Category Archives: The Divine Feminine

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-One

On our final night in Egypt, the sacred Sufi dances of ecstasy end. A wilder, joyous exuberance takes over within our group, an explosion of emotion, of deep gratitude, sharpened by awareness of the approaching ending.
Some of our company have prepared songs, rituals, presentations to honour our leaders, Jean and Peg, to thank Mohamed for his provision of private time for us in sacred places where we might experience prayer and ritual and to show our gratitude to Samai, our guide through Egypt.
Soon the audience spills onto the stage, and the Sufis are offering lessons in dance and movement. I watch the wildness of dance, wishing I felt free enough to express all the feelings that dance within me.

After we board the bus to return to the Mena House, I pass by Jean. I ask her if there might be a moment to talk with her before we leave Egypt.
The next morning, at breakfast in the Mena House dining room, I look for Jean, see that she is in conversation with someone. I have left my request too late. We are to leave immediately after breakfast for the airport. There will not be time to speak
with her, to share this sense that things have somehow come together in me. I feel a sharp disappointment. I want this resolution to happen
here in Egypt. I want to leave Egypt whole.

I am walking away from the dining room when Jean joins me. “You wanted to talk? Sit with me on the bus to the airport.”

And so it is that as Cairo’s exquisite ornamented mosques and modern buildings march past the bus windows, like a speeded-up time film moving from past to present, I speak with Jean.

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Cairo, Egypt

This time I am telling her a story, one I finally understand in my heart, can see in my soul, where its separate pieces are quilted together in a pattern: beautiful, harmonious,
whole.

I begin by diving into the deep end of the pool, trusting that Jean will understand if I frame my experience in terms of durative and punctual time. I speak of my experience of an ending in Mystery School, at the final session of the year before, when I had then no hope of returning. How I came home grieving, aware only when I thought it was over, how important Jean’s presence was in my life. How I had been walking in the
woods beside my home when quite suddenly without thought or intent, I was aware of her presence with me, so real that I could converse with her. And how that presence has returned at rare moments, offering me guidance, words of direction when I lose focus, most often when I am leading retreats, sessions in spirituality with women. I have come to know this as a profound gift of her presence in durative time.

Then I tell her how difficult it is for me to reconcile the real Jean in punctual time, whose energies must flow in so many directions, with the Jean who, in durative time, is wholly present to me. I share the sacred experience at sunset on the deck of the Moon
Goddess. I tell her how I spoke with her imaginal presence even as I saw her clearly across the deck, in conversation with someone else.

I pause. This all sounds rather strange even to my ears. I wonder if Jean can receive it.  I look at her, seeking some sign of understanding. I see attentive presence. I see calm receptiveness.

But I see too the woman whom I wrapped in a shawl because she was cold and grieving outside the tomb at Abu Simbel. I see the woman who one evening had fallen into an
exhausted sleep on the felucca that was taking us back to the Moon Goddess. Then, I had looked at her, as surprised as if a statue of Isis had suddenly closed her eyes and nodded off into sleep. That night when we left the felucca, I had guided her up
the steps to the ship, fearing she would fall asleep again on her
feet. Leonard Cohen’s words come to me now, something about
there being a crack in everything that lets the light in.

This is an ordinary human beside me, extraordinarily gifted,
yes, a woman who has opened her life to be a passageway for the
Holy. My glimpses of the Holy in her have drawn me to her. She
has become for me, especially here in Egypt, an experience of
the sacred feminine, real in a way that Isis or Sekhmet or Hathor
could not be. I feel a deep gratitude along with a searing awareness
that to demand, even to expect, more than a glimpse is unfair, unloving.

No one, no matter how wise and generous and loving, can live always  in a state of being awash with divinity. And in that instant of knowing, I realize something else. This is
a woman whom I would choose as a friend, someone whom I will support with prayer and grateful love all my days.

The journey from the Mena House to the airport takes about an hour, but I have now no sense of time. I know (I have been well taught!) that there will be enough time, all the time I need, so I unfold the whole story. And Jean listens, receives.

“You are a very loving person,” Jean says. “Is that what attracted you to religious life?”
I am startled into complete honesty. “No. I came to find love.”

Later, I will understand that these words are the essence of my journey to Egypt. I came to find love. Later, I will write this discovery in a poem:

Egypt is where I learned about love.
Not a lost coin, forever sought in vain,
Not a boon for which I begged, helpless, empty,
Not a burden I placed on others who could not receive.
Rather, a gift, poured into me from Love
Until, overflowing with joy, I poured it forth.

That is Egypt’s gift to me. I know it has its origins in the Love within the Universe that I have come to call the feminine face of God, the tender love that brought me here, that revealed itself in so many ways, as Isis, as Hathor, as Sekhmet, as Jean, in tomb and temple, in pyramids, in the depths of the Red Sea, here on the bus approaching the Cairo Airport.

Now I know in my whole being the call from that sacred presence to finally Send Sorrow Packing, to release the inauthentic constructs of sorrow that have
clouded my relationships. I feel the harmony of a symphony whose opening chords in September have moved through darkness and light, to finally resolve in closing notes of quiet beauty.

I feel held by love.

Sophia in Egypt : Five

On the day after our visit to the Step Pyramid, we fly from Cairo to Aswan. A long bus journey through the desert will take us to the Temple of Abu Simbel.

We arrive at Abu Simbel in full darkness, walk the lighted pathway from the entrance in silence, approaching from behind. I try to imagine this massive structure being totally dis-assembled on its original site, where it had been carved out of a mountain in the time of Ramses II.

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Temple of Abu Simbel

It was meticulously re-assembled, block by block, on a concrete frame, moved here in the 1960’s to save it from being inundated in the flooding caused by the Aswan Dam. The UNESCO project was generously funded by England and Germany, the reconstruction so exact that the rising sun on February 22 and October 22 still lights the faces of the four great statues within.

Inside, we see high walls and many chambers, well-lighted with raised floors for ease of walking. No formal rituals are planned for us within this temple. Instead we are free to wander, to take in the majesty, the stunning beauty of the artwork, the ancient stories on the walls around us. Our group is alone here, so we have silence, space to wander contemplatively.

I recognize the story of Ramses’ life in a set of painted carvings that take up the length of the walls of the main chamber. In one a chariot is pulled by an open-mouthed horse, the carving so precise I can see it breathing.

After a careful search, I find a carving of Isis in a small chamber. She stands with an arm on the shoulder of Osiris, while she holds in her other hand an ankh, the symbol of everlasting life.

I continue to explore the painted carvings in the many chambers. Again and again, I am drawn back to Isis, waiting. I do not know what I seek from her, what I expect. Maybe I just want to make a connection here with the sacred encounter I had with her in my community’s prayer room in September. When I return for the third time, I notice that there is a crack in the stone just where her eye appears and it holds light, so that I feel her gaze upon me.

“You remember,” I say to her. Sudden warmth fills my whole body. The words from the ritual I had performed on that day return to me: Know yourself…to have been recognized, honoured, and gifted by that principle of creativity, kindness and renewal that sometimes goes under the name of the Great Goddess.

Though no time has been set, people are beginning to move out of the temple towards the outdoor amphitheater that faces it. There is to be a sound and light show on the life and exploits of Ramses II. My companions and I choose a place together in the rows of stone benches facing the gigantic seated figures on the facade, to await the show.Thunderous music, voices, as a great story unfolds before us, light dancing on the face of stone. At some point, off to our right, a shooting star descends through the black Egyptian sky.

When the show ends, we make our way down the stone stairs towards the path that leads away. But suddenly a thousand flames of light erupt in the facade of the temple. Lights everywhere, subtle, creating shadowed mystery, illumining here a face, there a cleft. I stand awestruck before this, unable to move away. I try to assess the size of this monumental temple, comparing it with other large structures. I see it swallowing the centre block of Canada’s Parliament Buildings, burping, opening its mouth for more.

 

Finally I pull myself away, seeing the last of our group disappearing into the distance. Just before I enter the paved pathway, I stoop down, pick up a stone from the sand. In the light from the temple, I see it has the rough shape of a heart, although one of the rounded curves at its top is sliced open, releasing love.

In the few days we have been in Egypt, I have lost my inner sense of clock time. We have been hours here at Abu Simbel and it was already fully dark when we arrived. Yet we are now on our way to supper.

The bus stops before a small inn. Our hosts graciously allow us to use the bathroom in their own living quarters. We are shown to tables on an outdoor patio under the Nubian sky alive with stars. I recognize Cassiopeia, Orion and Sirius. The air embraces us, warm as our own breath.

Platters of food begin to arrive: a flavour-filled soup, bread and cumin dips, eggplant, fish stew, a sweet dessert. A carafe of red wine is poured into our cups. It is full-bodied, delicious and, Jean assures us, the true Egyptian vintage of ancient days. In this setting, with joy rising, visible on every face around our table, I am ready to believe that Isis and Osiris planted the vines.

Encounter with Sophia in Egypt

It is nearly two years since I began to write these weekly blogs about the Awakening of Sophia, the Sacred Feminine Presence. This awakening is happening in many different ways, in many different places around our planet, among people of many religious backgrounds as well as people who have no connection with any formal religion. The awakening is pervasive, subtle, invitational, gentle, powerful, loving, alluring… it slips the bonds of theology, psychology, sociology. It is too elusive for formal religions to catch hold of it, to define or tame it.

 

Yet for those who open their hearts to its call, for those who listen with trust, who begin to follow its gentle guidance, its winding pathways, this awakening is blossoming into a relationship of loving, co-creative partnership with a Sacred Presence. This presence has been known on our Earth for Millennia. Though she was forgotten for a time, she is returning in our time because we need her and she needs us. Her Time is Now.

 

Joseph Campbell, writing of the presence the Sacred Feminine, notes that:
By the time of the birth of Christ, there was an exchange, not only of goods, but also of beliefs, throughout the civilized world. The principal shrine of the Goddess at that time in the world of the Near East was Ephesus, now in Turkey, where her name and form were of Artemis; and it was there, in that city, in the Year of our Lord 431, that Mary was declared to be what the Goddess had been from before the first tick of time: Theotokos (Mother of God).

Campbell adds this compelling question:

And is it likely, do you think, after all her years and millennia of changing forms and conditions, that she is now unable to let her daughters know who they are? (in Goddesses :“Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” p. xxvi; Copyright Joseph Campbell Foundation, New World Library, Novato Calif. 2013)

It is time now for me to begin to share with you my own journey with this Sacred Feminine Presence. The startling overture came by way of a Journey to Egypt. Here is the story:

It is night. It is always night when a story is told. But this night is part of the story, envelops and transforms it, embraces the ending.

The room holds the darkness gently, the darkness holds the woman. The room watches her as she stands alone, holding in her outstretched hands a crown of mithril silver laced with emerald. The woman bows before the image of Isis, then places the crown on the head of the Queen of Earth and Heaven. The room does not see Isis or the silver shimmer of the crown. It sees only the woman. It has seen so many others come and go. The room sighs, feeling bored, unaware of the story, unimpressed with its quiet ending.

 

 

image of goddess Isis

image of the Goddess Isis

To find the beginning, leave the dark room, go back three months, take the stairway to the left. On the second floor, follow the corridor signed “Sisters’ Residence”. Halfway along, on the left side, enter the room where a woman sits alone. It is years, decades, since she has lived in her community’s central house. The days and weeks before she can return to her quiet house by the river stretch before her like a featureless desert.

 

“I need an adventure,” she says aloud, and before the words have ceased to bounce in the room’s quiet, her eyes have found what she needs. On the shelf above her writing desk, sitting among the dozen volumes she has brought with her, is a book about Ancient Egypt, written by her guide and teacher, Jean Houston: The Passion of Isis and Osiris: Gateway to Transcendent Love . The woman reaches for the book, surprised by its weight in her hand, opens it. There is a soft sucking noise as all the air in the room vanishes and the light disappears.

 

The passageway is dark, the air thick with dust and something much older. The woman is aware of the need for caution, but she feels no fear. Someone is walking beside her and though she cannot see the face, she knows the voice of her guide who whispers, “Hurry. The storyteller is waiting.”

 

Amber light draws them forward into a small cave-like room. Some dozen others, children, women and men, are seated in a circle around a wizened woman robed entirely in red. The old one smiles as they enter, gesturing towards cushions on the floor.

The storyteller lifts her head, closes her eyes and begins to speak in a voice both intimate and eons away, as though she is reading a story painted on the walls of a royal tomb in Ancient Egypt. Her words fall like bright jewels upon the room’s silence.

There is at first only One, Atum, the Perfect One.
But Atum is lonely, and creates the story.
Atum makes Air and Wetness, Earth and Sky.
Geb, the Earth and Nut, the Sky become lovers.
Nut gives birth to Ra, the sun
and Thoth, the silver moon.

The guide whispers that they must leave now. “Write down all that you saw and heard and understood. In the morning, go outside while it is still dark. You must see the sunrise.”
Then she is gone and the woman steps out of the book, back to her room.

 

Next morning, the sky is still black as the woman walks outside. A suffused light swallows the darkness. The woman feels both expectant and unsure, as people must have felt as they waited for the dawn millennia ago. It has come before, but can she be certain it will come again? Light is embracing the earth, drawing trees, low bushes, the tall flowers into silhouette. Earth herself waits, as the woman waits, hopeful, patient. And then it comes, a sliver of fire in the eastern sky, a vermillion burning. The woman and the earth together move under its passionate presence. It fills their gaze with rose red rapture. This is Holy, the woman thinks, for the first time. She looks around the mist-soaked morning and wonders how anyone could despair, as she herself so often does.

images

She goes indoors, makes coffee, hurries to her room, climbs back into the book.

(to be continued)

Coming to Know Sophia

I have been enchanted in these summer weeks by the book Goddesses:”Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” (New World Library, Novato, California,2013) a compilation of lectures, articles and workshops offered by the late Joseph Campbell, mostly in the 1980’s. In all the richness Campbell offers from ancient mythology throughout time and around the planet, there is but one brief reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, the source book for Muslims, Jews and Christians:

 

The biblical and  Goddess traditions were radically against each other, and while the biblical has remained the authorized tradition, there has been in European culture this waterway of the living Mother Earth flowing underneath. In the Old Testament, we read in early Genesis: “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”. Well, the Earth is not dust, the earth is life, vital, and this intrusive god who comes in late, wanting to take everything over to himself, he denigrates the Earth itself and calls it dust? What he tells you there is, “You really are your mother’s child and you’ll go back to her. She’s nothing but dust, however.” Similarly, you read in Genesis 1:1 , “When God created, the breath (or Spirit) of the Lord brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say he created the waters. The waters are the Goddess — she was there first.

Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” She says it. What you have is the same old mythology that the Babylonians and the Sumerians had of two powers, the female and the male power in tension, relationship and creative co-action. But what happened in the Bible was that the male power was anthropomorphized in the form of a man and the female power was reduced to an elemental condition — just water. It says, “God’s breath brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say the waters of the Goddess, it just says the waters. She’s screened out, but she always comes back. (pp.234-5)

In these words of Joseph Campbell, I find the heart of my work, the inspiration which led me to begin this blog in October of 2014: the intuition that Sophia/ the Divine Feminine Presence is rising in and among us. Her awakening is the underlying theme of all I write.

In her book, Praying with the Women Mystics, (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006) Mary T.Malone offers us a poem in Sophia’s voice, based on Proverbs 8:27-31:

When God established the heavens I, 

Sophia, WomanGod, was there.

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

When God assigned to the sea its limit…

When God marked out the foundations of the earth,

There I was beside Him like a master-worker.

And I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before Him always,

Rejoicing in the inhabited world 

And delighting in the human race. 

 

Sophia is present within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. We glimpse “Sophia in Splendour” in this poem of Mary Malone’s, based on Wisdom: 7:26-8:11

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

Jean Houston in her book Godseed  takes us on an imaginal  “Visit to the Sophia”:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…

 

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge…. the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.
Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination. Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

 

In her teaching on the powers of the universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us. We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly to signal our intent to be open. We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us. We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

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Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred. Eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:
…the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us. We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognise that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?
As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a n experience of the newness in religion, in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

 

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy. For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

 

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

 

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought her here, that have awakened her awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies. For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men. You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked. Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

 

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?” No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother’…   “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”… “A partner, inviting me to co-create with her”…“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

 

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her? Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

 

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess. There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

 

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about. They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.

Sophia: Beloved Travelling Companion

What was your favourite story when you were a child? Have you reflected on how that story may have influenced your adult life, shaping your longings, your choices, in ways of which you were unaware?

For the past weeks, I have been reflecting upon Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” (Skylight Illuminations, 2005). Again and again I found something as old as longing, as fresh and new as a summer breeze.

Like this, from the Wisdom of Solomon (6: 15-16)
Resting your thoughts on Her—
this is perfect understanding.
Staying mindful of Her-
this is perfect calm.
She embraces those who are ready for Her,
revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,
meeting them in every thought.

Now, seeking words to convey the wonder, the joy awakened in me, I think of guidance, then companionship, or having a wise friend to turn to in times of doubt or struggle…A memory comes of summers spent in my grandmother’s home, entering the magic within a heavy, hard-cover book of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. The tale I turned to over and over again was “The Travelling Companion”.

Like many of Andersen’s stories, it begins with a young person who is sad: John’s father has just died and he is all alone. Before setting out into the wide world, he makes a last visit to the graveyard to say goodbye, promising he will be good and kind, as he, his father had always been.

On his travels, John takes refuge from a storm in a church, where a coffin rests before the altar. To his horror, John sees two men approach the coffin, and open it. From their gruff words, he learns that the dead man owed them money so they plan in revenge to dump his body in a field. John offers the men his entire inheritance from his father if they will leave the dead man in peace. Laughing derisively at his foolishness, they agree.

Now penniless, John resumes his journey. One day, he is joined by a stranger who asks if they might travel together to seek their fortunes. This stranger becomes a companion to John, and much later, after many adventures, guides John to successfully solve magical riddles and thereby win the hand of a beautiful princess.

On the day following the wedding, the stranger, travelling knapsack on his back, walking stick in hand, comes to say goodbye. John is devastated, having hoped his friend would stay with him to share the happiness he had won for him. But the stranger says, “No, my time on earth is over. I have paid my debt. Do you remember the dead man whom the evil men wanted to harm? You gave everything you owned so that he could rest in his coffin. I am the dead man.”
With these words he disappeared.

Somewhere within I have held the longing for such a “travelling companion”, for a friend who would walk with me, guide me, advise me when I was perplexed, comfort me when I was sorrowful, show me how to make my way along the pathways of life as they opened before me.

Through Shapiro’s unfolding of the Wisdom passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, I recognized in Sophia/ Chochma the beloved friend I had sought, the One who embraces those who are ready for Her, revealing Herself in the midst of their travels, meeting them in every thought.

Even more, I recognized that I had already found Her. Through my lifetime, She has come to me in different guises, bearing different names, from Mary to Isis to Sophia to the “Friend” who offers daily guidance in the smaller and greater aspects of my life, walking with me, a light in darkness.

It is she whom I now recognise as the presence who sometimes speaks in the poetry of Hafiz, especially in this one, sent to me by a friend shortly after the death of my sister Patti:
Keeping Watch
In the morning
When I began to wake,
It happened again…..

That feeling
That you Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
Keeping watch.

That feeling
that as soon as I began to stir
You put your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.
Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky:” I Heard God Laughing”

Who among us does not yearn for such a presence of love? And yet the beauty of Wisdom-Sophia is that we have only to desire her in order to find her:
Do you desire Me?
Come to Me!
Do you crave Me?
Eat My fruit!
Even the Memory of Me is sweeter than honey,
And to possess Me is sheer ecstasy.
(The Book of Sirach 24:19-20)

Reflecting on these words, Shapiro writes:
When it comes to Wisdom let your desire guide you. Take Her and eat of Her and do so without reserve or hesitation. She wants you to want Her, and desires to give Herself to all who hunger for Her.

And if we fear losing her, or even if we know we have in the past both found and lost, Shapiro encourages us that the Memory of Her love will stay with you and push you to seek Her again…. Her gifts of simplicity and grace cannot be matched. And when you receive them, the narrow self is overcome with joy and the spacious self unfolds in bliss.

For each one of us, May it be so! (And so it is!)