Category Archives: Sacred Feminine

Embracing the Divine Feminine: Part 4

Wisdom as Shekhinah

One of the great gifts to us of the Feminist Theologians of the mid to late twentieth century is the way they distinguish between the masculine and feminine ways of “doing” theology. The masculine way (oversimplified as it might be in a New Yorker cartoon) is to sequester oneself in a high lonely tower, removed from all distraction, to think about God. The feminine way is to reflect upon one’s own experience and to speak with other women of their experience and thus to come to recognize the common threads out of which our life with the Sacred is woven…

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro

As we continue to draw insights from the work of Rabbi Rami Shapiro, it is important that we take time to reflect on what we have experienced of the Sacred Feminine Presence in our own lives. His research into ancient Jewish thought and teachings as well as his own insights can be source of understanding and deepening for us where we find resonance with our own experience.

Shapiro writes: As Jewish thought works toward the unification of Wisdom and Shekhinah, it does so by reimagining Shekhinah as the feminine attribute of God rather than the presence of God.

Shekhinah is understood as an aspect of the way God’s self is shown to us.

Shapiro continues: The kabbalists refer to the manifestation of the Shekhinah in the world as “in everything.” She is “the light that emanates from the primal light which is Chochmah.” (Wisdom) She is the same below as she is above; that is she permeates the manifest world and the unmanifest Source from which and in which the manifest arises. In this…she resembles the Hindu goddess Shakti, the active energy of Shiva (God) manifesting as the externalized creation.

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“(Shekhinah) is the same below us as she is above”

Sunset on Hardwood Lake in the Petawawa River 

Chochma in her purest form is, in the minds of some kabbalists, Koach Mah, the potentiality of all creation – as yet unmanifest creativity…. When Wisdom shifts from… the unmanifest to the manifest, God without form to God with form, we speak of her as Shekhinah. In this sense the Divine Feminine permeates all reality, material and spiritual, physical and mental. She is imminent in, with and as the world, binding all things together in her infinite being.

Embodying the Shekinhah

Shapiro writes of the medieval kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who “identified several women in the Hebrew Bible with the Shekhinah“: Sarah in Abraham’s time, Rebecca in Isaac’s time and Rachel in Jacob’s time.

Shapiro adds two more women to Gikatilla’s list: “in Adam’s time she is called Chavah (Eve), and in Solomon’s time (by which I mean the time portrayed in the Song of Songs) she is called the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace featured in the Song itself.” (Song of Songs 7:1)

Shapiro sees the Song of Songs as “completing the Garden of Eden story told in the third chapter of Genesis….That story ends with humanity exiled from the Garden; the Song of Songs tells us how to return.”

Retelling the Story of Eve

Shapiro offers a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden which he says is truer to the actual Hebrew text than the traditional reading which places “the burden of evil coming into the world on Eve and through Eve on all womankind.”

Working through centuries of Rabbinic scholarship related to the story, Shapiro finds intuitive leaps to suggest that the first human was androgynous and from that being the man and woman both came.  “…only when they unite with one another can they achieve the unity from which they originally derived.”

What about the Serpent?

The Hebrew language allows for a substitution of words sharing the same numerical value. Applying this tool of Rabbinic interpretation, Shapiro notes that the Hebrew word for “serpent” shares the same numerological value as the word for “messiah.” He suggests: “the snake is the messiah disguised as a serpent!”

But the messiah wouldn’t seek to trick the humans into sinning, so some other goal must lie behind the serpent’s efforts to get the woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The goal, I suggest, is to open the eyes of the man and the woman and to move them beyond their childlike state into adulthood.

Why does the serpent seek out the woman rather than the man?

 “Traditionally the answer has been that the woman’s will is weaker than that of the man, and it is this reading that has become foundational to so much misogyny over the past thousands of years,” writes Shapiro.  

Here is Shapiro’s alternate reading: The messiah/serpent sought the woman rather than the man because the woman…is the one with the potential to realize the internalized…intuitive knowing that is at the heart of Wisdom, and then take action…to move humanity in the direction of Wisdom. The serpent seeks out not the person most vulnerable to sin, but rather the person most capable of realizing Wisdom – the woman. 

Shapiro translates what happens next in the Hebrew Bible’s story:

The woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a means to Wisdom, and she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis: 3:6)

Rather than seeing this “dawning realization” as a single happening, Shapiro suggests we see “three distinct encounters with the Tree of Knowledge”:

First the woman is attracted by the lusciousness of the fruit and the desire to consume it, but that isn’t enough to make her do so. She masters her hunger and moves on without eating the fruit.

Sometime later she passes by the Tree again and this time perceives that the fruit is beautiful, and she desires to possess it. But beauty also fails to move her, so she again masters her passion and moves on without plucking the fruit.

Only on a third encounter with the Tree does she see that the Tree will make her wise, and only then does she consciously and deliberately eat of the Tree of Knowledge….she is willing to risk her very existence for the sake of Wisdom.

What is your response to this retelling of Eve’s story?

Do you see Eve as an embodiment of Wisdom? A Shekhinah?

How does it resonate with times in your own life when you took a risk, made a choice, out of a desire for Wisdom?

 

  

 

 

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.”

 

 

Embracing the Sophia Presence

We return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro to receive his translation of the “Song of Songs”, the Jewish text originally written in Greek somewhere in the second or first centuries BCE. Shapiro, in his book, Embracing the Divine Feminine, traces the history of rabbinical scholarship and offers his own insights into this poem of erotic love which he sees as “a celebration of the union of the seeker of wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself.”

In his Introduction, Shapiro writes: Given the centrality of Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, to this reading of the Song of Songs, we would be wise to take a moment to understand just who she is. According to the Book of Job, Wisdom is the means by which God created the universe. God looked and took note of her. (Job 28:27) In other words, God looked to Wisdom to discover both the form and function of the universe. Wisdom therefore is the very nature in nature.

Curious, I opened my Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Job and found these lines:

But tell me, where does wisdom come from? ….

God alone has traced (her) path

and found out where (she) lives….

When (God) willed to give weight to the wind

 and measured out the waters with a gauge,

When (God) made the laws and rules for the rain

and mapped a route for the thunderclaps to follow,

then (God) had Wisdom in sight, and cast (her) worth, 

assessed (her), fathomed (her). (Job 28:20, 23, 25-27)

 

Who is Lady Wisdom?

Greece 2015 138For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32.

I am the deep grain of creation,

the subtle current of life.

God fashioned me before all things:

I am the blueprint of creation,

I was there from the beginning,

from before there was a beginning.

I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.

I was there before depth was considered,

before springs bubbled with water,

before the shaping of mountains and hills,

before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,

before the first dust settled on the lands.

When God prepared the heavens, I was there.

When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep

I was there.

I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.

My nature is joy and I gave God constant delight.

Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.

I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.

Follow me and be happy.

Practice my discipline and grow wise.

(T)he Hebrew is clear: the speaker is Chochma, Lady Wisdom, and hence all the pronouns and verbs referring to Wisdom in this passage are feminine. The grammar of this and every passage that speaks of, to, about, or for Wisdom always uses the feminine form.

Shapiro invites us to consider the qualities of Wisdom usually associated with God. She is the “firstborn” of God and from her come the thousand things of creation. Her way is of truth and justice while her essence is pure delight. Wisdom delights in humanity and one who finds her finds life.

Shapiro compares this with Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Paul connects Jesus with Wisdom in Corinthians 1:24 when he writes: Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.

Then Shapiro goes further: What becomes the male Christ in the Christian Scriptures was originally the female Chochmah in the Hebrew Bible.

He continues: Wisdom is the way God manifests in and as creation. Uniting with Wisdom, as the Song of Songs invites us to do, is a way of uniting with the life and the Source from which life arises.

Why do we personify Wisdom? Shapiro believes it is because “on a deep and subconscious level we know her to be the other with whom we long to unite. She is not an abstraction but our Beloved. She is not to be thought about but physically embraced in a manner that reveals YWVH to us.”

Returning to Proverbs, Shapiro offers us his translation of Chapter 9, 1-6:

Wisdom’s house rests on many pillars.

It is magnificent and easy to find.

Inside, she has cooked a fine meal and

sweetened her wine with water.

Her table is set.

She sends her maidens to the tallest towers to summon you.

To the simple they call: Come enter here.

To those who lack understanding they say:

Come eat my food, drink my wine,

Abandon your empty life and walk in the way of understanding.

 

Shall we accept her invitation?

 

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Sophia in Other Words

Sophia is known by many names. The Sacred Feminine is honoured in many different cultures with many different words. Poets express their love for Sophia/Wisdom. Some, like Christine Lore Weber, speak to us in Wisdom’s voice:

Mother Wisdom Speaks

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.

I will hollow you with knives.

I will not do this to make you clean.

I will not do this to make you pure

You are clean already.

You are pure already.

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you.

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain.

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

I am shaping you.

I am making you ready.

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open center of you will be radiant.

I will call you brilliant one.

I will call you Daughter Who Is Wide.

I will call you Transformed.

 

I first encountered this poem while attending Jean Houston’s Mystery School. It sat on the poetry shelf within my heart though I seldom read it or thought about it. Then, as happens to us in times of great need, I happened upon it as I was struggling to take in the knowing that my beloved sister Patti was dying.

The poem was in a different format, with lines that had been missing from the version I knew best. As I read it, the poem came alive as with the voice of a Beloved Presence.

These lines leapt out at me:

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

 

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Hathor, Egyptian Goddess of Love and Beauty

 

The true grace was that I believed this promise though I had no idea how it would be fulfilled. And yet in the weeks that followed, as I sat with my sister, loving her through the darkness, I knew that our love would hold us together even into and beyond death.

More than a year after Patti’s death, my family planned to gather by the lake she loved to hold a ritual. When the date was finally chosen it was for the same weekend when I was to attend a  workshop led by a dear friend whom I had not seen for a year.

It was evening. I was standing in my backyard overlooking the river, feeling torn inside,  knowing I  ought to go to the ritual with my family, wanting to be at my friend’s session.

Suddenly, I had a clear awareness of Patti’s presence. Though I saw nothing, I knew just where she was standing, facing me, her back to the river. Clearly in my heart, I heard her speak to me: “I am where you are.”

I knew that I was free to attend my friend’s workshop, to go there in joy, knowing that there, and wherever life would take me, Patti would in some mysterious way be with me.

And how is it for you? What is breaking inside you? What do you fear to lose? Read the poem slowly and hear the voice of Sophia speaking directly to your own heart.

And trust her to hold you in love through the darkness. Perhaps you will write your own poem expressing Sophia’s love for you.

Glimpsing Sophia in Nature

These summer months grace us with moments of peace, awe, refreshment, whether we find ourselves walking in a forest, standing by a lake, gazing at an ocean, or looking deep into the night sky. Our souls respond to these glimpses of beauty, truth, and meaning. Sometimes, it is only later that we grasp the significance of what we have seen.

Reflecting with you on a Sacred Feminine presence, a memory stirs.

It is July, 2005. I am driving towards my first encounter with Jean Houston.

In the deepening dusk, the spruce and fir trees on either side of the narrow road bend towards me. I hope it is in welcome. The car struggles with the climb up into the mountains, as though it is a living thing, exhausted. I have already passed the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, but there was no one there to take the entry fee. There are no other cars on the road, nor have I seen any for the past twenty minutes.  None of these signs alert me to the risk I am taking approaching a place as wild as any untamed mountain creature.

Early on that morning when I said goodbye to my friends at the Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, I did not know that Crater Lake existed.  Three hours later in the small town of Waitsburg, the restaurant owner who served me a late breakfast sent my plans cartwheeling.

“Where are you headed?”  The question was friendly, interested, an offer of conversation to his only customer.

I told him I needed to reach Ashland Oregon by the following day. “For a ten-day course in Social Artistry,” I added.

But it was not the journey’s purpose that interested him.  “You taking 97 South?”

“No,” I said, showing him my multi-paged MapQuest Route. “Straight south down the Interstate 5.”

But he wouldn’t hear of it. “Take 97 South. You have to see Crater Lake.”  And he disappeared into the living space behind the restaurant, returning like a squirrel with a stored treasure, a brochure that offered routes, photos, and the amazing history of this crater, formed when a mountain blew its top in a volcanic eruption thousands of years earlier.

MapQuest had been my security blanket on a journey I’d never made before; yet the kindness of this stranger, his eagerness for me not to miss something of incomparable beauty, won me over.

Now, after a full day’s journey, most of it through the desert of Oregon in temperatures that topped one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, I have arrived. The trees to my left suddenly part to reveal a shimmering surface where Crater Lake bends and curves within the arms of its great rock bowl, glowing in the last light of day.

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Crater Lake, Oregon

I pull over to park beside the low stone wall and stand gazing out at a stillness that calms and fills me.  Already on its distant edges I can see wisps of mist rising as the cooling air caresses the water’s surface.  I stand here for a long while, knowing I am seeing something that Native American Shamans forbade their people to look upon, a lake discovered by others only in the 1850’s.  For more than seven thousand years, rain and snow have been quietly filling the bowl of a collapsed mountain to create one of the purest and deepest lakes on the planet.

I climb back into the car, the darkness deepening as I drive further into the mountains. I look to the left, to the east, to the place of new beginnings, where the lake still glows, a grey white opal in the evening.  Just beyond the edge of the narrow road, to my right, in the west, the place of endings, the sun is setting, a giant orange-red thumb print. Below it, I gaze at the tops of purple mountains.

I am glimpsing a metaphor for the spirituality I have been seeking for a long while, though I will only understand it later.

Twenty-four hours later, I walk into a room at Ashland University to find some ninety persons gathered most as well-aged as myself, and many even dressed like me in long skirts and flowing tunic tops. Like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, I know I am at home.  As the days move on, I discover I am living with these people a spirituality that we share, though we have come from religious traditions as divergent as Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Protestant, and Native American.

In the Closing Ritual, Jean invites each of us to say what we feel called to do with our lives after this experience. I say to the group gathered around our ersatz altar,  covered with the UN flag of the planet earth, and vases of flowers, “I want to weave into the new spirituality all the passion and love and beauty that was Christianity.”

Crater Lake has become for me an image of how the Holy One has been quietly filling a new, wonderfully feminine container with the waters of a new spirituality for our planet, gathering over thousands of years, while just as quietly, and with equal slowness, the mountains of patriarchal religions are sinking into their purple depths under the ember eye of the setting sun.

It’s not something we are waiting for; it’s already present among us, inviting us to rejoice in a faithful One who knows the longings of our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

Sophia: an Embodied Presence

As I continue to experience and reflect upon the ways the Sophia Presence reveals herself to us, I am coming to understand that hers is an embodied presence. As Maiden, as Mother, as Crone, within mystics of the past or women present in our lives, she shows herself in moments of light or deep need.

 I met the Sacred Feminine Presence through someone I would call a true Baba Yaga. Many years ago, I interviewed a woman renowned for her wisdom and holiness. She lived in the deep woods by the Madawaska River in the Ottawa Valley. Her name was Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Like the Baba Yaga, she was Russian.  Catherine, from an aristocratic family, had escaped from the Revolution barely alive after almost starving at the hands of the Red Guard. Arriving in Canada in 1921, she vowed her life to God, working for a time in Toronto, then in Harlem operating Friendship Houses for the poor. In 1947, she and her husband, Eddie Doherty, settled in the Madawaska Valley, creating Madonna House, a community of love and world-wide service that flourishes today, more than twenty- five years after her death.

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Catherine Doherty

On that October day in 1979, when I travelled from Ottawa to interview her, Catherine was 84 years old. I had prepared my questions carefully, rehearsing them on the three-hour drive. Armed with camera, notebook and tape recorder, I was eager for the encounter, already anticipating the wonderful article I would write for the Catholic newspaper I edited.

 

When I arrived at Madonna House, I was welcomed and invited into the dining room where some one hundred people were gathered around wooden tables, laid with platters heaped with an abundance of vegetables and meats from their farm and gardens. After lunch, everyone remained seated while Catherine gave her daily teaching, a mixture of red pepper and honey, sweet fire for the spirit.

Afterwards, I followed Catherine and her secretary to a small library for the interview.

 What is your message for the People of God today? I asked, opening with Question One.

You just heard it, Catherine responded dismissively. Seeing my blank expression, she added, my talk after lunch. You just heard it.

Whooops. I hadn’t been taking notes nor had I thought to turn on my tape recorder. Intent on the interview that would follow, I had scarcely heard a word Catherine had spoken. Now I remembered nothing.

Hastily, I pulled up Question Two: How can we make the Gospel more relevant to people today?

You won’t get far as a journalist asking questions like that, sweetheart, the Baroness said, managing to drain from the last word any trace of warmth or affection. She went on to say that the message of the Gospel is clear, simple and unchanging. Go, give what you have to the poor, then come follow me.

But I was a modern woman, a Post-Vatican Two woman, perhaps even Postmodernist, though I did not at that time know the term. I persisted. Many people today find it hard to know how to live the Gospel in this time. Will you offer some guidance in their confusion? I want to be able to quote your words in the article l am writing for our Diocesan paper. Catherine, who is Jesus for us now?

You, a nun, ask me that? You should know the answer yourself. And if you are a nun, why aren’t you wearing a habit?

 

Rattled, I spoke about my community, about our prayer-filled discernments, our communal decisions and choices, all the ways in which we had sought to adapt to the modern world.

Catherine would have none of it. Nor would she answer any further questions I put to her.

 I understand you knew Thomas Merton? I asked.

I don’t talk about my friends.

I was outraged.  No one I had interviewed before had ever treated me like this.  I struggled on until Catherine herself ended the interview, saying to me: I’d like to interview you. Not now. Later. You are living in your head. One day it will fall into your heart and the walls will come tumbling down. Then I’d like to interview you.

It was four months before I had cooled down sufficiently to write the article. In those months, inklings of insight had been making their way through me. I began dimly to understand what Catherine had tried to do. I had been speaking with a mystic, a woman who, as I learned later, had fallen in love with God at the age of six. I didn’t ask her about the great love that was the ruling passion in her life. Nor about the price she had paid in suffering and misunderstanding as she followed that love’s promptings. I sat with her, dressed in my late-twentieth-century outfit, asking about adapting the Gospel, altering it to suit the times, as though it were an outdated garment.

 

Unlike Vasilisa, I hadn’t the wisdom to ask her for what I really needed – fire.

 

Catherine had wanted to speak of fire, and I wasn’t prepared for that. She tried to cut through my careful persona, find the woman under the journalist.  It would be many years before I could appreciate fully what she had been offering me. She wanted to light a fire in me, give me a skull that was aflame with passionate love. I wasn’t ready for her gift.

 

But Catherine’s role in my life didn’t end with that encounter. Though we would not meet again in her lifetime, I have come in recent years to know her words, her life, her heart, through presenting a one-woman play about her, written by Cynthia Donnelly.

It’s called A Woman in Love.

 

Sophia: Love that Transforms our Lives

Once we take our first turning towards a Sacred Feminine Presence, welcoming her into our lives, change begins. In Rebirth of the Goddess (1997), Carol P. Christ writes of how turning towards the presence she names the Goddess altered her life. Her book reflects her new view of religion, politics, ecology, life, death, relationships, morality, the meaning of existence….

Reading Christ’s book has led me to reflect on how my own life has been altered over these years since coming to know Sophia. I realize that the change began when I first recognized that there is a feminine path to the Holy that differs in important ways from the masculine path. The masculine path was shown to me as I grew up in a Church where the teachers, priests, writers, theologians were mostly men (or women who had embraced the masculine way of holiness).

The feminist theologians, writing in the last third of the twentieth century, used their powerful intellects, their theological training, and their own experience to show that the “objective” masculine teachings, thought to apply to all humankind, actually reflected the masculine way to God. The feminist theologians found the heart of the difference between the masculine and feminine ways to be within the perceived dualities found in Greek thought: spirit/matter, sky/earth, thought/ feeling, supernatural/natural, mind/body, spirituality/sexuality, man/woman. More than a separation, there is a perceived hierarchy. Spirit, sky, thought, the supernatural, mind, spirituality, man are viewed as separate from, superior to, matter, earth, feeling, nature, body, sexuality and woman. This is a worldview where God is separate from creation, from humanity. To find this God, we must soar above the human.

 

Embracing this worldview, I had embraced an ideal of spiritual life that led me to distrust love, to be cautious with emotion, to value thought over feeling. I had learned to distrust my desires, my body, my sexuality, all of which, I’d been warned, would lead me astray, away from God. I learned to embrace an ideal of perfection, though I never succeeded in living it out.

 

Through the writings of the feminist theologians, I learned that to recover a sense of the sacredness of the feminine would be to recover as well a sense of the sacredness of the earth, of the body, of my feelings, of my sexuality.

Dragonfly3

At this time in the story of our planet Earth, this recovery is vital. The sacred presence of love lives within all of life, within the earth herself, within the creatures that walk, swim, fly, crawl upon and within her. Only this knowing can give us the courage and the strength we need for the work we are called to do with the earth as she heals from the ravages of our despoiling her.

In the sixth chapter of her book, “The Web of Life”, Christ writes compellingly of this call:

To know ourselves as of this earth is to know our deep connection to all people and beings. All beings are interdependent in the web of life….We feel deeply within ourselves that we are part of all that is, but we must learn to speak of what we know. We know, too, that we participate fully in the earth’s cycles of birth, death, and regeneration….

The fundamental insight of connection to all beings in the web of life is experienced by children, poets, mystics, and indeed, I suspect, by all of us, though we may lack the language to express what we feel….(p. 113)

 Acknowledging the difficulty of speaking of this deep connection “in the face of criticism rooted in dualistic thinking”, Christ quotes Jewish theologian Martin Buber who wrote of his “I-Thou” relation to a tree:

I contemplate a tree.

I can accept it as a picture: as rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the blue silver ground.

I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air – and the growing itself in its darkness…

But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. Martin Buber, I and Thou trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970 pp. 58-59) 

Christ finds in the writings of Susan Griffin a recognition of “This Earth” as intelligent and aware:

I taste, I know, and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst, in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. (Susan Griffin in Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her New York, Harper and Row, 1978 p. 219)  

 earth from Apollo 17

  A beautiful reweaving of dualities into wholeness flows from our embrace of Sophia/Sacred Feminine/Goddess. Here is Carol Christ’s celebration of the insight into oneness intuited by children, mystics and poets:

If Goddess is an intelligent power that is fully embodied in the world, then the notion that divinity, nature and humanity are three totally distinct categories collapses. If Goddess as fully embodied intelligent love is the ground of all being, then it makes sense to speak of intelligence and love as rising out of the very nature of being and of all beings as intelligent and infused with love. Human intelligence and our capacity to love do not separate us from nature. Instead, everything we are arises from the nature of being, from our grounding in the earth. (p. 123)