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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)

walking with julian

On the eve of the May 13th feast of Julian of Norwich, after weeks of cool wet weather, summer suddenly arrived. I set out to explore a new walking trail near my home. I’d noticed on an earlier walk that it branched off a snowmobile track that I knew. I was fairly sure it must connect with another walking/skiing trail, leading to a road some fifteen minutes further to the south.

After walking for almost an hour on a narrow path through dense woods, I became lost. The spring rains had left pools of water that swallowed the trail where it dipped. Seeking a way around one of these puddles, I lost sight of the path. I had no idea where I was. For the first time, I realized I was in danger.

I called out to Julian and at once caught a glimpse of the path up ahead.

I walked on, crossed a foot bridge, carefully placed by trail managers…

I continued on beyond an intersection of a snowmobile trail.

It was then that I noticed a small lonely trillium at the edge of the path, one I thought I’d passed already…but the woods were sprinkled with trilliums….I walked on.

Up ahead I saw a painted sign high on a tree: “Peter’s Path”. This I knew I’d already seen. I retraced my steps to where the snowmobile trail had intersected. I understood then that I’d walked a loop that brought me back to where the trail had begun. Soon a tall white pine spoke to me of home nearby….

White Pine Announces Home

Words of TS Eliot came to me, something about our end being our beginning. My thoughts on that long walk had been a seeking for direction in an aspect of my ministry. I knew now what I needed to do: circle back to the beginning of the work. I would seek fresh inspiration in a dialogue I’d written with Julian in 2013.

When I got home, I searched for the poem, found that it was the same one, “Little Gidding”, in his Four Quartets, where TS Eliot had quoted Julian of Norwich. I offer the last section of the poem for your delight:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time,

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always –

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

 (T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding” 1943)

who is the beloved disciple?

Easter Saturday is usually a quiet day, a time of waiting, doing some house cleaning, anticipating the dawn of Easter. Yet as nothing thus far in 2021 has been “usual,” I was not surprised when my appointment for the COVID vaccination in a nearby town was scheduled for that day. Returning home with neither energy nor desire for housework, I reached for a book:The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, a translation made in 2010 from a previously little known first century Gospel written in Greek. It is thought to have been brought to the Languedoc in France (at that time Roman Gaul) from Alexandria in the early to middle part of the first century (thus showing it to be decades earlier than any of the four Gospels we know best).

The translator and commentator is Jehanne de Quillan, a woman with ties to a 12th Century Community in France whose members have guarded this treasure. In her commentary, de Quillan invites the reader to consider the question: “Who is the beloved disciple?” the one who lay back on the breast of Jesus as the disciples were seated for the Last Supper, the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother as he was dying on the Cross?

It was not until the end of the second century that this “beloved disciple” became synonymous with the apostle John. De Quillan questions this designation, noting that for the Jewish people of that time, homophobia was as prevalent as in our own cultures. For a man to sit so intimately near to Jesus at the Last Supper would have been shocking.  

And if it were John to whom Jesus entrusted his mother as he died, why is John not listed as present at the foot of the cross?

The Gospel of John 19: 25-27 tells us: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,“Dear Woman here is your son.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

As de Quillan explains, the Greek word translated as “son” holds several layers of meaning to denote a relationship and may refer to either gender.

Yet the traditional interpretation has insisted  it must be John to whom Jesus speaks, even though he is not mentioned as being present.

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, it is the Mother of Jesus and Mary Migdalah who, in accordance with Jewish law, anoint the body of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion, with the spices brought to them by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.

Mary the Migdalah: artwork Sue Ellen Parkinson 

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, the encounter of the Magdalene with Jesus on Easter Morning is very similar to the account in the  Gospel of John. What’s different is that Mary upon her discovery of the empty tomb remains there alone.

The whole confusing incident of Mary leaving to tell Peter, of Peter and John racing to the tomb, then leaving again, is simply not there.

Here is  howThe Gospel of the Beloved Companion tells of Easter Morning:

40:3 Now on the first day of the week, Miryam the Migdalah went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone taken away from the entrance

40:4 Stooping and looking in, she saw that the tomb was empty and the linen cloths scattered where the body had been laid.

Yet she did not enter in, but remained standing outside at the tomb, weeping. And hearing a noise, she turned around and saw a figure standing close by.

Because of her weeping, she did not know that it was Yeshua.

40:5 Then Yeshua said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ”Sir, if you or another have carried him away, tell me where he is laid, and I will go and take him away.”

  (As de Quillan comments: “She is in no doubt that she has the right to take his body, wherever it may be laid….we must examine the conventions of the first century to determine who would have such authority, such a right. The answer is quite obvious.” p. 172 )

Yeshua said to her, “Miryam.” She turned and, overcome with joy, said to him, “Rabbouni!”

40:6 Yeshua said to her, “Miryam, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit. But rather go to my disciplesand tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe themand keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”

 40:7 And the Migdalah therefore returned onto her own and there in that place were gathered Martha her sister, Eleazar her brother,whom Yeshua had restored to life, and Miryam, the Mother of Ya’akov, Yosef and Salome. With them also was Toma, who was called the twin;and Yosef of Arimathaea, who had asked Pilate for the body of Yeshua; and Nicodemus, who at first came to Yeshua by night, and who had brought spices for his burial.

40:8 Also there were the disciples Levi who some have called Mattithyahu; (Matthew) and Joanna; and the other Salome,to whom Yeshua had spoken at the Well of Ya-akov. The Migdalah told the disciples that she had seen Yeshua  and that he had said these things to her.

And they knew the truth of her and were all filled with great joy and believed.  (The Gospel of the Beloved Companion pp.169-70) 

Jesus had told his apostles, “You will all be scattered…” That is what this Gospel shows, for of the eleven remaining apostles, only Matthew and Thomas were gathered with the other disciples in Mary’s home at Bethany.

Jehanne de Quillan concludes: 

“So, one might ask, where does that leave us? Was the Gospel of the Beloved Companion the source document for what we have come to know as the Gospel of John?

….Was Miryam not only the Apostle to the apostles, but in fact, truly the first and the last apostle, the true  Beloved Disciple, loyal to Yeshua from the beginning to the end, and known here as the Companion, Beloved of Yeshua, the Migdalah?

“My answer is simple: it is you, the reader who must decide. In the final analysis, it is your own heart that must be the adjudicator of this, and so many other questions…. .” (p. 194)

I encourage you, to read The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (Jehanne de Quillan, Editions Athara, 09000 Foix, Ariege, France, 2010)


 It hovers, the knowing that soon, with the rising of the full Paschal Moon on March 28th, it will be time to re-enter the Sacred  Days of Holy Week and Passover.

For years, decades, I approached Holy Week with a kind of dread, knowing I must engage once more in the agony of Jesus, his sufferings, his death, followed by the long tomb-time of his absence , before I could even remember the truth of Resurrection….

I would get up during the night after the Holy Thursday Eucharist, to spend an hour in prayer, remembering Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his friends asleep around him, as he faced the certitude of his coming death.

 It was a Mystery Play, perhaps not unlike the ancient Greek and Roman Mystery Rituals, but the emotions were manufactured.The darkness I experienced through these intense feelings of grief and loss was real, as was the physical discomfort of fasting.

Yet some part of me knew it was play-acting: both the terrible loss of Good Friday and the exploding joy of Easter. Jesus IS risen and will never die again; the Christ is with us always.

Seven years ago, something shifted. I wakened in the deep heart of Holy Thursday night. Yet I was drawn in prayer, not to the Garden of Gethsemane, but to the earth herself, in agony, dying. I sat through that hour with her suffering.

Later, I came upon this lovely meditation by Susan Griffin which spoke to my heart:

As I go into the Earth, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly.

I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed.

Each time I go to her, I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me.

I become aware of all that has come between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her.

They speak effortlessly, and I learn that at no instant does she fail me in her presence.  She is as delicate as I am, I know her sentience,

I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands,

and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst,

in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister, I love her daily grace,

her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,

all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her. (Susan Griffin in The Body of Earth)

Since that time of awakening, I experience these Sacred Days of the Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of  life/death/life that is at the Holy Heart of the Universe, in a new and deeper way. The suffering is not a remembrance of events in the life of Jesus, but rather a reawakening to the raw suffering, the unaccountable losses, the seeking for light and hope in darkness that is the Mystery Play of our lives, especially now in this year of 2021 on Planet Earth.

I wakened two days ago, as you did also, to the news of another mass shooting, ten lives snuffed out in a grocery store. No motive known for the young man who shot them….

Our Canadian news is revisiting the death a few years ago of a young Indigenous man who was shot by a farmer on whose property he was trespassing. The farmer was acquitted. The young man remains dead, his mother’s humiliation by the RCMP who investigated her son’s death only now coming to light.

These agonies rose in me that same morning as in a Sacred Dance Class we were invited to meditate on the Black Madonna… for the first time I really understood why we need a Sacred Feminine Presence that is more than sweetness and light, One who is also fierce, strong, capable of holding us in the darkness in which our lives are shrouded. The Dark Mother, Who was present in the very chaos in which our Universe was birthed, is strong enough to remain through eons of destruction and rebirth.

Statue of the Black Madonna in Chartres Cathedral, France

In the poetry of John O’Donohue we find words powerful enough to hold the agony as well as the ecstasy of the Paschal Mystery. In this poem I grasp the gift we’ve been given by Jesus in his suffering and death: the courage to endure the suffering within and around us.

“The Agony in the Garden”:

Whatever veil of mercy shrouds the dark

Wound that stops weeping in no one, cannot

Stop the torrent of night when it buries thought

And heart beneath the black tears of the earth.

Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,

Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane.

Subsiding under the weight of silence

That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.

What light could endure the dark he entered?

The void that turns the mind into a ruin 

Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds

Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.

Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;

Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

(John O’Donohue in Conamara Blues)

May the Dark Mother hold each of us as we too stand in that nothingness, raising the chalice of kindness to bless.

Brigid Speaks of Spring Equinox

( continuing our imaginal journey to Ireland where we meet Brigid)

In mid-morning, we walk from our lodgings in Kildare to the garden where we sat with Brigid on our first visit. She’s here already,seated beside the pool of water, expecting us. Her smile warms the air of this mid-March day. Following her lead,we breathe in the fragrance of earth, of violets, daffodils, foxglove, and trees whose young leaves are ready to burst outwards.

With a gesture of welcome, Brigid invites us to sit near her where the early grass softens the earth beside the pool.

“Today we need to speak of the equinox,” Brigid begins. “Do you know its meaning?”

A few of us exchange glances. Every child knows what equinox means, and yet Brigid waits, expecting a response.

“It means that day and night are of equal length after the short days and long dark nights of winter,” Mary responds, politely.

Brigid smiles. I have the uncomfortable feeling that she knows exactly what we’re thinking. “That’s a good answer, as far it goes,” she says now.

“But did you not understand our last conversation? You and I and all that lives upon our beautiful planet are part of her.

“Our lives, our bodies, our souls, our spirits are one with her rhythms, her seasons. Since this is so, what meaning does equinox hold for us?”

“Is it about balance?” Noreen ventures. 

At this, Brigid smiles. Mischievously, I think. “Balance, yes. But balance of what?”

 “Light and darkness,” I say, growing increasingly uncomfortable as I wonder what Brigid is up to, if she’s playing with us, trying to trip us up in our knowledge of the earth. Spurred by this thought, I rush on, “it’s the balance of light and darkness that shows us spring is coming. Longer days mean that the earth will soon be bursting with new life.  Also,” I add this with some pride as I’ve only just learned it myself, “it’s the increase in daylight that draws the birds back from the south.”

Brigid appears unimpressed. “I don’t think you really understand about the equinox. You’re describing what you see around you.

“My question is about what’s happening within you.”

 Suddenly a fox emerges from the bushes beyond the garden. It walks with soft steps, unswervingly, towards Brigid.

Though her back is to the fox, though she could not possibly see the delicate animal, Brigid stretches her hand towards the fox, calling out,

“Come, my friend. Meet some people who have a great deal to learn.”

 Frozen in fear at the appearance of the fox, we watch in amazement as the small animal comes to sit, composed, peaceful, at Brigid’s feet.

 “Your Celtic ancestors,” Brigid continues, as she strokes the fox’s fur with her hand, “like indigenous peoples everywhere, experienced time as circular. They danced to its rhythm: night gave birth to dawn and day blossomed before it waned into evening, back into night.

 “These ancestors watched the cycles of the moon, the turning of the tides. The women noticed how the rhythms of their own bodies,their regular times of bleeding, followed the moon’s rhythms. No wonder they felt at home in the universe, embraced by the earth.

 “Because they saw their lives as part of the great cycle of life, the Celtic people created a calendar that marked the seasons of the year, dividing the year into two major parts related to the sun’s light: giamos and samos. They celebrated eight festivals that were about 45 days apart.

“Because they understood that it is darkness that gives birth to light, their year opened with the Festival of Samhain, November 1st, when the dark days begin. These are the days of inwardness, receptivity, the time that came to be known as feminine. Here the pace slows, linear time recedes, the intuitive is honoured over the rational. With the Festival of Bealtaine, on May 1st, the bright masculine sun days begin, the samos time of outer activity when the seeds nourished through the dark days blossom into new life. The linear, analytic, rational way dominates once again. 

 “In the Celtic Calendar, the Spring Equinox occurs halfway between the Winter and Summer Solstices. It’s the festival just before Bealtaine, when the feminine season ends, and the masculine begins.

 “Now can you see a deeper meaning for the equinox? It’s an invitation to find a new balance within our lives, within our cultures and throughout the planet, of these masculine and feminine energies that so often are in opposition. It’s a time to choose how we shall hold the values of the dark time of the goddess even as the bright active masculine takes over in our lives.

 “How will you choose to honour the feminine intuitive gifts of the moon time in the days when the sun calls forth your logical, rational gifts?Will you make a space in these busier days for quiet reflection, for remembering your winter dreams, for poetry, music, drawing, dance or whatever nourishes your inward life? Will you seek a finer balance of work and recreation, of times with family and friends as well as times of solitude? Will you consider how the dance of opposites in your own life might flow in rhythm, even as it does in the Celtic Calendar?

“These are important questions, dear friends. I hope you will consider them until we meet here again. 

 “If we could enter into the ancient ones’ understanding of time, the rhythms of our lives would take on sacred meaning. Our times of inner darkness would hold the promise of a dawn of new joy. Our losses would be seen as invitations to embrace other gifts, our death as birth into a new as yet unimagined life.”

 And with those words, Brigid is gone, her fox companion with her!

We are left here by the pool, thinking, wondering.