Category Archives: Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom

Sophia: Source of creative union

Kathleen Duffy, SSJ

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.

Thomas 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

From the 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.

Encouraged 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.

The 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 consciousness.  

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.

As women 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. 

Endnotes

  1. 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)
  2. Patrick Hart, ed. The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton, New York, New Directions, 1981, p. 345
  3. 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, pp. 301-305
  4.  Pramuk, Sophia, xxvi
  5. Mary Conrow Coelho, Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe, Lima, OH, Wyndam Hall Press, 2002
  6. Pramuk, Sophia, p. 301

Teilhard and Sophia

Sophiawakens May 29, 2019

Born in 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.

Teilhard was 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.

This week, we look at “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ. 

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 cosmic landscape.

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…overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset

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)  

Duffy says 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)  

Teilhard came to understand that Sophia can be known “only in embodied human actions”.

Duffy concludes 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)   

Awaiting Earth’s Resurrection

Sophia Blog for April 9, 2019

The Sun— just touched the Morning—

The Morning—Happy thing—

Supposed that He had come to dwell—

And Life would all be Spring!

Emily 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)

Seeing the 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)

Rohr reflects 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 and nakedness.

Raphael: Madonna and Child (Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, Rome)

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~

Epiphany of Sophia

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

(T.S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi”)

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)

 

images

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

death,

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.

 

 

The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs Part Seven

Meinrad Craighead Song of Songs

As we continue to explore the mysteries of love, hidden within the Song of Songs, we pull back from the close-up offered by Rabbi Rami Shapiro for an overview.

Here is part of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Foreword to Shapiro’s book:

“The Song of Songs has no plot, so to speak; its lovers simply play “hide and seek” through eight successive, almost surrealistic freeze-frames. Yet, something happens, and the spiritually-attuned heart picks up on it. Somewhere between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 the male lover goes missing, and the woman, with wrenching determination, confirms her fidelity to her beloved and to the path of love: I will leave my bed and wander the city, searching street and square for you for whom my breath pants. (Song of Songs 3:2)

“Reunion, consummation, erotic bliss hurtle by, again in the Song’s allusive, freeze-frame way, and then, at the beginning of Chapter 6 another separation allusively looms, along with hints of rejection by society and family members. Another reunion and, finally, out of the blue, comes that empassioned affirmation that is no doubt among the top ten of the most stirring and luminous proclamations ever uttered in all of literature:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as an insignia upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion as fierce as the grave;

its smallest spark is a flash of fire

igniting an inferno. (Song 8:6)

“All of a sudden thing have jumped from the launchpad of erotica to land in the domain of mystical union, with this soul-stirring proclamation of the ultimate dominion of love, the ultimate certainty of an alchemical fusion of souls that exceeds all space and time, all human loss and bereavement. (Cynthia Bourgeault, Foreword to Embracing the Divine Feminine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Illuminations, 2014)

Towards the end of his Introduction to the Song of Songs, Shapiro offers an interpretation of the Genesis story of the creation of the first earthling:

“In Genesis1:27, the Hebrew Bible says God created adam ‘male and female.’ The logical way to read this is to say God created man and woman at the same time. The problem with this reading is that just prior to telling us that God created ‘them’, the Hebrew Bible says God created ‘him’.”

Alluding to the centuries of rabbinical interpretation that arose from this, Shapiro offers his suggestion:

“My own reading of Genesis posits the original earthling as bisexual – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Adam is the sacred androgyne, to use religious scholar Andrew Harvey’s term, who actualizes the inter-being of feminine and masculine and who longs to be born in your body.”

Shapiro cites Harvey’s writings:

This oneness heals all divisions and fuses all “separate” powers and brings into the union of Sacred Marriage all the “male” and “female” powers of the self, unites and fuses intellect and divine love, imagination and ecstasy, the spirit and the body, the laws of the heart and the structures of the mind, the light and every breath, gesture, thought and emotion lived in its truth.

What is born from this fusion, this “Sacred Marriage” of all separate powers of heart, mind, body, and soul is the Sacred Androgyne, the one who in his or her being realizes the total interpenetration with the Christ of all normally “opposed” or “contradictory” qualities.

This Sacred Androgyne – birthed in what early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Thomas call again and again the “bridal  Chamber,” the place of fusion between “male and female” – is a divinized human divine being free of all normal categories of “male” and “female” because it exists in a unity that contains, absorbs, “uses,” and  ecstatically transcends both…the Sacred Androgyne… is the new Eve-Adam reuniting in his-her own being the Adam and  Eve that we separated at the “Fall.”  In such a being, “heaven” lives on earth: through such a being the divine radiates divine grace and power directly.

 (Andrew Harvey, Son of Man:The Mystical Path to Christ, New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998, 121)

Shapiro adds: “What the Song of Songs celebrates and awakens us to, is the unification that is an ever-present but oft over-looked reality.” 

As Shapiro notes, mystics have described their encounter with the Divine in terms of sexual union.

In my own study of the Medieval Christian Women Mystics I discovered that in their longing to share their experience, they found the Romantic Writings of the Medieval Troubadours to be the most helpful form of written expression upon which to model their work.

Here is a fragment from the writings of Mechtilde of Magdeburg (1208-1282):

The Youth: I hear a voice which speaks somewhat of love.

Many days have I wooed her

But never heard her voice.

Now I am moved.  I must go to meet her.

She it is who bears grief and love together.

The Youth comes to greet the Soul in the woods

where nightingales sing and invites her to dance.

The Soul: I cannot dance, O Lord, unless Thou lead me.

If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully,

then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing!

Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge,

From knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

There will I remain and circle evermore.

The Youth: Thy dance of praise is well done.

Now shalt thou have thy will of the Virgin’s Son.

“Then is she overcome and beside herself with weakness and can do no more. And He is overpowered with love for her, as He ever was, He neither gives nor takes. Then she says, `Lord, Thou art my beloved! My desire! My flowing stream!  My sun! and I am thy reflection!’ “

 

Shapiro points to other sacred love songs found in many religious traditions.

He asks: “What are we to do with these songs? Are they simply poetic artifacts to be appreciated or can they be lived in our own bodies?”

His response is that the Song of Songs “has to be embodied, just as the Beloved has to be embraced.”

Like Mechtilde, we are invited to

leap for love, from love to knowledge,

from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense.

 

for your soul-thoughts:

How does this echo your desire for union with the Sacred Beloved?

Read the Song of Songs and look for traces of your own story in the finding, the losing, and being found once more by the Beloved, both human and divine.

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…

rami-shapiro

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.”