable of filling our
hearts with a wonder and a wisdom which see beyond the surface of things and
events, and grasp something of the inner… meaning of the cosmos which, in all
its movements and all its aspects, sings the praises of its Creator.” (2) Since
metaphor carries with it a raft of nuances and associations and provides
connections between entities that otherwise seem paradoxical, mystics often
rely on poetic expression to describe experiences that are unspeakable. For
Teilhard and Merton, contemplation of Sophia, the wisdom of God so beautifully
portrayed in scripture, integrated the beauty and power of the outer world with
the beauty and power that reside within. (3) Sophia became a powerful personal
image of God, one that suggests ways to co-operate with Divine Energy.
According to scripture, Sophia is the “breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of (God’s) goodness.” (Wisdom 7:25-27)
(Sophia) is the dynamic wisdom and life force…infused into every elementary particle…
She is the dynamic wisdom and life force that has been infused into every elementary particle from the beginning, the presence of God poured out in self-giving love. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing us to passion for the Divine. From the heart of matter, she gazes at us lovingly, urging us always towards greater union and deeper love
very beginning, when she first became immersed in the fiery plasma, she has
been catalyzing a process that Teilhard calls Creative Union, a process that
encourages union at every level of the cosmos, a process that creates novelty,
beauty, and eventually, the ultimate form of union which is love. She begins by
instilling into the protons a desire to become more. She urges them to open to
the other, to overcome their resistance, to let down their repulsive
barriers. And when they do, they are
transformed by the process of fusion into something greater than themselves
without ever losing their identity. Their courageous response prepares the way
for ever more diversity. Because fusion, like so many creative processes, is
violent, Sophia remains close at hand to motivate the protons to persist
despite inherent difficulties.
by the fruitfulness of her initial attempt to foster union, Sophia searches for
more ways to carry out her mission. Protons fuse, atoms form, then simple
molecules. Sophia thrills to see the amazing variety developing as matter responds
to her call for unification. Soon, her creative efforts become pervasive. She
gathers in clumps the gas and dust scattered throughout space and whirls them
in spirals. Eventually, the newly-formed galaxies are ablaze with the
brilliance of star light. Satisfied that stars have learned to produce new
elements, she moves on to the newly-forming planets to begin her next project.
life appears on planet Earth
After years of Sophia’s urging, life appears on planet Earth. Organisms take advantage of their potential for creativity by adapting to their changing environments and evolving into more and more conscious forms. Earth comes alive in a pattern of constant change. The brilliant greens of plant life, the delicate hues of flowers, and the graceful movements of animals are evidence for Sophia that her mission of Creative Union is being fulfilled. However, like the protons that struggle in their innate repulsion for other protons as they participate in the unification process, new life forms often find survival difficult. Crises such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and the bombardment of Earth by asteroids cause incredible changes in Earth’s environment making it difficult for some of them to adapt. However, under Sophia’s loving guidance, the extinction of some species often allows other species to flourish.
emergence of human life is a special moment for Sophia. We are able to
recognize her face and respond more fully to her impulses and her love. We
appreciate her handiwork and delight in her beauty. Through the ages she has
been with us as our inspiration and as the driving force of our developing
Sophia is “the fullness of participation in the life of God.”(4) To be aware of her presence, to experience her gracious smile, is to know that we are loved. When we are discouraged, she consoles us. When we encounter her, we are energized. She is always there at our fingertips ready to support us.
(Sophia) is at play in the splendour of a sunset
She is at play in the splendour of a sunset, in the gentle breeze, in the rustling leaves, in the songs of the birds. She shines out from the face of every human being, asking for love and mercy. Once we recognize her, we know that we are blessed. We want to be like her, to be with her, to work on her projects.
(Sophia) delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission
As we contemplate her loving gaze and feel the pulsations of her creative energy, we realize that we too are called to effect union in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. To ready us for the profound and sometimes difficult work of union, Sophia draws us out of our ego self and into our broken world. She encourages the kind of creativity that will find ways to comfort others. She delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission. Some respond to the needs of the homeless; others lobby for immigration reform; still others research cures for cancer; and many more care for those who live on the fringes of society. Artists and scientists, social workers and nurses, teachers and political leaders – the possibilities are endless.
religious, we are not alone in our efforts to transform the world. Sophia’s
concern extends to all – from the most exquisite galaxy to the smallest
bacterium, and to each and every person on Earth. Guided and urged forward by
Sophia, we are impelled to respond by embracing all peoples of the world, by
encouraging civil dialogue in the midst of hostility, and by caring for our
beloved Earth. Sophia is particularly pleased with our efforts at
reconciliation. When, like the protons, we are overwhelmed by resistance toward
the other, she remains close to us and urges us forward. She focuses our
activity on her next major task in the evolutionary process—to learn how to
bear the burden of a greater consciousness, how to harness psychic energy, and
how to transform this energy so that all may be one. She continues to draw the
human family into freedom.
Coupling the story of our universe with an understanding of Sophia’s work in the world of matter provides “a way to gain our bearings in the inner world.” (5) We begin to sense the spiritual power alive at every level of the cosmos and to trust its guidance. As we continue to critique the present structure of religious life and to seek new ways to live the Gospel message, we find comfort and inspiration in Sophia’s presence in our lives. At this critical time in the history of religious life, Sophia seems to be asking us to look more deeply at the roots of our call, to rediscover the rediscover the purpose of religious life, to refashion our lives so that they respond more clearly to the needs of our world.
For almost 14 billion years, she has been faithfully accompanying the cosmos as it has been responding to the desire to become “the more” that she has instilled into all of creation.
We can rely on her help as we discern the way. Although some of our congregations may become extinct, others will flourish. In either case, Sophia will always guide us toward what will bring forth greater life. As “the hidden wholeness in all visible things,”(6) she is the constant and loving presence of God at the heart of the world. She is our hope. For almost 14 billion years, she has been faithfully accompanying the cosmos as it has been responding to the desire to become “the more” that she has instilled into all of creation. She will certainly be with us at this moment, to help us to discern our way, and to challenge us just as she continues to challenge the protons in the core of the stars. Her voice will awaken in us the desire and the creativity to move forward. And she will be by our sides as we struggle to respond to the needs of marginalized persons, to the needs of a church in crisis, and to the needs of a broken world. Now, more than ever, we need her inspiration, her support and her energizing presence.
Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, PhD, is
professor emerita of physics at Chestnut Hill College where she directs the Institute for Religion and Science.
Adapted from Kathleen Duffy, “Sophia:
Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love,” in Ilia Delio, From Teilhard to Omega (Maryknoll, NY:
Orbis Books, 2013). I became interested in this approach after reading
Christopher Pramuk, Sophia: The Hidden
Christ of Thomas Merton (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009), especially
Merton’s poem, “Hagai Sophia,” which Pramuk quotes at the end of his book (301-305).
See John Dear’s critique of Pramuk’s book at http://teilhard.com/2013/10/20/stages-of-cosmic-consciousness/ (October 5, 2010)
Patrick Hart, ed. The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton,
New York, New Directions, 1981, p. 345
See particularly Teilhard’s essay,
“The Eternal Feminine” in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War trans. Rene Hague, New York, Harper &
Rowe, Publisher, 1965, pp. 191-202 and Merton’s
poem, “Hagai Sophia” in Pramuk, Sophia,
Mary Conrow Coelho, Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The
Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe, Lima, OH, Wyndam Hall
1881, Teilhard lived, studied, worked and wrote mainly in the first half of the
twentieth century. As a scientist, he knew Darwin’s work in Evolution; as a
paleontologist, he spent time excavating the story of evolution inscribed
within the earth; as a mystic he was captivated with the wonder of an
unfinished universe being drawn from within into a radiant future by a sacred
presence of love.
convinced that until theology fully embraced the concept of an evolving
universe, it would remain inadequate, crippled by its outdated worldview. He
wrote: “Who will at last give evolution its own God?”
In the sixty plus years since Teilhard’s death, science has taken massive leaps of understanding, and theology is only beginning to catch up. In From Teilhard to Omega (edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), thirteen scholars take up Teilhard’s challenge.
we look at “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen
Though a dedicated scientist, Teilhard calls on his mystic and poetic gifts to describe divine love at work in the cosmos. In his book Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968), Teilhard writes of a feminine presence drawn from the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs, (8: 22-31).
Teilhard’s poem opens at the
beginning of time, at the moment when Sophia is embedded into the primordial
energy that is already expanding into the space-time of the early universe.
Only half formed and still elusive, she emerges as from the mist, destined to
grow in beauty and grace (WTW, 192). As soon as the first traces of her
presence become apparent, she assumes her mandate to nurture creation, to
challenge it, to unify it, to beautify it, and ultimately to lead the universe
back to God. With this mission as her guide, she attends to her work of
transforming the world, a world alive with potential. (Duffy p. 27)
Duffy reweaves Teilhard’s poem, working through
its shining threads new insights from science, wisdom literature and the work
of many “who have contemplated the divine creativity at work at the heart of
matter”. Duffy names the feminine
presence in Teilhard’s poem “Sophia”, from the Greek word for Wisdom.
“Who then is
Sophia?” Duffy asks. Her magnificent response to this question is worth the
price of the whole book. Here are segments:
She is the presence of God poured out
in self-giving love, closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing the
soul to passion for the Divine. From the very depths of matter, she reveals
herself to us as the … very nature of God residing within the core of the
Attempting always to capture our
attention, Sophia peers out at us from behind the stars, overwhelms us with the
radiance of a glorious sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze….Shining
through the eyes of the ones we love, she sets our world ablaze.
Sophia is the mercy of God in us….She
sits at the crossroads of our lives, ever imploring us to work for peace, to
engage in fruitful dialogue, and to find new ways of connecting with the other.
She longs to open our eyes to the presence of pain and suffering in the world,
to transform our hearts and to move us to action. (pp. 31-32)
that Teilhard experienced this presence “with nature, with other persons, and
with the Divine”:
He began gradually to recognize her
everywhere — in the rocks that he chiselled, in the seascapes and landscapes
that he contemplated, and in the faces of the dying soldiers to whom he
ministered during the war….Teilhard came to know Sophia as the cosmic Love that
is holding all things together. (p. 33)
came to understand that Sophia can be known “only in embodied human actions”.
her illuminative essay with these words:
Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s
life…. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him
confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself
in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where
it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of
its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body
and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of
consciousness and to transformative love. (p. 34)
Dickinson’s words express the reality of these April days in mid-eastern Canada.
After one brief sunlit day of warmth, the frozen earth, snug under her fresh
coverlet of snow, seems set to sleep forever. As the Festival of Easter draws
very near, I understand at a deeper level than before, how the Earth is the
primary teacher of hope, the first manifestation of love, the earliest image of
the divine. In her rising each year from the death of winter, she restores our
joy, our trust in her all-encompassing love. And so, we wait in hope for the
snow to melt, for the solid ice to become flowing streams, for that first
emergence of green life, of flowering beauty.
Paul, the first Christian mystic, understood this primacy of the earth, though over the millennia we have misconstrued his words, as Richard Rohr points out in The Universal Christ (Convergent Books, New York, 2019):
Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection from death, Christ himself cannot have been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:13). He presents “resurrection” as a universal principle, but most of us only remember the following verse: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (15, 14)….the reason we can trust Jesus’s resurrection is that we can already see resurrection happening everywhere else.(169-70)
earth as the first Incarnation of God, Rohr writes:
In the mythic imagination…Mary
intuitively symbolizes the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth…( I am not saying
Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype and
symbol for it, particularly in art, which is perhaps why the Madonna is still
the most painted subject in Western art.) I believe that Mary is the major
feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery. This archetype had already shown
herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1 ff., Wisdom 7:7 ff.), and
again in the book of Revelation (12:1-17) in the cosmic symbol of “a Woman
clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.” Neither Sophia nor the
Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both
are – and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.” (123)
further upon the images of Madonna and Child in Western art:
The first incarnation (creation) is
symbolized by Sophia- Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful
Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability
Mary became the Symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation to us, while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child. (124)
Thomas Berry, the great eco-theologian wrote extensively on the universe as the incarnation of the Sacred. In this excerpt from his writings, Berry invites us to reflect on our experience of wonder.
“What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night, at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens?
What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer as the birds depart on their southward journey, or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away? What are your thoughts as you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?
Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. The other world was guardian, teacher, healer―the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned.
Above all, this world provided the psychic power we humans needed in our moments of crisis. Together with the visible world and the cosmic world, the human world formed a meaningful threefold community of existence. This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought, where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth…
We need to awaken… to the wilderness itself as a source of new vitality for its own existence. For it is the wild that is creative. As we are told by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The communion that comes through these experiences of the wild, where we sense something present and daunting, stunning in its beauty, is beyond comprehension in its reality, but it points to the holy, the sacred.
The universe is the supreme manifestation of the sacred. This notion is fundamental to establishing a cosmos, an intelligible manner of understanding the universe or even any part of the universe. That is why the story of the origin of things was experienced as a supremely nourishing principle, as a primordial maternal principle, or as the Great Mother, in the earliest phases of human consciousness…
We must remember that it is not only the human world that is held securely in this sacred enfoldment but the entire planet. We need this security, this presence throughout our lives. The sacred is that which evokes the depths of wonder. We may know some things, but really we know only the shadows of things.
We go to the sea at night and stand along the shore. We listen to the urgent roll of the waves reaching ever higher until they reach their limits and can go no farther, then return to an inward peace until the moon calls again for their presence on these shores.
So it is with a fulfilling vision that we may attain―for a brief moment. Then it is gone, only to return again in the deepening awareness of a presence that holds all things together.” ~Thomas Berry~
The Christmas Story holds an allurement for the human heart that never seems to fade. It is deceptively simple in its plot and characters: a young couple, exhausted, make a long journey by decree of a far-off Emperor. Unable to find lodgings in an inn, they take shelter in a stable, warmed by the breath of animals. And there the young woman gives birth to a son. They are visited by shepherds who have been minding their flocks in the fields nearby. Suddenly the story takes on mystery: these shepherds tell a tale of wonder: angels have appeared in the fields singing to them of the child’s birth, urging them to go to find him….
And then, sometime afterwards, a trio of guests arrives. These are men of royal bearing from the Far East, and they tell a stranger tale: “We have seen his star in the East and have come to pay him homage.” Opening their bundles, they lay gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Child. The story adds this line: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
As with so many ancient powerful tales, the truth of this story is within, and our hearts recognize its truth without having to seek proof of external elements. Great myths, like the dreams that sometimes appear in our sleep, carry treasures that we can unpack for ourselves, as we ponder them in our hearts. To do this, we must enter into the tale, find ourselves within the story, experience it as though it were happening now with us part of the tale.
In “The Journey of the Magi”, the poet T.S. Eliot offers us an intimate look within the hearts of these three mythical Eastern Kings, describing their journey in the “very dead of winter.”
Where might we find ourselves today within their part of the Christmas Story? For those of us now in the icy grip of a North American winter, the weather is familiar, as are the hazards of travel at “the worst time of the year.” If our December journeys were made to celebrate the Feast of Christmas with family and friends, we might say even our purpose is aligned with theirs…. But let’s go deeper.
Before the Feast of Epiphany, I happened to wake in the deep heart of the night. Some sound drew me to my window. Looking out, I saw a starlit sky shimmering with such brilliance in the absence of moonlight or city glare that my breath stopped in pure wonder. Though I could recognize Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, the uncountable number of bright stars made me ask HOW those ancient travellers identified the one they were meant to follow….
And that question has become my own question: the one so many of us are asking at this crucial time in our planet’s history when there are so many paths opening, so many possible routes…
Somewhere in the Universe my question was heard. Since then, stars have been separating out from the overall pattern, placing themselves in my path. I spent much of January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, recording these gifts of light:
By chance, on Friday, I had come across these words of Joseph Campbell:
If you are going to act on the basis of what you know, you cannot just hold onto your knowledge. You have to translate it into a movement.
That same evening, on CBC radio, I heard an interview with a researcher and teacher of English Literature at an Independent University in Barcelona. She has just received a two million euro grant to study forgotten writings of women from past centuries. Asked about emerging themes, she said the writings “demonstrate a very keen understanding and search for spiritual meaning in life”: Why are we here? What is our relationship to divinity? The women writers were convinced of the connection between their life and spirituality. “They have an understanding of spirituality which is very intimate.”
Joseph Campbell’s words stayed with me sparking ideas, raising questions:
“What is the knowing I act on?” The answer came that we each carry within us a guiding star, as does all that exists in the universe (guided as Dante says by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars). Our task is to learn to recognize and follow this inner star. This requires time, intention, deep listening and grace.
I knew with greater clarity that this is the purpose of my work: assisting people to find and follow that inner star within them. For my own journey, guidance has come through a deepened relationship with a Sacred Presence, a true co-creative partner in all that I do. This mysterious Friend is an aspect of the Sacred Feminine, the Sophia Presence of the Hebrew Scriptures. In dialogue with her, I have been shown the pathways to choose. This story is still unfolding for me, and it is my deep desire to invite others to find their own Star within and to follow it into joy and wisdom.
We must follow it with courage as well for Eliot’s poem has a less-often quoted ending:
But set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people, clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Yes, we must be prepared for radical change on our journey, for loss of comfort
“in the old dispensation”.
From the glimpse I have had so far of the journey to new life, I promise you it is worth the cost.
Each of us began our life on this planet in darkness, within our mother’s womb. The planet herself, our Earth, emerged out of an almost fourteen billion year process that began in primordial darkness. When we speak of the Sacred feminine Presence, however we name her, we know intuitively that she is part of the fruitful darkness that is needed for every new birthing.
Statue of the Black Madonna: Holy Wisdom Monastery Chapel in Wisconsin
In recent weeks we have been reading and reflecting upon the gift of darkness in our lives, on our call to “do our work” in the birthing of new life, however it must come, in the darkness of our lives, of our time on this planet.
To last week’s urgings from Helen Luke and Sylvia Senensky, we add the call to deep work given to us by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her name for this Dark Feminine presence is “Wild Woman”:
“The wild force of our soul-psyches is shadowing us for a reason. There is a saying from medieval times that if you are in a descent and pursued by a great power — and if this great power is able to snag your shadow, then you too shall become a power in your own right.
“The great wild force of our own psyches means to place its paw on our shadows, and in that manner she claims us as her own. Once the Wild Woman snags our shadows, we belong to ourselves again, we are in our own right environ and our rightful home.
“Most women are not afraid of this, in fact, they crave the reunion. If they could this very moment find the lair of the Wild Woman, they would dive right in and jump happily into her lap. They only need to be set in the right direction, which is always down down into one’s own work, down into one’s own inner life, down through the tunnel to the lair.
“We began our search for the wild, whether as girl-children or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavour we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near. 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….and 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, and we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.
“We could not turn from it, but rather followed, learning more and more how to leap, how to run, how to shadow all things that came across our psychic ground. We began to shadow the Wild Woman and she lovingly shadowed us in return. She howled and we tried to answer her, even before we remembered how to speak her language, and even before we exactly knew to whom we were speaking. And she waited for us, and encouraged us. This is the miracle of the wild and instinctual nature within. Without full knowing, we knew. Without full sight, we understood that a miraculous and loving force existed beyond the boundaries of ego alone.”
“The things that have been lost to women for centuries can be found again by following the shadows they cast….We women are building a motherland; each with her own plot of soil eked from a night of dreams, and a day of work. We are spreading this soil in larger and larger circles, slowly, slowly. One day it will be a continuous land, a resurrected land, come back from the dead. Munda de la Madre, psychic motherworld, coexisting and coequal with all other worlds. This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.“ (Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves pp 457-9)
May each of us, graced to live in this time of fecund darkness, know its profound value and work to build a “world worth living in” a motherland woven “from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.”
to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)
It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”
“To do this work”: over and over I have read these words, heard them spoken by other carriers of Women’s Wisdom for our time: Jean Houston, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sylvia Senensky to name just a few.
What is our work? How do we make our way back and down to wisdom? And who is there to guide us on the way?
Sylvia Senensky writes that we are companioned by the Dark Feminine, an archetype in many cultures, known by many names:
“We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent. We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine
“We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her…our Mother Earth. She is calling upon us, each in in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet. This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember. We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports. We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being….As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others. Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.”
(Sylvia Shaindel Senensky in Healing and Empowering the Feminine)
awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives