Category Archives: The Divine Feminine

The Divine Feminine in the Song of Songs: Part Six

In his book Embracing the Divine Feminine: Finding God through the Ecstasy of Physical Love –The Song of Songs (Skylight Paths publishers)  Rabbi Rami Shapiro, explored the story of Eve, seeking insights into what her choices reveal of the Wisdom/Sophia/ Chochmah/Shekhinah presence within her. Now he turns to the Song of Songs.

Who is the woman whom we meet in this erotic love poem whose very existence in the Sacred Scriptures has led to so much controversy? Shapiro notes that like Eve, whose Hebrew name Chavah is really a title that means “mother of all the living,” the woman in the Song of Songs has a title, rather than a name: the Shulamite (Song of Songs 7:1).

Once more examining the Hebrew to seek a meaning that the text does not offer, Shapiro notes that the root letters of Shulamite – sh- l- m – “are also the root letters of the Hebrew words shaleim and shalom, wholeness and peace.”

He continues:

If, as I am positing in this book, the female Beloved in the Song of Songs is Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Wisdom, like Chavah, is the mother of all things…then we might understand the Shulamite as the Woman of Shaleim and Shalom, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace. The same title could be given to Chochmah in the book of Proverbs, for it is through her that the whole of creation happens, and all her paths are peace. (3:17)

“Lady Wisdom calls us to share a feast with her in the book of Proverbs (9:2-5). Lady Wisdom as the Shulamite is the feast in the Song of Songs. The Shulamite is called a garden in the Song of Songs (4:12), and hence union with her is returning to the Garden from which Adam was exiled. That is to say the Song of Songs completes the story of Eden by showing us the way back to the Garden.”

Shapiro writes eloquently of sexual intimacy as the way that one achieves “unitive knowing”. He quotes Alan Watts:

The full splendor of sexual experience does not reveal itself with a new mode of attention to the world in general. On the other hand, the sexual relationship is a setting in which the full opening of attention may rather easily be realized because it is so immediately rewarding. It is the most common and dramatic instance of union between oneself and the other. But to serve as a means of initiation to the “one body” of the universe, it requires…a contemplative approach. This is not love “without desire” in the sense of love without delight, but love which is not contrived or willfully provoked as  an escape from the habitual empty feeling of the isolated ego. (in Nature, Man and Woman, New York, Vintage Books, 1970 p.188)

Shapiro adds: “In other words, love must be spontaneous and unrestrained, and sex must be no less so. This is the love the Shulamite, Lady Wisdom, the archetype of the Divine Feminine, shares with her lover in the Song of Songs.”

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“Isis and Osiris” artwork by Susan Seddon Boulet

For Shapiro, the Song of Songs is the Jewish equivalent of Maithuna, the Sanskrit word for union, often spoken of in the context of Yoga “more specifically the union of the self with the All, or Atman with Brahman.” He adds that in the Song of Songs, in the words of Phyllis Trible,“eroticism becomes worship in the context of grace.”(God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1978) p.165

“The union of self and other and of self and All is a given. You are at this very moment part of the infinite singularity that is reality. You may call this Brahman, God, Spirit, Tao, Mother, or any number of other names, but the simple fact is, as the Chandogya Upanishad, one of the great texts of Hindu philosophy, put it over twenty-six hundred years ago, Tat tvam Assi: You are That.

Shapiro quotes Thich Nhat Hanh: “To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing.”

“Maithuna is not a way to achieve interbeing, it is a way to celebrate inter-being. The Song of Songs is not a method whereby one achieves union with Wisdom incarnate as the Shulamite, the Woman of Wholeness and Peace, it is way of awakening to that union.”

What is happening within you as you read through this interpretation of the Song of Songs?

What aspects of Shapiro’s insights and interpretations find resonance with your own? 

Mystics of many faith paths, notably the Sufi poets such as Hafiz, Rabia and Rumi, write of an erotic experience of oneness with the All, the Friend.

The Medieval Women Mystics of the Christian faith path are no less passionate in their accounts of their own experience of the Unitive Way.

Does this unfolding of the Song of Songs assist you in your understanding of these other experiences of Oneness with the Holy?

How does this resonate with your own experience, your own desires?

Sophia in Other Words

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

Mother Wisdom Speaks

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

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

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.

I will hollow you with knives.

I will not do this to make you clean.

I will not do this to make you pure

You are clean already.

You are pure already.

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

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

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you.

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain.

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

I am shaping you.

I am making you ready.

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open center of you will be radiant.

I will call you brilliant one.

I will call you Daughter Who Is Wide.

I will call you Transformed.

 

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

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

These lines leapt out at me:

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

 

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Hathor, Egyptian Goddess of Love and Beauty

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia by Another Name

On  September 8th, Christians honour the Birth of Mary, nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception. Those of us who grew up with Mary as the focus of our prayers and filial love may by now have grown into a more complex understanding of this woman who carried for us the face of the Feminine Divine.

Over recent weeks, we have been exploring the presence of Sophia in our lives, especially as she reveals herself in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Has Wisdom-Sophia  become entangled for you in a good and holy way with Mary of Nazareth?

This is deep mystery, as well as a reflection of our human need to name what we experience. I believe there is a presence of sacred feminine energy that holds us in an embrace of love, cares profoundly and personally for each one of us and is willing to respond when we call to her.

Three years ago, on September 8th, I was sitting at my computer to compose reflections on Sophia. An email arrived from Barbara Bizou, a spiritual teacher living in New York City whom I had met at Jean Houston’s July 2012 Manhattan Mystery School. During that session, Barbara, whose Spiritual Tradition is Jewish, spoke with me of Brigid’s fire and the waters of rebirth. Together we engaged in a powerful ritual of reconciliation of our two traditions.

In that September 2015 email, Barbara recalled being in Paris fourteen years earlier at the time of the 9/11 attacks:

In this time of existential uncertainty, it’s often difficult to trust that the Divine has placed us exactly where we are meant to be. On September 10, 2001, I arrived in Paris for a holiday with one of my dearest friends. I awoke on 9/11 with a sense of foreboding and anxiety, which was unusual in one of my most favorite cities in the world. Sharing this with my friend Elynor Johnson, who felt a similar sense of uneasiness, we decided to distract ourselves by window-shopping. But after twenty minutes of aimless gazing, we realized we needed to ground our energy. What called us was the chapel Notre-Dame de la Medaille dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. For me, this has always been a Temple to the Divine Feminine. As we sat and prayed and meditated, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Reading her words, I was touched to know that a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is for Barbara “a Temple to the Divine Feminine”.  I smiled, knowing I was reading this on Mary’s birthday.

Other writers have sought to untangle the Mystery of Mary. Here is Carol P. Christ, in The Laughter of Aphrodite:

…the Virgin Mary inherits many of the aspects of the Virgin Goddesses and functions as Goddess to many of her worshippers. Throughout the Near East, Europe and Latin America, churches to the Virgin Mary were built as places holy to the Goddess. Though she is not prominent in the New Testament, the myths and imagery surrounding her grew as the Goddesses were finally suppressed in Christian Culture. To the Greeks, she is Panaghia, which means simply, “the All Holy”….

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Jean Markale writes in his Women of the Celts:

Within the patriarchal framework (goddesses) were often obscured, tarnished and deformed, and submerged into the depth of the unconscious. But they do still exist, if only in dormant state, and sometimes rise triumphantly to rock the supposedly immovable foundations of masculine society. The triumph of Yahweh and Christ was believed sanctified forever, but from behind them reappears the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines…. Our Lady of the Night. (p. 86)

Those titles that Markale recalls, water, briars, pines, are the sacred things of earth.

Star of the Sea. Guidance in the deep places within. Mystical Rose. There is a litany of sacred names given to Mary. As children many of us learned these names by heart.

While visiting Egypt, I was astonished and delighted to learn that millennia before Mary of Nazareth. the goddess Isis was honoured with many of these same titles. Over time as Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the sacred names were transferred to Mary.

We may choose to name this loving presence as we wish. She will not be bound by a name. Given the mystery that surrounds her presence, we may choose to call her Our Lady of the Night, and simply be at peace in her mystery. Her loving presence in our lives is what matters.

The sacred feminine presence needs us as her partners in the great tasks of our time, calling us to co-create with her, to experience directly the power for good that she works within us when we open ourselves to her.

In the voice of the Sealwoman in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story: “Sealskin, Soulskin”, she reminds us:

I am always with you. Only touch what I have touched… and I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.

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Sealwoman

Sophia and Teilhard de Chardin

Born in 1881, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 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.

“Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, offers us a glimpse into Teilhard’s relationship with Sophia.

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.

 

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“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 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)

 

 

 

Women Rising Rooted: Brigid’s Festival

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
like trees.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

At the end of a frigid Canadian January, I have come to Ireland for Brigid’s Festival of Imbolc, the day that welcomes Spring. Brigid is the one who “breathes life into the mouth of dead winter”. In the front garden of my friend, Dolores Whelan, the first thing I see are snowdrops….then one purple crocus, two golden ones.

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snowdrops in Dolores Whelan’s garden

From a window on the upper floor, Dolores shows me that the Hill of Faughart can be seen, aligned with her home. Birthplace of Saint Brigid, 5th c. Abbess of Kildare, Faughart is ancient in memory, a place where the goddess Brigid was honoured in pre-Christian Ireland. Snow drop and crocus, saint and goddess, growing from this earth.

Brigid’s Festival honours both, and in the days that follow the two merge in my awareness, become intertwined, embodied in the fiery women whom I meet: Dolores and the volunteers who planned the events of the festival as well as the presenters, attendees, poets, artists, dancers, singers, writers… each woman aflame.

I listen as they tell their stories, either as a formal part of the festival’s program or casually in conversation over coffee or a meal, or in a pause between sessions.

I listen as Sharon Blackie tells the story recounted in her book If Women Rose Rooted (September Publishing 2016). With a PhD in Neuro-science Sharon found herself in a corporate job where her inner self was dying. Through a labyrinthine journey, one she describes as the feminine form of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, Sharon followed the lure of her heart to the northwest of Scotland and on to Ireland, living on land near the sea where her soul finds a home.

I walk through Una Curley’s art installation of her own “Camino Walk”, her story of walking away from a life of successfully functioning in a corporate position that left her empty inside. Una chose instead the uncertainty and bliss of life as an artist. Una says the way to begin is to tie a piece of thread to a rusty nail and let the life you have designed, the life that no longer serves your soul, unravel… Part of her work traces the early flax industry of Ireland, rooted in the land, uniting the communities around the flax fields in a common endeavor.

Kate Fitzpatrick picks up her violin to express more profoundly than words her journey with women as they sought in the land and soul of Ireland the Healed Feminine. Kate’s quest was to bring peace and forgiveness to her people. The story of her spiritual journey with the Celtic Horse Goddess Macha is told in her book Macha’s Twins (Immram Publishing, Donegal, Ireland 2017)

Ann McDonald leads us in sacred movement, in breathing exercises, finding the power in our solar plexus. Deeply grounded, we release a voice that is resonant. Ann creates songs, receives songs that come to her while walking in pilgrimage or while holding sacred space. Her songs at the Ritual for Brigid’s Feast at Faughart come from deep within, inviting grace to embrace those present in the Oratory.

 

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The Oratory on Faughart Hill on Brigid’s Day, February 1, 2018

 

Dolores, Una, Kate, Ann and Sharon are women whose lives differ on the outside. Yet I saw in each a life rooted in an inner passion, a deeply feminine connection with the land and a quiet walking away from cultural values that are out of harmony with and therefore destructive of the feminine soul.

I understand now that life can be found by returning to the ancient stories, the ancient spirituality that grew out of the land itself, a spirituality that honours women, that cares for the things of earth, that recognizes, as Rilke says, that we are of the same substance …here is his full poem:

How surely gravity’s law
strong as an ocean current
takes hold of even
the smallest thing
and pulls it toward
the heart of the world.

Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place

Only we in our arrogance
push out beyond what
we each belong to –
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted,
like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely
and confused.

So, like children
we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in
God’s heart,
they have never left him.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

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 decisions 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)

 

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“To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come.”

Long 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 game of dice, Shapiro suggests:

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)

 

Sophia:Discipline as a Way of Love

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,
care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

These words about discipline from the Wisdom Literature of the Bible have been with me in recent days. As I thought about them, I noticed how I have come full circle with the concept of discipline. When I was young, I accepted it as a denial of pleasure, like giving up candy for Lent, harsh but ultimately good for me. Later, I rejected that self-denying approach to life, embracing joy and a sense of being loved without having to “earn” it through sacrificing what I enjoyed. In recent years, I have discovered discipline in a new way, a commitment to “showing up” in a relationship with the Beloved each day…

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :
The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.
“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”
“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”
“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”
The next day, the little prince returned.
“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”
“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.
“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one
day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”
(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

This wisdom from the fox echoes the teaching of spiritual writers that we must be willing to show up, at the same time each day, or at least at some time each morning and evening, for perhaps a quarter hour. During this time, we need to be willing to wait, to listen, to quiet the inner chaos of anxiety or questioning, of self-reproach or self-justification, just to allow ourselves to be in the silent presence of Love.

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:
While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….
Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:
Listen to Me:
Follow Me and be happy.
Practice My discipline and grow wise….
(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

Commenting on this, he writes:
To listen you must first be silent. When you are silent, the narrow mind, the small self of thought and language, melts into the spacious self of clarity and compassion. To be mindful is to be present. When you are present, the distracted self recedes and the greater self emerges. With this comes Wisdom, joy and happiness.

Sometimes, and I find this usually happens just at the end of the brief listening time, Love surprises us with a fresh thought, a somersault of insight, that lifts us to new place. And when Love is wholly silent and I long for words, I open my book of poems by Hafiz, to find at times a gift that eases my heart. Like this verse, found on day when my soul was dark and troubled:

 

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
(I Heard God Laughing trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

Truly, as Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma assures us in Proverbs:

I bring joy to those who listen;
I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…
Find Me and find life,
Find Me and find grace…
(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

The Little PrinceThe

Coming to Know Sophia

We come away from the magic of the Storyteller’s Well on the Hill of Tara. It is time for us to seek Sophia’s Wisdom in other places, in other times, through other voices.

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).

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, adding: “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 levelling: 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 also 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, Shapiro adds, 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)

Moreover, writes Shapiro: 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.

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 form 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.

Sophia in Ireland: Four

I am once more in Ireland, in Mayo, where my father’s people come from. Grey-black weathered stones still shape walls and openings for windows, but the small church on Achill Island, just off the west coast of Ireland, has long since lost its roof. The June morning is cool, ruffled by soft winds, as we twelve women gather under the slate-grey sky around the stone altar.

roofless church with Mary statue on Achill IslandWe have come here seeking an ancient holy well, dedicated to the early Christian Saint Dymphna, (Dimp / Nah) credited with healings. Dymphna was fleeing from her father, a pagan Irish king, her pathway marked by sacred wells, remnants of a tradition that predates Celtic Christianity. People sought healing at such wells, believed to be the openings of the body of our Mother Earth.
Around that altar, we are standing where women have been, in recent centuries, forbidden to stand. With that awareness, a power moves within us, along with a joy that has no words. One of the women in our group reads a poem by Denise Levertov:
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
The fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
refreshed.
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.

With these words still echoing, we walk outdoors, make our way through the old graveyard where in past centuries people from all across the island brought their dead for burial. We find the well of Dymphna on a piece of low ground just metres from the edge of the sea, its small opening protected by a circle of stones. We stand here, ourselves a circle, praying silently for those in need of healing.

well3 on Achill Island

Holy Well of Dymphna

One of the women, kneeling to take a photo, discovers a heart-shaped rock, one side deeply carved and creased with lines of breakage, now healed; another picks up a stone with the clear shape of a mother and child. For both these women, the stones hold a reflection of their lives. I walk a little way past the well and see a small silver stream of running water. Without knowing why I feel drawn to do so, I kneel, scoop up water, place it on my forehead, on my heart.

Later that day, I realize with a shiver of wonder that it is the anniversary of my baptism.

This moment marks a sacred beginning. My life becomes interwoven with a presence of love for whom I have no name. My searching will take me back to the ancient days of Ireland, before the Celts arrived there, forward to the spirituality glimpsed by Teilhard de Chardin, to the newly unfolding mysteries of the universe in whose life and powers we share intimately… for these next parts of the story I shall take you back to the Hill of Tara. There is someone there whom you must meet.

Tonight, I follow the thread of the story that began twice seven years ago. Once more I climb Tara’s hill. I feel the same needle pricks of mist against my face, see again the grey shroud of fog that conceals everything except what lies before me: this stone, this sheep, this tussock, this tree. Each arises, disappears, as on that night, the night when I called out to the Old Ones, and no one answered. Now I know the One I seek. I have found the hidden well where she awaits me, and this knowing has transformed my desert into an oasis. This time, I shall call out and be heard. I shall be answered.

Come with me. It is time for us to begin. The one whom we seek allures us with a flow of energy, but to meet her we must first come to stillness. A strong desire for the encounter is our best assurance of being met by the One we seek. She responds to our longing. I cannot tell you her name. I am not certain she has a name. I know her as the Storyteller.

It is through their stories that we will find how the Celts related to the Sacred Presence of Love at the Heart of the Universe. For this storytelling we need someone whose wisdom is as ancient as the lakes and rivers, the rocks and hills of Ireland.