Category Archives: Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom

Sophia in the Easter Mystery

Through the cold, quiet night time of the grave underground,
The earth concentrated on him with complete longing
Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond
To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.
The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.
He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.
John O’Donohue “Resurrection”

The Easter Mystery of life-death-life is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of life on our planet, in the deep heart of our own lives. From its birth out of the womb of a dying star, through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn, its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring, the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.

 Ancient peoples understood this mystery. Through their careful observations they constructed buildings such as the mound in Newgrange Ireland where a tiny lintel receives the first rays of dawn only on the winter solstice.

The ancients wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened; the Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Erishkigal. There she was stripped of all her royal robes and insignia, and murdered by her sister who then hung her lifeless body on hook. Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.

The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the ancient Near East. What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person. The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain”.

In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe. Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed into a deeper more joyous existence. By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits, old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be, we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us. As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.

“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns  appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed. For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core to “the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits. It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed.”

“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues. “We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.” Yet “the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us…. the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone, the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life”. (Godseed pp.129-130)

The yearly miracle of Spring awakens within us the confidence and joy that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live. We know our call to green our lives, our times, our planet:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)

Talmost spring 003

Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?
What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?
How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?
What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me? for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?

May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom, gently guide us through the death of what no longer serves us into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.

Sophia as Mystic

In Goddesses in Older Women (2001), Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of Sophia as an Archetype, Friend, Inner Guide that women may feel drawn to in their wisdom years.

“The mystic is an aspect of the Sophia archetype that is evoked by numinous experiences.” Words used in an attempt to describe numinosity are “awe, beauty, grace, divinity, ineffability”. Bolen writes that “a numinous experience is the defining moment for the woman who becomes a mystic.” After this, knowing God in this way “becomes the central focus of her spiritual life and her spiritual life becomes her life…  she seeks to enter and stay in a mystical union with divinity.” (pp. 27-8)

 

Bolen notes that a woman with the Sophia archetype may be drawn to a Contemplative Community, either an Eastern Ashram or a Western Cloister such as many of the Medieval Women Mystics joined. However, she adds, “since mystics directly experience divinity and women (especially older ones) no longer automatically defer to hierarchy, question dogma and are aware of sexism”, they also leave these communities if they find the beliefs of a religion “constricting and in conflict with what they deeply trust is true for them”. (p.28)

With the greater freedom that women enjoy today, many “are inspired by their mystical insights” to seek a more “personally meaningful life”. Bolen notes that though most would not define themselves as mystics, “their mystical experiences are at the core of what they are doing with their lives”. Freed from the need to conform to what an institutional religion may define as mysticism, “women are redefining spirituality” writes Bolen. (p. 28)

Bolen tells of the writer Anne Bancroft who set out to find “authentically feminine insights and ways of being that differed from male thoughts about spirituality”. Bancroft found that “women tend to see all things around them as revelatory, revealing totality and completeness and a numinous quality. To see things in this way a certain attention has to be given, which women are good at. It is not the kind of attention with which one acquires knowledge, but rather that which happens when one lets go of all concepts and becomes open to what is there.”( Bancroft in Weavers of Wisdom 1989, cited on p. 29)

Bolen writes that Bancroft found in her study that women mystics “renewed and cultivated their mystical relationship with the sacred in their own way; in nature, in creativity, in contemplation, in a deep connection with another person, and had a life other than being a mystic… ” Their mysticism provided light for their particular path, as for Joanna Macy, whose “mysticism matured through Buddhist meditation and deepened her already-formed concern for social justice; this led her to become an anti-nuclear and ecological activist.” As a practitioner and teacher of “deep ecology”, Joanna uses a “meditative and active imaginative way of listening to plants and animals and even stones, to reach a deeply-felt mystical sense of a web of life.” (p. 29)

Bolen adds that mystical experiences may also inspire writers, poets, artists. She cites Meinrad Craighead as “an artist whose mysticism and paintings have become inseparable.” (p. 29)

Yet the difficulties encountered in describing one’s mystical experiences and in having them understood lead many “contemporary Sophias” to become “closet mystics”, writes Bolen. “Many women who have attempted to describe their mystical insights and found themselves having to defend or justify them arrive at the conclusion that it is enough to live with this connection…” (p. 30)

On this aspect of the Sophia, Bolen concludes: “When Sophia is not only a source of mystical insight but is also the archetype that fully engages the attention of a woman, then it is accurate to say that she is a mystic and her Self-directed task is to find a means of expression and a way to convey the insight she has acquired.” (p. 30)

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And what of you, who are now reading these words? How does the Sophia archetype show up in your life? When have you experienced the numinous? Have you felt drawn to pursue that “knowing of God”as a life path? Do your mystical experiences shed light on your calling in social justice or poetry or art or service?

Please email me your thoughts: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

If you would like to know about the monthly “Sophia Salons” offered here from February to May 2016 in the Ottawa Valley of Central Canada, send me a note asking for the information using the email address above.

Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom

Sophia: Who or What is She? Where may we find Her? How might we come to know Her?

These questions draw me here to my computer each week. For the past fifteen months, I have been offering you what can only be a whiff of Her presence, a hint at Her activity in our lives, a suggestion of how She longs to befriend and guide us, how She seeks us as co-creative partners in Her work.

I have offered you a few of my own experiences, but mostly I have shared with you the discoveries of other seekers. Through their luminous writings on Sophia as She emerges in the Hebrew Scriptures, in ancient stories and mythology, in poetry and mystical experience, they continue to open new portals, new ways of knowing and experiencing Sophia in our own lives.

Today I share with you insights from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s 2001 book, Goddesses in Older Women. As I read it last evening by the fire, I found my awareness of Sophia expanding through seeing her as an archetype. It was Carl Jung who taught us that we hold within us ancient knowings/images inherited from our earliest ancestors: archetypes of mother /lover /friend/warrior/father/son/wise one/ teacher/daughter… and so on. In The Search for the Beloved (1987-1997) Jean Houston writes of a realm where these archetypal guides dwell, a place of myth and symbols, of sacred time and sacred space, a “container of that which never was and is always happening.” (p. 24)

(I)t is the place where the self joins its polyphrenic possibilities, including the gods and goddesses and their courts. In Sanskrit these celestial beings are referred to as yidams, the personified “rivers to the Ocean of Being.” The gods — Athena, Asclepios, Sophia, Shiva, Quetzalcoatl, and thousands of others — are those forces that have been crystallized in human cultures and worshipped as personalized emanations of a greater unknowable and unnameable power. Sometimes they assume a humanized form, as did Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and Zoroaster. We may feel a particularly loving resonance with such beings who have been elevated to godhood. By virtue of this identification, we are evoked to become much more fully what we can be in the depth and breadth of our existence. (pp.24-5)

Jean Houston’s description is helpful as it places Sophia in a sacred realm, beyond the human/historical and yet accessible to us, “as the contact point for sacred time and sacred space”. (p. 24)

Now when I turn to Jean Shinoda Bolen’s writings, I have a clearer sense of how Sophia appears in our lives as Archetype of Wisdom. And I recall the frisson I experienced when I read in She Who Is (Elizabeth Johnson, 1992) the suggestion that Jesus was himself the embodiment of the Sophia archetype! Johnson writes that Jesus lived the qualities of Sophia as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, but his historical entry into time was during a period when a woman would not be accepted as a spiritual teacher.

In Goddesses in Older Women Bolen speaks of Sophia as “a forgotten goddess figure within a monotheistic, patriarchal religious tradition that denies feminine divinity” (p.25) Describing Sophia as “the archetype of spiritual wisdom or soul knowledge,” Bolen writes:

Sophia’s wisdom is insightful, it is what we know through gnosis….Gnostic or noetic…knowledge is what is revealed to us or intuitively perceived as spiritually true. I think of gnosis as what we “gknow” at a soul level, it’s what we know “in our bones”…. At a soul level, we can know that we are spiritual beings on a human path, or know that life has a purpose, or know that we are loved, or know God, or know that we are part of an interconnected universe. (p. 26)

For Bolen, “gnosis” is “an intuitive process of knowing oneself at the deepest level” akin to the Jungian concept of connecting to the Self where with soul knowledge we sense our life as meaningful. “What we know through a connection with the Self is divine wisdom,” Bolen writes. “This is a wisdom that isn’t the exclusive possession of authority above us; it is the wisdom that dwells in us and is everywhere.” (p.27)

What we call “women’s intuition” is also an aspect of gnosis. Bolen writes:

Far from mysterious, it’s a combination of noticing what is going on and processing what we are noticing in an intuitive way. It has to do with knowing people, of assessing character, of seeing through the façade – it’s insight into the presence or absence of soul. The click! insight that sees the underlying sexism or power politics in a situation is gnosis. The Aha! that happens when something important to you suddenly makes sense is gnosis. The moment when you know that your spouse is unfaithful, is gnosis. That inner twinge of a guilty conscience is gnosis. (p. 27)

Bolen concludes her reflection on Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom or Gnosis with these words:
Growing older and wiser is a lifelong process that accelerates in the third phase, especially if you heed gnosis in yourself. This is how the archetype of Sophia becomes known to you. She is a way of knowing, a source of inner wisdom as well as an archetypal wisewoman. When Sophia dwells in you, you perceive the soul of the matter or soul qualities in others. (p.27)

Next week: “Sophia the Mystic”