Category Archives: Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom

WISDOM IMAGED IN NATURE

The ancient writers see in Wisdom’s flowing, all-pervasive presence an outpouring like rain or floodwaters:

Who knows the root of Her?

Who fathoms Her subtleties?

There is only one so wise and so wondrous – God!

He created Her and saw her true nature

God gave Her life and poured Her out

Upon all creation.

She is with you according to your ability to know Her;

For God has given Her to all who love Him.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 6-10)

Of these wonderful images, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is the way God lays out the foundation of creation….She is both the field and the rain that nurtures the field.

And just as rain falls on all, so too Wisdom. You do not deserve Her; you do not earn Her. You simply receive Her. And yet…

She is with you according to your ability to know Her. It is as if you were begging for pennies in the street without realizing that your pockets were stuffed with hundred dollar bills. Your love of God and your ability to know Wisdom are connected. Knowing Wisdom is the way you love God, and loving God is the way you know Wisdom. (pp.18-19 in The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Rabbi Rami Shapiro,Skylight Illuminations, Woodstock, Vermont 2005)

In the following passage, Wisdom speaks to us of Herself as Cosmic Being:

I am the breath of the Most High,

blanketing the earth like mist,

filling the sky like towering clouds.

 I encompass distant galaxies,

and walk the innermost abyss.

Over crest and trough,

over sea and land,

over every people and nation

 I hold sway.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:3-6)

Shapiro notes the many water metaphors that hint at Sophia’s nature:

She is poured out, She falls like mist, She rises like clouds. Like water, Wisdom is yielding, and yet, like water She is capable of wearing down the hardest stone. She holds sway not by attacking but by embracing.

In these qualities, Shapiro finds resonance with the “highest good” described in Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching:

The highest good imitates water,

Giving life to all without struggle or striving.

She flows in places you dismiss and in this She is like the Tao.

Shapiro adds:

There is no struggle in Wisdom’s way. She does not exert Herself, but simply is Herself. When you act in accordance with Wisdom, you act without coercion. You act in sync with the moment, engaging what is to nurture what can be. (pp. 20-21)

In our time, when we are beginning to grasp the truth that we are all interconnected, it is Wisdom-Sophia who draws us together:

She arises in God

and is with Him forever…

Established before beginnings,

She transcends time.

She is God’s word, a fountain of understanding;

Her ways are timeless, linking each to all,

and all to One.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 1-5)

Shapiro finds here another parallel with the Tao:

The valley spirit never dies;

She is woman, primal mother.

Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.

She is like a sheer veil, translucent, almost transparent.

Use her; She will never fail.

(Tao Te Ching: Chapter 6)

Wisdom arises in God, and is the gateway to God writes Shapiro. Referencing the Tao, Chapter 11, he adds:

She is the foundation of all things and the Way of all things. Wisdom is both timeless and timely, open to you now and capable of lifting you to eternity. She is the center that holds the periphery, just as the spokes of a wheel share a single hub. (pp. 16-7)

Wisdom is honoured as “Mother” in the Hebrew Scriptures:

I am the Mother of true love,

wonder,

knowledge, and

holy hope.

Beyond time, I am yet given to time,

a gift to all My children:

to all that He has named.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:18)

Shapiro writes: Wisdom is the Mother of quality as well as quantity. Wisdom is the Mother of the metaphysical as well as the physical. Wisdom is not only the Mother of the rose, but the Mother of the delight that arises when you smell one.

Wisdom is a gift to all God has named. The named are the seemingly separate things of the natural world. Until a thing is named, it is undefined and not fully alive. In Hebrew the root of the words “speak,” “word,” and “thing” is the same: dvr. Until the word is spoken, until the thing is addressed, it does not truly exist. Wisdom is the ability to reverse the process, to speak the name in such a way as to return to the silence of God that preceded it. (pp. 24-25).

Sophia reflects light and goodness as a mirror of the divine: 

She is God’s spotless mirror,

Reflecting eternal light,

and the image of divine goodness.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 24-26)

 Shapiro comments:

The Mirror of God reflects all things and is none of them. She reflects whatever is: good and bad, hope and horror. Wisdom is not one thing or another, but the Way to deal with all things in their time. (pp. 30-31)   

Weaving Our Days with Wisdom-Sophia

Being faithful to a spiritual practice of deep listening brings about a change in our daily living. We notice a presence of Loving Wisdom that embraces us in the ordinary moments of each day, assisting in decision and choices, lifting our spirits when clouds obscure our inner light, opening us to see the beauty in the life, the beings, around us. She befriends us in every activity, every aspect of our lives.

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro unpacks the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, we learn that the sages who honour Sophia/Chochma have known this guidance, this companionship for millennia.

Although She is one,

She does all things.

Without leaving Herself

She renews all things.

Generation after generation She slips into holy souls

Making them friends of God, and prophets,

for God loves none more than they who dwell with

Wisdom.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27-28)

Commenting on this passage, Shapiro writes: This is what Wisdom can make of you: a friend and prophet of God. A friend of God is one who dwells in Wisdom. A prophet of God is one who shows others how to do the same. To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come. To see the ground is to open yourself to what is rather than what you desire. Opened to what is, you engage the Way of things in this very moment. Things arise from the conditions that precede them, but options are always present. The prophet works with the current embedded in the conditions to nurture justice rather than injustice, compassion rather than cruelty. (pp.32-3 The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Rabbi Rami Shapiro  Skylight Illuminations. Woodstock Vermont 2005)

Far before the words about Wisdom Sophia were recorded in the Bible, long before recorded history of any kind, Wisdom was present in the human heart, though never possessed fully:

The first human did not know Wisdom fully,

Nor will the last ever fathom Her.

For Her mind is more spacious than the sea,

Her counsel more deep than the great abyss.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach: 28:29)

Wisdom cannot be contained, Shapiro writes, and that which cannot be contained cannot be known completely….Wisdom is the ground out of which you come, and cannot be separated from your self …. You can no more know Her than your nose can smell itself or your ear can hear itself. Wisdom is not a thing you can know but a Way you can follow…. The way to follow Wisdom is to surrender narrow mind to spacious mind— the mind that knows to the knowing itself. (pp. 26-7)

Yet Wisdom’s overflowing presence extends far beyond the humans who honour her:

She is more beautiful than the sun,

And the constellations pale beside Her.

Compared to light, She yet excels it.

For light yields to dark,

while She yields to nothing.

She stretches mightily throughout the cosmos,

and guides the whole universe for its benefit.

(Wisdom of Solomon: 7:29-8:1)

Reflecting on this passage, Shapiro comments: What is to your benefit? To be wise, to immerse yourself in the Way of Wisdom. Wisdom’s desire is for you; She wants what is best for you, and that is for you to embrace Her. (pp.34-5)

Wisdom is not only all-pervasive, but also timeless:

Before time,

At the beginning of beginnings,

God created Me.

And I shall remain forever.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24: 9)

Referring to the English language translation of Genesis: In the beginning God created… (Gen 1:1)  Shapiro writes:

This is a misreading of the Hebrew. A more precise translation would be, By means of beginning, God created… Creation is the stuff of beginnings. There is no beginning unless there is something that begins. Wisdom is said to have been created before beginnings. This shows the limits of language, for in fact this cannot be. If She is created, then there is a beginning. What, then, is this Wisdom Who was created before the things of creation? She is the pattern of creation, the Way of God’s unfolding from eternity into time. (pp. 22-23)

Wisdom is the earth’s foundation,

and understanding the sky’s pillar

She is the divine order patterning all creation,

from the ancient oceans to this morning’s dew. (Proverbs 3: 19-20)

Reflecting on the way Wisdom patterns all creation, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is not separate from creation; She is the order of creation. She is the grain of wood, the currents of wind and sea. Everything rests on a metaphysical order, a principle that patterns all reality. While the world you encounter is impermanent, the principle of Wisdom is limitless. To know Wisdom is to know the current in the midst of the chaos….There is a guiding principle that orders even that which appear as random. That guiding principle is Chochma….

Using the metaphor of a dice game, Shapiro says: The extent to which you fixate on any one throw is the extent to which you are lost in chaos. As you step back and see the pattern, you are free to engage the game with equanimity. (pp. 14-5)

Seeking Wisdom-Sophia

As we continue our search for Wisdom-Sophia, our guide for the next few weeks will be Rabbi Rami Shapiro speaking to us through the pages of his book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005).

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro

In his Preface, Rabbi Shapiro tells of being pursued by the Sacred Feminine:

I began to see her everywhere. She started talking to me….She intruded on my meditation and prayer time, and just would not leave me alone….She had me. I would go for walks late at night and talk with her.

His friend Andrew Harvey advised that he had best surrender: “She calls to everyone, and to ignore her is to ignore the greatest gift you may ever be offered: the passionate embrace of the Mother. She is going to hound you until she has you, and then She is going to strip you of all your ideas and notions until there is nothing left to you but the ecstasy of her embrace.”

Yet still Shapiro struggled, for it seemed to him that the presence was the Virgin Mary, someone he could not commit to as a Jew.

Andrew said to me, “It isn’t Mary, but the Mother. She comes to the Christian as the Blessed Virgin; She comes to you as Chochma, Mother Wisdom.” And with that my whole life changed.

Shapiro writes: Chochma, the Hebrew word for “wisdom”, is the manifestation of the Divine Mother as She appears in the Hebrew Bible. She is the first manifestation of God, the vehicle of His unfolding, the Way of nature, the way God is God in the world you and I experience every day. Seeing her as Chochma removed the last of my defenses. I stopped running away, and gave myself to Her as best I could.

As he began to share Her teachings as found in the Jewish Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, Shapiro found his listeners “began to relax”, not because he had made Her ”kosher” but rather because “what they heard in the text was what they somehow already knew in their hearts”.

As you read the teachings of Mother Wisdom, know that She is speaking to you, inviting you to Her home, to Her hearth, to her teachings that you may become a sage….Wisdom is taught, so the student needs a teacher, but once She is learned there is a great leveling: Teacher and student share the same understanding. (from the Introduction)

As Shapiro began to move through the Hebrew Scriptures, citing passages, reflecting upon them, I as a reader felt I was hearing what I “somehow already knew in (my) heart.”  See if this is also how it is for you.

In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom/ Sophia/ Chochma speaks:

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.

I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…

When He established the heavens, I was already there.

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When He made firm the skies above,

When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…

I was beside Him, the master builder.

I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.

Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.

(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well.  (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

 To know her, according to Shapiro,  is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace.

She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy.

(Proverbs 3: 17-18) 

Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.  

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“When She Rises” Artwork by She Who Is Mixed Media 2017

Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.

I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)

Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes. She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.  Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.

….To  know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.

In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones. You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal them to your mutual benefit.

Where Is Sophia?

What Wisdom is and how she came to be, I will now declare,

I will hide none of the secrets from you;

I will trace her right from the beginning

And set out knowledge of her, plainly,

Not swerving from the truth.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 6:22 Jerusalem Bible)

Last week, we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, aware that traces of her presence can be glimpsed in old stories, ancient wells, crumbling parchments, carvings of small feminine figures, buried ritual sites, in the names of hills and rivers. Yet if these ancient sightings were all we had, her tale would be a tragedy, telling of a great treasure irretrievably lost… Instead, the story of Sophia has never ended. Her presence among us is moving towards a shining moment, a fresh revelation.

Years ago, I purchased a book that sat for almost two decades in my library, unopened. When I decided I needed to know more of the Sacred Feminine for this blog, I drew it from my shelf, began to read, and knew almost at once that I had found a treasure: Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews (First Quest Edition 2001,The Theosophical Publishing House, PO Box 270, Wheaton, IL  60189 -0270)

Here are a few excerpts from the Prologue:

The Goddess simply did not die out or go into cold storage two thousand years ago to be revived today in the same forms she manifested then. If the Goddess wanted to survive and accompany her people, surely she would have done so in a skillful and subtle manner.

Sophia is the great lost Goddess who has remained intransigently within orthodox spiritualities. She is veiled, blackened, denigrated, and ignored most of the time, or else she is exalted, hymned, and pedestalled as an allegorical abstraction of female divinity. She is allowed to be a messenger, a mediator, a helper, a handmaid. She is rarely allowed to be seen in charge, fully self-possessed and creatively operative.  

Flo Schell Mother Earth

Mother Earth painted by Flo Schell 

Sophia is the Goddess for our time. By discovering her, we will discover ourselves and our real response to the idea of a divine feminine principle. When that idea is triggered in common consciousness, we will begin to see an upsurge in creative spirituality that will sweep aside the outworn dogmas and unliveable spiritual scenarios that many currently inhabit. When Sophia walks among us again, the temple of each heart will be inspirited, for she will be able to make her home among us properly. Up to now, she has been sleeping rough in just about every spirituality you can name. (Prologue xxv, xxvi)

What is it about our time that has lured Sophia to walk among us openly again? I suggest that it is what calls to every earthly mother most compellingly: our need. As we have been recognizing in the decades before and after the millennium, our planet is in crisis, and we are finally understanding that we cannot live a healthy life on a sick planet.

COVID has written this truth as clearly as if it were carried in the white smoke of an airplane across the skies. Scientists are connecting the dots. This pandemic and recent outbreaks of illness that arose among other species and became virulent in humans cannot be cured until we recognize that our lives are interconnected with all life on the planet. Our disregard for other species has sent them into crisis, and ourselves as well. A return in our time to our ancestors’ honouring of the earth and all her life as sacred is as crucial as it is alluring.

Decades before this pandemic, Caitlin Matthews wrote:

For the first time in two millennia, the idea of a goddess as the central pivot of creation is finding a welcome response. The reasons are not difficult to find: our technological world with its pollution and unbalanced ecology have brought our planet face to face with its own mortality; our insistence on the transcendence of Deity and the desacralization of the body and the evidence of the senses threaten to exile us from our planet.

The Goddess appears as a corrective to this world problem on many levels. In past ages she has been venerated as the World Soul or spirit of the planet as well as Mother of the Earth. Her wisdom offers a better quality of life, based on balanced nurture of both body and spirit, as well as satisfaction of the psyche. (Prologue xxix)

And so we take up our search for her with hope, trusting that our desire to find her is matched by her desire to be found. Jean Houston writes in Godseed: “The longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us.” (130)

In our quest, we may say that “The longing with which we yearn for Sophia is the same longing with which Sophia yearns for us.”

When we begin the search with longing and trust, we soon discover someone is coming to meet us: perhaps in a conversation with a friend, an article we read, a song we hear, an experience that holds that mix of surprise and joy that is her trademark…

For me, this happened only days ago when I was in a time of deep distress, too troubled to even pray for help. CBC Radio’s Classical Music station was offering the “signature series”. I was only half–listening, caught up in my own despairing thoughts, when I heard the announcer say with great conviction, “She will never leave you.” Though he was speaking of the key of F sharp major, the words pierced my darkness with a shaft of light as surely as though he were speaking of Sophia. At once they returned me to my senses, to my trust….

Let us offer ourselves to Sophia as co-creative partners in her coming more visibly among us. A simple practice of sitting in silence for ten minutes each day, perhaps at dawn and dusk, opens a window for her entry, creating a space for her to come to us bearing the wisdom we each need to do our part to assist in her return.

Waiting with Sophia

   Today’s winter storm is layering snow on remnants of earlier downfalls. Despite Brigid’s promise of spring, here in Canada we know there is more of winter still to be endured, more time needed within the Sacred Cauldron of the One who prepares us for a rebirth. We are in the dark of the moon, the heavens uniting with earth in this time of waiting. The poet Nicola Slee offers insight in these dark times while Sylvia Senensky reminds us that there is important work to do before the promised rebirth. 

 

You think she has left

But she has not.  She is resting.

You think she has gone underground

But she has not.  She has veiled herself.

You think she is powerless

But she is gathering her power,

Drawing it back to herself from where

It has been dispersed, scattered.

You think she is not speaking

Only because you do not

Hear the language of her silence.

 

You think she is alone

But she has never been.

You think she has lost all her names and seasons

But there have always been those who have kept her ways.

You think that the pattern is broken

But see, she spins the chaos into waves and whorls

You can’t yet decipher.  Keep looking.

She has never left, though you couldn’t find her.

It is we who are returning.

(“Seeking the Risen Christa”: Nicola Slee)

artwork woman in earth

 

This is Sophia time. We are still in the realm of waiting for the rebirth of Spring. Within her sacred cauldron, our lives and our desires for our planet find a place of gestation, a safe darkness where, as with the caterpillar in a chrysalis, the great work of transformation of our souls and of all of life can happen.

The ancient Irish order of the Ceile de (Spouses of God) have a Lenten practice they call “Corgus” which means  a contract  with the life as in “ I  am the  way , the truth  and the life “:   You take some time to reflect on  your life and your spiritual  goals at this time,  then in meditation  you ask  yourself: What is it in your life  that at this  time  works  against your spiritual growth ?

When you discover what this is, you don’t try to stop doing this!  However you contract with yourself that whenever you engage in that behaviour or thinking pattern you stay awake to it and become very conscious of your choice.  You observe what you are actually doing and why you are doing it.  You notice how you choose to turn away from life and towards death. The Spring Equinox is a time to renew your vows and recommit to your path.

Sylvia Senensky writes:

We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain.  Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life.  We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.  When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

 …. She is calling upon us, each 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….  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. (Healing and Empowering the Feminine Chiron Publications, Wilmette Illinois 2003)

From Sophia’s cauldron, we shall emerge into a new springtime, in an interdependent co-arising with the earth, knowing ourselves renewed in soul, body and spirit.

 

 

A New Year Companioned by Sophia

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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.

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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

bow reverently

 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.

Final Blessing

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.

Teilhard: spiralling into the circle of person

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 melt before 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.

Icon of Sophia on a Church wall in Greece

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 suddenly transformed 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).

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~