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Celebrating the Birth of Love

In The Quest of Rose (Jean Houston, Anneloes Smitsman, 2021) Rose’s grandmother, the wise woman Verdandi tells Rose: “your view of life as a story often determines how life will treat you.” (Chapter Three p.30) Yet how much are our own stories shaped by the dominant myths of our culture? Shouldn’t we first change those larger stories? Verdandi advises Rose that “to change the dominant myths, we need to guide people into the realms of their own psyches first, so they’re able to access their power to change their own essential story.” (p. 31)

Pondering the way our stories are influenced, intertwined, with the stories we learned as young children, I began to imagine how the new stories being told to children would shape their lives in a new way. One young mother I know is teaching her little daughter about the Universe and its divine power, about how it watches over us, how Christmas is a special time of year for the Universe.

The Jesuit Palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin taught us that everything that exists has a spiritual core. He wrote in The Divine Milieu: “This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth—the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame.” Our experience of Love in this twenty-first century is rooted in the birth of our Universe nearly fourteen billion years ago. And this is our heritage, the gift we are being called now to share more widely:  

Here is a Story of the Universe based on Brian Swimme’s book: The Universe is a Green Dragon.

It began with fire. It was a silent fire, which was just as well, for there was no one, no thing to hear it. This fire filled the Universe. This fire was the Universe, for within it every particle that would eventually form life in the Universe already existed. It was being forged by heat and pressure.

From this fire there exploded a burning light that began to expand outwards. This light would burn for half a million years. Even now, in our time, almost fourteen billion years later, the light from the edge of that first fireball can still be seen with powerful telescopes. The light is still expanding, carrying with it all that was birthed from the fire: black holes and stars, like our sun, galaxies and planets, including our beloved Mother Earth, and all the life she carries above, on and within her: willow trees and walruses, dolphins and diamonds, as well as the latecomers, the humans like you and me. That light from the fireball has been there from the beginning; yet,  it’s taken billions of years for life to develop the capacity to see it, to interact with its radiation.

Now, in our lifetime, we know that everything that exists shares the same beginning in that silent explosion of light, and everything we see around us, on earth, in the sky, in the sea, in the depths of the earth contains elements forged in that ancient furnace. We are birthed from the stars. What is more, our future will be a continuation of the story we have only begun to know.

Do you see how this alters earlier understandings of the place of the human on the planet and within the universe?  There is nothing we might boast of that was not here millions, even billions of years before humans existed. We are the inheritors of the development of life, with capacities that were shaped and perfected before the first human stood upright to gaze across a vista with her eyes, to listen to the song of a bird with his ears, to tenderly hold her offspring to her breast, to paint with red ochre on a cave wall shapes of the animals his eyes saw…

It’s not difficult for us to relate to earlier forms of human life that echo our own life. But what of other forms of existence? Do these also have a “self” to organize what is needed for life? If all that we are was already there in the original fireball, the capacity to be guided internally towards life must have been there too.

Look at a tree: it’s made of the materials of the same supernova as we are, materials that came through space and settled on our planet even as the materials of our bodies did, commingling. Now it exists in the form of a tree, with its own hopes for all it needs: moisture from melting snow and rain, light and warmth from the sun, wind to carry its seeds into the future. It knows what it needs, and if it gets these things, it lives and thrives. If it cannot get what it needs, it dies. Looking at a tree, our task as humans is to become aware of its mystery, its presence, its intelligence, to send it blessings of thriving.

So too with the Earth, which humans once saw as only a clump of raw materials, good for growing food for our tables and trees to build houses, for pasturing livestock, but more valuable if we could dig deep to extract oil, coal and gas, gold, silver, uranium and nickel, even if we had to blow the tops off mountains or poison the ground waters to get at these buried treasures. 

Only now in our lifetime have we come to know that the Earth is a self, that she has the capacity to self-organize, to control and maintain a level of oxygen that was enough to allow for the development of animal life without being so much that there was a  risk of destroying the planet by fire.

We have come to know that our dreams are not ours alone. Our dreams of the Earth’s health and thriving are the Earth’s dreams coming awake in us.  We are entering the time of the great re-genesis. Our life activities, all that we dream and do from now on must be guided by the intercommunion of all species. Our destiny and our calling is to allow the Earth to re-organize herself in a new way, a way not possible in the four billion years of her existence.

We are being invited into a co-creative partnership with Earth, our Mother.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the loving Christ two thousand years ago, may we also honour the Birth of Love in the Universe, fourteen billion years ago.

The BabaYaga: Part Two

Vasalisa at the home of the Baba Yaga

The Baba Yaga has agreed to give Vasalisa the burning coal she requests. Now she states her terms. Vasalisa must serve her for three days, washing her clothes preparing her meals, performing whatever other chores are assigned. If Vasalisa does all to the Baba Yaga’s complete satisfaction, she will receive what she asks for. If not, she will DIE!

And so Vasalisa enters the strange house, and sets to work at once. On that and on the next evening, before she sets out on her haunts, the Baba Yaga assigns one further task so utterly impossible that Vasalisa is in despair. But as soon as the witch has gone, her doll says, “Rest now. I’ll help you with that task.” And in the morning when Vasalisa awakens, the impossible task is already done: sorting poppy seeds from dirt or sorting mildewed corn from good corn. On each day, Vasalisa devotes the hours before the Baba Yaga’s return to preparing her supper, cleaning her house, washing her clothes.

When the Baba Yaga returns, Vasalisa watches in wonder as a surprising thing happens. The crone summons hands from the air, hands that crush the poppy seeds into juice, hands that shuck the corn into neat piles, hands that then disappear.

The Baba Yaga appears both pleased and displeased by Vasalisa’s accomplishments. She softens enough to say, “Is there anything more you wish to ask me?” before adding crossly, “but take care what you ask, for too much knowledge makes one old before one’s time.”

Vasalisa asks about the three horsemen who passed her in the woods.

“Ah,” says the Baba Yaga, “you met my night, my dawn, my sunrise.

“What else do you ask?”

Vasalisa thinks of the mysterious hands that appear in the air to squeeze poppy seeds, to shuck corn. But the doll in her pocket whispers, “No”.

“There is nothing more,” Vasalisa answers, “for as you say yourself old mother, too much knowledge make one old before one’s time.”

At this the Baba Yaga almost smiles. “You are wise for your years. From whence comes this wisdom?”

“From the blessing my kind mother gave me before she died.” Vasalisa answers.

Hearing these words, the Baba Yaga flies into a rage. She roars, “Speak not to me of blessings or kind mothers. Get out! Get out! Get out!”

At the sound of her voice, her door flies open. The Baba Yaga shoves Vasalisa out into the night. Before the child can recover herself, the Baba Yaga is behind her. In her gnarled hands she holds a skull with a burning coal inside it. Seizing a bone from her fence, the Baba Yaga pushes the skull onto the bone and thrusts it into Vasalisa’s hands, shouting, “Here! Take your flame and go!”

The girl opens her mouth to say thank you, but her doll whispers, “No. Do as she says. Just go!”

And so she goes, returning home through the dark wood, guided by the doll in her pocket. The grinning skull frightens her so that she wants to throw it away. The doll in her pocket, sensing this, whispers, “No. Trust it. It will help you.”

As Vasalisa at last emerges from the woods, her father’s house stands in utter darkness. Her stepmother and sisters come running out to meet her.

 “We could not light the fire while you were gone,” the stepmother says.

 Vasalisa notices that the skull is looking intently at her stepmother and stepsisters, with a gaze full of knowing. Unaware of danger, the stepmother seizes the burning skull from her hands and runs indoors to light the fire.

When she wakens in the morning, Vasalisa comes downstairs to begin her day’s chores. At first, she can find no sign of her cruel stepmother and sisters. On the floor beside the stove she finds three burnt cinders.

A kind village woman takes Vasalisa into her home to await her father’s return from a distant land. While she stays with this woman, Vasalisa spins flax into thread. Her doll creates a loom so that she might weave the fine threads into linen.

Seeing the quality of the linen that Vasalisa is making, the old woman tells her that only the Tsar is worthy to wear clothes made from it. And so the old woman arranges for Vasalisa to make a dozen shirts for him.

So impressed is the Tsar with the quality of the shirts that he asks to see the seamstress.

At his first sight of Vasalisa, the Tsar falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.

The wedding is celebrated, and when Vasalisa’s father returns, he’s invited to live with his daughter and the Tsar. The old woman comes to live with them, too.  And Vasalisa keeps her doll in her pocket until the end of her days..

What is the meaning of the doll that is her dying mother’s gift to Vasalisa?

Sophia and Samhain

This week I’m posting a guest blog from my friend Kate Fitzpatrick who lives in County Kerry, Ireland. To learn more about Kate’s “Mythic Voice” blog and her music go to : http://www.patreon.com/mythicvoice

“In crossing the threshold to Samhain on 31st October we have the ancient energies of the land coming to meet us and take us into the Cave again. This is a cave of transformation, rebirth, gestation. It is the death of the year and the beginnings of a new one taking form within. It is the Cave of the Feminine – the womb, and a time to surrender. 

“This year, I believe, we are being asked to become lighter, clearer and more in resonance with a higher light of the Divine Feminine. All patterns of Patriarchal control and domination of this earth are being demolished.

Artwork: Marie Osos

“And what I believe – is that the Gaia, our Earth Mother – is spitting out abusive patterns one by one. With Earthquakes, volcanoes, breakdowns in many systems, this is helped by the power of the other planets and the beings of light from many places in our Universe that are collectively committed to this evolutionary change. Gaia – within us and around us – is raising her vibration of Light. 

“Centuries of abuse are being purged from the Earth. In the mythic sense, I see it not as an issue of ‘Climate Change’ nor a need for ‘Climate Control’ but rather that Mother Earth is taking her power to become free of this horrendous abuse to her and all her children. She is settling this score once and for all. Humanity will no longer be able to use her riches to dominate and control the beauty of the earth, nor the creatures and kingdoms that live within it. As all patterns of abuse are being purged, we keep in step with her as we release our own issues and regrets. We can, therefore, go with her to a higher, healed place.

“What I imagine also happening – is that the Divine Feminine Light of Source is coming in more and more to meet the Earth Mother and she is rising up to meet this new light. When they meet – perhaps in 2022 as many would say- it will be a union of Earth and Heaven. By our steep climbing and resilience to let much go from our lives – we too we can be a part of this.

“We are a part of that flow and right now – every day – every step we take – we are helping to release the energies needed for that Union. A Healed Feminine will exist in one whole body of light. New Earth Risen. A healed Masculine energy rising from the ashes of old systems – is a phoenix reborn and ready to meet this liberated Divine Mother.

“I have journeyed for more than thirty years in the search of Feminine Healed light and her integration with a healed and whole Masculine that is held in divine union. On and on and on, harrowing and endless it seemed as we progressed through the years. Never, ever giving up that journey to the Light.

“In the past few months I have the ever-increasing sense that we have now arrived at what we were looking for. I cannot put this into words. I cannot even understand it myself. But in every cell of my body and in the flow of each precious day, I know this: In the clear-seeing of  patterns being shown to me, and as I tackle every challenge thrown in my path by the forces that would resist the upgrade of Earth to a place of light and truth and healing, I know, in the whole of my heart, that this world is changing forever and that what we have steadfastly held as our life’s vision for New Earth, is about to manifest. Blessed Be.”

Wisdom Sophia as Mother

 

So I prayed, and understanding

was given me:

I called upon God, and Wisdom came to me.

I preferred Her to scepters and thrones;

Vast wealth was nothing in

Comparison to Her.

Before Her, gold is like sand;

Silver like clay.

I loved Her above health and beauty,

And chose Her eternal radiance

Over the most scintillating light.

All good things came to me with Her,

And I took joy in them because of Her,

But I did not then know She was

Their Mother.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-12)

Who is this wondrous being who so captivated the heart of Solomon? He writes of a living, an abiding presence, one capable of giving him “all good things”; yet the  joy he found in everything is because of Her. His relationship with this feminine being of “eternal radiance” is one of love. Moreover this love unfolds, evolves as do our best human friendships. For he tells us that there was a time when he knew less of Her, and a time when he understood more: he came to know this Sacred Presence as “Mother” of all the good that She brought to him.

This is astounding. If a clay jar holding these words had been unearthed only in this century, we would be amazed. Yet, the very familiarity of these Biblical passages may have blinded us to their full power. Perhaps we saw them as “metaphor” for a way of knowing, a quality termed “wisdom” not unlike other qualities such as “courage” or “kindness” or “honesty”…

Who can fall in love with a metaphor? Solomon fell in love with a Someone.

One of the more surprising insights in Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book on the Divine Feminine is that “The Song of Songs”, attributed to King Solomon, is considered part of the Wisdom writings in the Hebrew Bible. Shapiro writes that the love affair described in exquisitely sensual images is between the “sage” (woman or man) and Wisdom/Sophia/Chochma.

You have captured my heart,

My sister, my bride,

You have captured my heart

With a single glance,

With one coil of Your necklace.

How sweet is Your love,

More intoxicating than new wine!

Your perfume more fragrant than the finest spice!

(Song of Songs 4:9-10)

In the midst of this global pandemic, in the urgent need to provide her people with safety, with guidelines, with assistance in this time of unprecedented danger and challenge, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was inspired to write a poem which she addressed to “Mother Earth”. Here are a few excerpts:

Rest now, e Papatūānuku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.

Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
About others
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Gentle palms

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain

Prime Minister Ardern‘s poem expresses the leap in understanding that countless others across the globe are coming to: our home planet, our earth, is a living sentient being, of whose essence we are made, from whose body we are nurtured, without whom we would all perish.This is not a new understanding: ancient peoples, and those indigenous cultures who still live in this awareness, intuitively understood “to whom we belong.” They would have spoken in the same way to mother earth. They understood that finally it is “just you and the wind and the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain”…

And they knew even more: They knew that within this sacred home dwells the divine energy/light/spark/love—whatever name they had for it—the Holy Heart of the Universe.

This is the wisdom we need to find once more in and for our time. If the Corona Virus opens us to that quest, it will be a gift of light within the darkness it has brought.

Sophia and Discipline

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….

Brigid of Kildare taught about the need to focus on the Beloved

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)

Rabbi Rami Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/ Chochma/Sophia 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 in his book The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, 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 that is prayer, 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. This opened to me on a 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!

(Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

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

Shapiro writes: You want to be embraced by Wisdom; you desire Her love as much as She desires to love you. A part of you may doubt and question; a part may seek to hide from your desire in cynicism, but at your core you want Her.

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)

A single encounter with Wisdom is enough to lift you out of your desperately reasoned ego, and to leave you breathless with love and desire. Wisdom is not a cool intellectual exercise, but a hot embrace. Wisdom is not dispassionate, but the Way of passion. 

 As Rabbi Rami Shapiro explores the question of why Wisdom/ Sophia/Chochma is so little known, he writes:

Wisdom is a woman and women haven’t fared well in the Western religious tradition of the past three thousand years. While you can point out significant exceptions, the norm in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to downplay the role of women. One way to do that is to ignore the role of the Mother, Chochma, in creation and the life of us creatures.

It is no small thing to note that Wisdom is feminine. The original language of the texts, both Hebrew and Greek, make this very clear: Hebrew Chochma and Greek Sophia are both feminine nouns. The authors of the Wisdom books took this gender specificity seriously and envisioned Wisdom as Mother, God’s consort and bride, the Divine Feminine through which the masculine God fashioned all creation. Further, they saw in the union of masculine and feminine a powerful analogy for the greater unity of all in the ineffable Godhead that transcends our imagination.

Shapiro makes an important clarification around language when he adds:

I do not believe that God is literally male or that Chochma is literally female. We are not dealing with biological facts but with theological archetypes residing within each of us. What is needed is a marriage of the two within the individual.

The unity of these forces creates a new person, the divine anthropos. The fully integrated human is called the sage in these Wisdom books. The sage, regardless of gender, is married to Chochma; he or she is the partner of the Divine Feminine.

Shapiro calls on each of us to become a sage when he writes:

You and I have the capacity to be sages. 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.

He encourages each of us to find the image of Chochma that most appeals to us:

As the Divine Feminine, Wisdom can appear to you as Mother, Lover, Bride, Sister or any number of feminine archetypal forms… Find the image that best suits you, and allow it to open you to the way that leads to the birth of the divine anthropos within you.

Aside from the feminine identity of Wisdom in Biblical writings, Shapiro believes there is another significant reason why the teachings of Chochma are ignored:

She is intrinsically antiestablishment and nonhierarchical. Wisdom is taught, so the student needs a teacher, but once She is learned there is a great leveling: Teacher and student share the same understanding.

Behold, days are coming…

when I will seal a new covenant

with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah…

I will place My Teaching within them

and I will write it on their heart…

They will no longer teach one another,

saying Know the Lord!

For everyone will know Me,

from the smallest to the greatest. (Jeremiah 31:30-33)

How might this change our way of relating to the Sacred Presence, to one another, to ourselves? 

(Reference: Rabbi Rami Shapiro, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, Skylight Illuminations, 2005)

Embracing the Sophia Presence

Sophiawakens September 24, 2021

As the Autumn Equinox arrives, darkness and light, night and day, winter and summer move into a delicate balance. Following her example, I allow the earth to guide my own balance of feminine and masculine both within and outside of myself. This prompts me to return once more to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, opening my heart to receive his translation of the “Song of Songs”, the Jewish text originally written in Greek somewhere in the second or first centuries BCE. Shapiro, in his book, Embracing the Divine Feminine, traces the history of rabbinical scholarship and offers his own insights into this poem of erotic love which he sees as “a celebration of the union of the seeker of wisdom with Lady Wisdom herself.”

In his Introduction, Shapiro writes: Given the centrality of Chochmah, Lady Wisdom, to this reading of the Song of Songs, we would be wise to take a moment to understand just who she is. According to the Book of Job, Wisdom is the means by which God created the universe. God looked and took note of her. (Job 28:27) In other words, God looked to Wisdom to discover both the form and function of the universe. Wisdom therefore is the very nature in nature.

Curious, I opened my Jerusalem Bible to the Book of Job and found these lines:

But tell me, where does wisdom come from? ….

God alone has traced (her) path

and found out where (she) lives….

When (God) willed to give weight to the wind

 and measured out the waters with a gauge,

When (God) made the laws and rules for the rain

and mapped a route for the thunderclaps to follow,

then (God) had Wisdom in sight, and cast (her) worth, 

assessed (her), fathomed (her). (Job 28:20, 23, 25-27)

Who is Lady Wisdom?

For answer, Shapiro offers his own translation of Proverbs 8: 22-32. (Remember Thomas Merton’s dream of a young girl named Proverbs who was for him the Sophia Presence?)

I am the deep grain of creation,

the subtle current of life.

God fashioned me before all things:

I am the blueprint of creation,

I was there from the beginning,

from before there was a beginning.

I am independent of time and space, earth and sky.

I was there before depth was considered,

before springs bubbled with water,

before the shaping of mountains and hills,

before God fashioned the earth and its bounty,

before the first dust settled on the lands.

When God prepared the heavens, I was there.

When the circle of the earth was etched into the face of the deep

I was there.

I stood beside God as firstborn and friend.

My nature is joy and I gave God constant delight.

Now that the world is inhabited, I rejoice in it.

I will be your true delight if you will heed my teachings.

Follow me and be happy.

Practice my discipline and grow wise.

Shapiro Comments:(T)he Hebrew is clear: the speaker is Chochma, Lady Wisdom, and hence all the pronouns and verbs referring to Wisdom in this passage are feminine. The grammar of this and every passage that speaks of, to, about, or for Wisdom always uses the feminine form.  

Shapiro invites us to consider the qualities of Wisdom usually associated with God. She is the “firstborn” of God and from her come the thousand things of creation. Her way is of truth and justice while her essence is pure delight. Wisdom delights in humanity and one who finds her finds life.

Shapiro compares this with Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Paul connects Jesus with Wisdom in Corinthians 1:24 when he writes: Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.

Then Shapiro goes further: What becomes the male Christ in the Christian Scriptures was originally the female Chochmah in the Hebrew Bible.

He continues: Wisdom is the way God manifests in and as creation. Uniting with Wisdom, as the Song of Songs invites us to do, is a way of uniting with the life and the Source from which life arises.

Statue of the Black Madonna with her child in Chartres Cathedral

Why do we personify Wisdom? Shapiro believes it is because “on a deep and subconscious level we know her to be the other with whom we long to unite. She is not an abstraction but our Beloved. She is not to be thought about but physically embraced in a manner that reveals YWVH to us.”

Shapiro offers us his translation of Proverbs: Chapter 9, 1-6:

Wisdom’s house rests on many pillars.

It is magnificent and easy to find.

Inside, she has cooked a fine meal and

sweetened her wine with water.

Her table is set.

She sends her maidens to the tallest towers to summon you.

To the simple they call: Come enter here.

To those who lack understanding they say:

Come eat my food, drink my wine,

Abandon your empty life and walk in the way of understanding.

Shall we accept her invitation?

.

archetypes in stories

Last week we considered the great Archetype of the Beloved of the Soul. Yet the imaginal world is teeming with lesser archetypes: some of these are real persons who live now or have once lived on our planet; others are imaginary, encountered in stories. Their gift to us is that they embody for us qualities we long for and need to develop in our own lives. In last week’s Reflection, Jean Houston referred to the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence.

Have you heard or read a story that has become Archetypal for you in its theme, its unfolding? What about “The Wizard of Oz”or “The Ugly Duckling” or “The Lord of the Rings”?

One I have long loved is “The Great Stone Face” by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864).

Does it hold Archetypal  power for you also?

The Great Stone Face

There was once a boy named Ernest who lived with his mother in a verdant valley surrounded by a black forest. High above the valley hovered rocky cliffs, the sides of ancient mountains. On one of these, centuries of wind and rain had carved the likeness of a human face. On fine evenings, after their day’s work was done, Ernest and his mother would sit outdoors, gazing towards this face. Its nobility, a blend of wisdom and kindness, lifted their hearts.

The Great Stone Face

Often they would speak together of the legend, told to Ernest’s mother by her mother, a legend older even than the earliest inhabitants of the valley, the Indigenous peoples. Their mothers and fathers had heard it murmured by the mountains and streams, whispered by the wind in the tree tops. The legend said that one day a child would be born in this area who would grow up to become the greatest and noblest person of his time. His countenance in manhood would exactly resemble the Great Stone Face. 

Ernest grew into a fine youth, always bearing in his heart, when it was not before his eyes, the image of the Great Stone Face, always waiting in hope that the promised arrival of the great man might happen in his lifetime.

One day, when Ernest was in his early 20’s, word came that a man, born in their village, who’d been for many years away making his fortune with a fleet of mighty ships, was about to return. The name by which he’d become known was Gathergold. He’d sent ahead of his arrival an architect to build him a great palace for he planned to live now in the village of his birth.

Ernest and his mother went eagerly into the village to await the arrival of the great man. Crowds were gathering, whispering, “Might he be the one?”

When Ernest saw the man seated in his great carriage, glimpsed the small-eyed, thin-lipped wrinkled face, saw his contempt as he threw a few coppers to children who ran beside the carriage begging, he knew this was not the one he’d awaited. Ernest lifted his gaze beyond the village to where in the distance he could make out the noble features of the Great Stone Face. And it seemed that the Stone spoke to him and said, “He will come! Fear not Ernest, the man will come!” 

Many years passed. Ernest grew into full manhood, though he was little noticed among the inhabitants of the valley. Some thought him rather strange, for he was often seen sitting, gazing at the mountain, as though it were his wisdom teacher…

Another man born in the valley who’d gone to become a soldier was rumored to be returning home. He was now a great commander in the army.

Ernest and his mother joined the eager crowds gathered to welcome him. There were so many soldiers with bayonets, ready to keep the crowd at a distance. There was so much noise, bluster, long speeches, that Ernest and his mother scarcely glimpsed General Blood and Thunder, What Ernest could see was a war-worn, weather–beaten face, full of energy, possessing an iron will. Yet the gentle wisdom, the deep broad tender sympathies that Ernest sought, were completely lacking. Ernest lifted his gaze to the Great Stone Face far off in the distance. As always, the aspect of his marvelous friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he’d never hoped in vain.

“Fear not, Ernest,” said his heart, as if the Great Stone Face were whispering to him—“ fear not, Ernest, he will come.”

More years sped swiftly, peacefully away. Ernest, now a man in his middle years, still dwelt in the valley of his birth, though now without his mother’s companionship. He laboured as before, was still the same simple-hearted man; yet his long hours spent communing with the Great Stone Face had imperceptibly brought about a wisdom in him. He became a preacher in the village. Always in his heart he held great hopes for the betterment of people’s lives, always he trusted in the promise of the legend, the promise of the coming it foretold.

And now for the third time, the people who’d acknowledged their disappointment in Gathergold and General “Blood and Thunder”, were looking to a new arrival, another village son returning, an eminent statesman who was rumored to be a Presidential Hopeful. Though he lacked both gold and sword, his tongue was mightier than both. He was so eloquent that whatever he might choose to say, his hearers had no choice but to believe him. His magical tongue could make wrong sound right, right sound wrong. His tongue could warble like the sweetest bird or rumble like thunder… In fact it was so clear to so many villagers that he was the long-awaited one that they gave him the name, “Old Stony Phiz.”

Watching his arrival, Ernest at first saw a resemblance between this man and the old familiar face on the mountainside. Yet even as the villagers shouted and cheered that here at last was the one, Ernest knew something was lacking: the sublimity, the stateliness, the grand expression of a divine sympathy that illuminated the village from the Great Stone Face, were here absent. This marvelously gifted statesman had a weary gloom in the caverns of his eyes, as though his life with all its high performances was vague and empty. No high purpose had endowed it with reality.

Ernest felt a deep disappointment, the sharpest yet, for he saw that this man could have fulfilled the prophecy but had not willed to do so. The cavalcade passed on. Once again the view was clear for Ernest to gaze at the Beloved Face. “Lo, here I am, Ernest. I have waited longer than thou and am not yet weary. Fear not, the man will come.”

Decades passed, bringing the wrinkles of age to Ernest’s forehead. They brought a deepened wisdom that gave Ernest a fame he’d never sought nor desired. Word had gone forth that this simple farmer had a wisdom unlike that of others, gained not from books. No, it was something higher, more refined, a tranquil familiar majesty. Professors and sages, politicians and philanthropists sought him out, sat near to listen to him, to ask him questions.

Once more a native son of the valley was gaining prominence: this man was a poet. When Ernest read his verses, his heart soared.  He looked up at the Great Stone Face. “O majestic friend,“ Ernest asked, “is this man worthy to resemble thee?’

The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.

The poet had also heard of Ernest, had meditated on pieces of his wisdom that were told to him, on aspects of what he learned of Ernest’s character.

One afternoon, the poet arrived at Ernest’s door to find him reading a book of his poems. They held a deep conversation. Ernest praised his poetry. Sadly, the poet acknowledged that his life had not echoed the sublimity of his poems. He had noticed Ernest looking intently at him, then looking up to the stone face, then back to the poet’s face. The poet understood. “You had hoped to find in me a resemblance to that great face you love.”  

Evening approached and, as was his custom, Ernest set out to meet the villagers who gathered at sunset to listen to his words. He and the poet walked together to the small nook among the hills where a natural pulpit was carved into the stone backdrop. Ernest took his place there, gazing kindly at the assembled villagers.

Ernest began to speak from his heart. His words had power, the delicious purity of a draught of spring water. The poet listened to Ernest’s words, knew that a lifetime of love and good deeds had dissolved in this draught, knew that Ernest’s words were a nobler stream of poetry than his own…

The poet glanced up and saw the Great Stone Face, mists surrounding it even as Ernest’s white hair surrounded his face.

At that moment, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, unable to stop himself, threw up his arms, and shouted, ”Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face.”

And all the people looked, saw what the deep-sighted poet saw. The prophecy was fulfilled.

Yet Ernest, when he’d finished speaking, taking the poet’s arm, walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance to the Great Stone Face.      .

engaging with your archetype

Sophia Reflection for June 12, 2021

August 2011. On a high cliff above the Hudson River in a former Catholic Monastery, now a Buddhist Prayer Center in Garrison, New York, the East Coast Mystery School Community is gathered for its penultimate experience. Before the weekend ends, there will be a hurricane. We will gather outdoors, above the river, letting the winds blow where they will….

Yet, when I think back to that weekend, a different sort of hurricane fills my memory.

On Saturday night, Jean Houston offered a time called “The Gifting”. In a curtained alcove, we were each in turn invited to speak with Jean about the desires we held for our lives. This process would continue into the early hours of the morning. Everyone had a chance to ask for a gift. Jean was empowered by the Beloved to respond.

T couldn’t give you this gift until you asked for it

I had a complex request prepared, one that involved many aspects of my ongoing ministry of spirituality for women. As I waited for my turn to speak with Jean, my eyes were drawn to a cross carved in the wood above what had been the monastery’s sacristy. A knowing rose from my depths that this symbol belonged to an earlier form of spirituality. Suddenly I knew clearly what I needed to ask for in the gifting.

When I was seated across from Jean, I made my request: “I want to be an embodiment of the Sacred Feminine.”

“I have seen this in you,” Jean said. “You are ready. I couldn’t give you this gift until you asked for it.”

Looking back now over the ten years since that Gifting, I recall the different ways I have sought to grow in this sacred relationship. As a writer, I was drawn to engage in a process I’d heard Jean recommend: daily conversations with the Beloved. The unlined pages of my large hardcover journals began to fill up with my black ink handwriting at an alarming rate. You may wonder how I could call it “conversation. I was the one writing both my questions and the answers…

Trust me in this: I began to recognize a different writing voice in the responses, one that was both more certain and more gentle than my own. I noticed that often when I asked an important or perplexing question, for which I could find no guidance, the Beloved’s words would clarify for me what had been fogbound, showing alternatives that my conscious mind had not been able to see or imagine.

If you enjoy journal writing, I recommend this process, adding a caution of patience and perseverance. Early in the dialogue writing the suggestions I received were about small things: a nudge to send an email, make a phone call, complete a task, or even take a break! I admit I was rather disappointed, having expected to be asked something exciting, noble, life-altering….

Today I found in an old journal something I wrote in 2012. I share these suggestions with you. You may wish to add others.

Nurturing a Relationship with the Beloved:

Care for the relationship as you would a sacred garden.

Spend time within this garden.

Be aware of new plants, growing, emerging.

Water these with your time and attention.

Dance, so that your whole body is involved in this gift

Imagine yourself striding through deep waters to keep the lower chakras aware and alive.

Look for weeds- noxious ones or even other plants that begin to demand space, light, air, water, distracting you from the great gift you are fostering within you. It takes time, energy, focus.

Above all, it takes acknowledgement that this is your most important work, the one thing necessary, without which all your other tasks would come to nothing….

You must structure your life around (this gift), as you would make room for a lover or friend whom you invite into your life…

This gift asks for space, attention, nurture, even the sacrifice of your more self-centred concerns… refocus your energy towards what the Sacred Presence feels and enjoys and longs for…would wish to do in/through/with you.

 “Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke)

May you enter the adventure with trust and find delight in your relationship with the Beloved of your Soul.

Longing Leads to wisdom

We each carry a treasure within us. Etty Hillesum writes of “that little piece of you, God, in ourselves,” and Teilhard de Chardin describes “the diaphany of the Divine” which he recognizes “at the heart of a glowing universe.” That sacred presence manifests in our lives at times as a kind of knowing more intimate, more sure, than something read or heard from others.

We experience moments of clarity when we “see” into and around the deep questions that arise within us. In times of darkness or dimness, in times when we hunger for meaning, for a path through difficulties, we catch a glimpse of light, a glimmer of radiance, as when quartz crystal in a rock catches starlight.

We have moments of sight, of knowing. But do we trust them? Do we follow the path they point out to us?

Perhaps we do sometimes, perhaps for a little while…

There is an ancient Arabic tale of a wondrous golden bird who drops one burnished feather.

Its magnificence lures other birds to set off in pursuit of the golden one. The intensity of desire fuels their flight into an arduous journey.

They fly through danger, through darkness, through wild winds and pelting rain. The way is long. Some become lost, some sustain injuries, a broken wing, a blinded eye. Others become so exhausted that they stop to rest before turning back towards home.

In only a few does the desire burn so intensely that they cannot turn away.

When they finally reach journey’s end, the golden bird is waiting for them, ready to reveal a secret: each one of the birds carries a golden feather in his or her breast.

This story illumines the path to wisdom. It begins with desire, with a glimpse of something lovely and golden that allures us.

We set out, lured by our longing. If we hold the vision in our heart through danger, darkness, discouragement, through the disenchantment, the desertion of some of our companions, we win through at last to the place where the golden bird awaits us.

We discover that our allurement has led us into our own hearts where a golden feather has been all along.

What does this mean in our personal stories? What dangers do we encounter that are so terrifying that we are tempted to turn back?

I do not think we fear darkness, danger, stormy nights, piercing cold or blistering heat. We have lived long enough to know about difficult journeys.

We have taken a few already. We are not like the birds who turn aside because the way is dark and uncertain.

 I think Marianne Williamson has it right: what we fear most is not darkness, but our own light.

We distrust the very longing that allures us. We fear the beauty of what we seek. Somehow we have come to believe that it is best not to desire too much, that it is nobler to be content with less, to keep to the low road, the one that cannot disappoint or deceive us. We have been taught NOT to seek too much,

NOT to desire joy, NOT to expect happiness. Perhaps those who taught us were trying to protect us for disappointment.

Or maybe they prefer us to be more pliant, more in tune with their needs than with our own, more willing to serve their desires than the desires of the Universe, the longings that have been seeded in our hearts by the Sacred Presence of Love…

And yet, the poets, the mystics, the wise ones of all times and faith paths assure us: the Universe has birthed us out of Love, and our heritage is light and joy, inner wisdom, guidance towards fullness of life. We are not meant for ease nor for absence from the suffering that is part of life.

But we are offered beauty, meaning, wonder, and a love within us that draws us into Love.

It is our longings that lead us to our destiny.

As Frank MacEowen writes in The Mist-Filled PathNearly all initiations, if they are truly centered in the life of the soul, are about stepping into right relationship with the spirit of longing. Initiation is the process of defining and refining one’s role in the life of our longing, determining how we can be conduits for its influence in our lives and world.

Our longings influence more than our own lives as Brian Swimme also assures us:

Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you. (The Universe Is a Green Dragon)

MacEowen believes that: When we have a tangible heart-felt sense of the pain and joy of our personal longing,a powerful force that seeks to serve others becomes activated in our souls.

And the Sufi poet Rumi encourages us: 

Let the Beauty you love be what you do.

While life’s door stands open, we must step out onto the moon-washed path that lures us forward.We must take the path that leads to life, the path illumined by the deepest longings of our heart.

On that path we will be serving the Universe as seekers, sharers, of joy and wisdom.

Where longing leads us

How might your life have been different if, once as you sat in the darkness, suffering the most piercing shame for simply being yourself

…you had sensed a presence nearby, sitting quietly in the shadows attending you…a forgiving Feminine presence?

If you had felt such a flow of compassion from that ancient presence … that you could begin to accept your flaws, even your gravest faults?

And deeply comforted in the flow of that compassion, you were able, at last, to embrace your own woundedness.

How might your life be different?

Out of a woman’s acceptance of her woundedness

comes a quietness and sense of peace.

The transformation of the Masculine energy within her

from negating to supporting allows her to become herself.

She redirects her efforts from the outer to the inner realm…

finally makes the return to Archetypal Feminine ground

with her roots in the guiding principles of the deeper Self.

(I Sit Listening to the Wind Judith Duerk, LuraMedia, San Diego, California, 1993, pp. 91-92)

It is now twenty-five years since I first read these words.

They amazed me, awakening a longing in me for a loving presence for whom I had no name.

Have you also sensed a similar desire? Have you also searched, perhaps found, a mysterious presence of guidance and love, rooted in “the guiding principles of the deeper Self”?

Today you and I are like nascent butterflies emerging from the cocoon of these fourteen months of isolation, anxiety and deep questioning of so much in our former lives. We need time to pause, allow our wings to dry.

We need to become used to what we already know will be a new way of existing on the planet.

The butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings. It is a new being whose entire DNA has been altered.

Apparently the fashion /clothing industry is gearing up for an explosion of interest in new clothes. I suggest we focus first on what is within us.

What longings have been awakened in these past months in moments of aloneness or darkness or deep anxiety? What are these longings and where are they seeking to lead us?

Artist sketch of Greece by Dave Neave

To begin, may I take you with me to Greece, to Zakynthos Island on the Ionian Sea. It is May, 2014 as we gather under the shade of trees in the morning sunlight.

With a huge palm tree serving as backdrop, Jean Houston speaks to us of the Beloved, the One towards whom we long: the Great Friend. This is the One with whom we live and act in “interdependent co-arising”, the quantum partner who holds/knows more than we do about what we require for our work, our task.

Jean tells us that on the Greek Island of Samothrace, in ages past, the Rites of Pothos or Longing were celebrated.

In The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/ Putnam, New York, 1987, 1997), Jean writes:

Pothos initially rises because I find that I am a stranger to myself and that I cannot discover myself except through finding the other. Thus I wander in search of the potential reunion.

The rites of pothos at Samothrace spoke to this reunion and addressed the truth that you are both yourself and your archetype, the extended godded self residing in the archetypal world. Thus part of us dwells in the archetypal realm that transcends time and space, and part of us dwells here in existential space and time. In the Mysteries, the initiates grew into an awareness of their double nature. They essentially learned to “dock with their angel”. Ultimately then, pothos helps us to navigate in two realms. Our yearnings and seaborne wanderings carry us into the depths….

The mystery religions, with their emphasis upon dramatic inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, redemption, joy,and ecstasy of union  with the archetypal Beloved, gave people a sense of deeper identity and belonging.

Jean invites us to consider:

Who is your double in the extended realm of the soul?

For whom are you here as the…partner, the exotype of the archetype?

Who or what is it that is yearning for you, calling to you, who is the beloved you are always trying to remember? (The Search for the Beloved, page 126)

Our longings can sometimes take shape in dreams or in imaginings. The poet, Denise Levertov, tells of an imaginal encounter with a presence whom she names, “The Goddess”. Chancing upon this poem, I find it touches an inner knowing, our longing for, a power both fierce and loving that will come to set us free from our captivity:

The Goddess
 

She in whose lipservice

I passed my time,

Whose name I knew, but not her face,

came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle !

Flung me across the room, and

room after room ( hitting the walls, re-

bounding – to the last

sticky wall- wrenching away from it

pulled hair out!)

till I lay

outside the outer walls!

There in cold air

lying still where her hand had thrown me,

I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:

the seeds of a forest were in it,

asleep and growing! I tasted

her power!

The silence was answering my silence,

a forest was pushing itself

out of sleep between my submerged fingers.

I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue

of day that shone already among stars

in the water-mirror of low ground,

and a wind rising ruffled the lights:

she passed near me returning from the encounter,

she who plucked me from the close rooms,

without whom nothing

flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,

without whom nothing

speaks in its own tongue, but returns

lie for lie!

(The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov, New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York, 2013)