Sophia and the Rhythm of Your Heart

Statue of the Madonna of Combermere

In conversation with friends, in listening to commentary from radio hosts, in online messages from a few wise teachers, I notice a recurring theme in these February days: fatigue. Not the welcome weariness that follows a time of satisfying work; this is something deeper, more subtle, more pervasive: a weariness of heart.

No need to seek its causes. These are evident in our daily news broadcasts: we are weary of COVID, weary of our valiant efforts to contain it, weary of the angry voices, the blaring horns, the disruptive actions of those who refuse to wait for the right time to lift mandates meant to hasten the end of the pandemic.

Where might we find ways to counter this soul-deep weariness?

Yesterday, driving to the nearby town of Arnprior, I crossed a bridge that spans a wide expanse of the Madawaska River just before it joins the Ottawa River.  All at once, inexplicably, I felt a sense of joy rise in my heart. I had been thinking, as I often do, of a woman I met only once several decades ago on the shores of this same river some sixty kilometres upstream. My brief meeting with Catherine Doherty had a profound effect on my life.

Catherine Doherty, Founder of Madonna House

A White Russian, a Baroness, who escaped the Russian Revolution, Catherine came to Canada, travelled to the US to work for a time with Dorothy Day in Harlem before returning to Canada with her second husband, an Irish-American journalist named Eddie Doherty. They obtained a piece of wooded land on the Madawaska River where they formed a lay community of vowed men and women, the first of its kind, at the request of, with the blessing of Pope Pius XII. Catherine and Eddy dedicated their lives to the Madonna, naming their Community in Her honour.

As a young journalist I drove the two hour journey from Ottawa to Madonna House to interview Catherine for the newspaper of the Ottawa Archdiocese. Catherine was a widow by then, still grieving the loss of her great love, Eddie, and nearing the end of her life. Confident that I’d prepared carefully for the interview with three intelligent (in my own estimation!) questions about living the Gospel “in changing times”, I was not prepared for the fire of her presence.

 Catherine barked: “The Gospel doesn’t change. ‘Go sell what you have and give the money to the poor and come follow Me’” After that she refused to answer any other questions. As I was leaving, Catherine  looked at me steadily: “You’re living in your head. One day it will fall into your heart, and then the walls will come tumbling down! Then I’d like to interview you !”

One day it happened, just as Catherine had predicted, though by then it was too late to return to Madonna House to be interviewed by her.

Today I still feel the lifting of the heart from that moment yesterday. Was it the memory or was it the River itself connecting me with Catherine’s spirit. I’ve come to know her through the experience of portraying her in A Woman in Love with a script written by Cynthia Donnelly a member of the Madonna House Community. 

At sunset I was driving home with the Madawaska River flowing by on the left side of highway. Where the river expands to form Calabogie Lake I glanced at the sky to see the tenderest shades of pink filling the clouds that hovered above the frozen snow-covered water.  For the second time that day I felt joy filling me like wind in my sails.

In James Janda’s play Julian, that great fourteenth century mystic, Julian of Norwich, speaks these words:  “We have suffered in the midst of beauty.”

Sunset over Glastonbury Tor

I’ll close these thoughts with words of John O’Donohue that might have been written for us today:

FOR ONE WHO IS EXHAUSTED, A BLESSING

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laboursome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time

Catherine, Julian and John. Three mystics and three sources of beauty: river, sky, snowclad earth. That may be all we need to see us through to the other side of the pandemic.

Women Rising Rooted

Brigid of Faughart Festival, Ireland, 2018

If we surrendered

to Earth’s intelligence

we could rise up rooted,

like trees.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

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

Snowdrops Bloom for Brigid’s Day in Ireland

From a window on the upper floor; Dolores shows me the Hill of Faughart in the distance, aligned with her home. Birthplace of Saint Brigid, 5th c. Abbess of the Monastery in Kildare, Faughart is ancient in memory, a place where the goddess Brigid was honoured in pre-Christian Ireland.  Brigid’s Festival honours both saint and goddess. In the days that follow they merge in my awareness, become intertwined, embodied in the fiery women whom I meet: Dolores and the volunteers who planned the events of the festival as well as the presenters, attendees, poets, artists, dancers, singers, writers… each aflame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How surely gravity’s law                

 strong as an ocean current

 takes hold of even

 the smallest thing

 and pulls it toward

 the heart of the world.

Each thing –

 each stone, blossom, child –

 is held in place

Only we in our arrogance

push out beyond what

 we each belong to –

 for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered

 to Earth’s intelligence

 we could rise up rooted,

 like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves

 in knots of our own making

 and struggle, lonely

  and confused.

So, like children

 we begin again

 to learn from the things

 because they are in

 God’s heart,

 they have never left him.

     (Rainer Maria Rilke)           

Brigid A Woman for All Seasons

In the Celtic Calendar, Brigid makes her first appearance at the Feast of Imbolc (February 1st ) coming in her aspect as maiden, as promise of spring, breathing life into the mouth of dead winter.

At the Brigid weekend in February 2014 (Galilee Centre, Arnprior, Ontario) Dolores Whelan led us in a ritual of welcoming Brigid into our lives. 

The knocking on the wooden door is so loud it startles us, even though we are waiting for the sound. A woman’s voice, strong, certain, calls out from the other side: “I am Brigid. Do you have a welcome for me?”

We have our answer ready, “Yes, we do.” The door opens. The woman playing Brigid’s role enters.

Do we “have a welcome” for Brigid in our lives?

What does it mean to answer her question with a resounding, “yes”?

Brigid is a woman of great power, an archetype, an embodiment of the energies of the sacred feminine, another facet of Sophia. Our welcome of her will open up our lives in ways we cannot foresee, cannot even imagine. But the hints are already given in the stories about her.

Recall the legend that angels carried Brigid over the seas from Ireland to Bethlehem so that she might be present for the birth of Jesus, assisting Mary as midwife. Brigid, who was born in the fifth century after the event….

John Duncan 1913 Edinburgh Gallery

Immediately we find ourselves in sacred time, in what today’s physicists, following Einstein, would call the simultaneity of time. Mystery. We suspend disbelief, allow our linear, logical brains to take a break, invite the story to offer us its teachings. Ask how this applies to our own lives. Listen.Each one of us is asked, like Mary, to give birth to the Holy One. In Godseed, Jean Houston writes about the heart of our call, inviting us into a meditation, a visualization, of how this might be:

Lying down now and closing your eyes, imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams, you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News, a Resident from the Depths. This angel says to you, “Oh Child of God, fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership, for that which is conceived in you is of the spiritual Reality. And this Reality, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to…bring the Godseed into the world.”

And now see what the angel sees—the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you….see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future, of this Child in you, this Godseed that you are growing in the womb of your entire being, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.  (Jean Houston in Godseed Quest Books 1992 p.39)

This call to birth the Christ within us is as ancient as first century Paul, who wrote of being in labour until Christ is born in us. It is as modern as twenty-first century eco-feminist theologian Yvonne Gebara who entreats us to give birth to the Christic Presence in the Universe. Contemporary writer Diarmuid O’Murchu cites the words of the thirteenth century Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart: What does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed, giving birth all day long.

Reflecting on Meister Eckhart’s image, O’Murchu continues:

This is a metaphor we have known as a spiritual species for thousands of years, long before formal religions ever came into being….The Great Goddess of our Paleolithic ancestors was perceived as a woman of prodigious fecundity, birthing forth the stars and galaxies, the mountains and oceans and every life form populating planet earth today. God, the great life-giver in the pregnant power of creative Spirit, is probably the oldest and most enduring understanding of the Holy One known to our species.

O’Murchu concludes that: we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. (Diarmuid O’Murchu Jesus in the Power of Poetry 2009 pp. 45-46)

 When we say yes to our call to give birth, we are embracing a lifelong partnership with the Holy One of “prodigious birthing”, a responsibility that has the power to take over our lives, to demand of us everything, to offer us a life that is at once profoundly meaningful, and intimately engaged with the ongoing renewal of the universe. There will be suffering, there will be hard work, but there will also be times of ecstatic joy, tasting our oneness with the Love at the heart of life.

“Brigid is the acceptable face of women’s divinity,” said Irish theologian Mary Condren during the Brigid Festival (Brescia College, London Ontario, May, 2015). Listening to Mary Condren, my understanding of Brigid expanded beyond her aspect of maiden to her embodiment of mother and crone. Mary’s research for a long-awaited book on Brigid is a seemingly endless process of pulling up a thread only to find a cluster of many more threads underneath. Now exploring the Cailleach (Crone) aspect of the threefold presence of the sacred feminine, Mary is discovering how central the Cailleach tradition was in ancient times. It seems that at the Festival of Samhain (November 1st), the maiden, mother and crone return to the Cailleach.

Irish Theologian Mary Condren

By uncovering old pilgrimage paths and excavating ancient ritual sites in Ireland, researchers are finding many earlier aspects of the sacred feminine that were then ”folded into” the Brigid tradition which in turn was interwoven with the 5th century abbess, Saint Brigid. Mary Condren longs for Adrienne Rich’s “dream of a common language” that would bring the Cailleach/Brigid tradition into harmony with the Christian tradition.  

Mercy was the beatitude Brigid chose when she took her veil. Mary Condren believes that the difference between mercy and sacrifice encapsulates the difference between a thealogy (based on feminine values) and patriarchal traditions.

Brigid’s cloak is a symbol of protection and of the creative womb of the earth. Collecting dew on the Festival of Imbolc is an ancient feminine ritual. Mary Condren’s research into dew in the sacred writings of many religions (including Kwan Yin where the dew symbolizes compassion and in the Hebrew Bible) shows the longevity of this tradition.

The dew of mercy becomes in Christianity the blood of sacrifice, the redemptive liquid of patriarchy.

Mary Condren believes that Brigid’s life and tradition offers an alternative to sacrifice in the practice of self-fragilization, a willingness to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to enter the darkness, to enter the well, and still to remain whole.

Brigid’s fire is an inner flame that does not burn out. Mary Condren suggests that we cultivate that inner fire of purification and protection rather than the spectacular destructive fire of sacrifice.

The Imbolc question echoes: Do we have a welcome in our lives for Brigid?

Dolores reminds us that it is only in us, you and me, that the energy of Brigid will rise again, take form and become a force for transformation in our world. (Dolores Whelan in Ever Ancient, Ever New Dublin 2010 p. 81)

This Place That You Belong To

  Voices, so very many voices fill the solitude of Covid days that stretch endlessly into an unseen future… voices on CBC Radio describing disasters: volcanic explosions beneath the Pacific Ocean inundating nearby islands… spectacular snowstorms in North America depositing more snow than some areas have seen over many winters past… political tensions around the globe. Between these realities my radio offers up Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Brahms … soaring melodies that speak a different truth about our lives…

         On Sunday afternoon, I turn off the sounds, dress in warm layers, set off for the nearby woods.

   After a challenging climb to higher ground, I enter the narrow snow path reserved for walkers and cross-country skiers….On either side of the trail the deciduous trees stand in stillness, unashamed to be seen leafless, naked. It takes some time before I notice the silence. No sound, not a breath of wind. In the quiet, though they say nothing to me, the trees welcome me home …peace rises in me, fills my being, body, mind, spirit, soul.

   Two days later, those of us who are journeying through Jean Houston‘s book The Quest of Rose, (co-written with Anneloes Smitsman, 2021) gather on ZOOM to continue our reflections on Chapter Eight. Our conversation begins with the wonder, the joy each of us experienced the night before as the full Wolf Moon lit up our skies, as her golden light made its way into our home places.

We’ve seen over these weeks since early November the possibilities of newness for our lives, for our planet, for all that lives upon and within her, all that is nurtured by her.

The vision is alluring, yet each of us struggles, as does Rose herself, with the disconnect between our dreams, hopes, visions and the daily news of the planet. Once again, we’re drawn to the way Rose’s grandmother Verdandi responds to these concerns:

Have you asked Mother Earth for her support? You are a child of the earth, composed of the same elements as the earth herself. Your bones are composed of the same minerals and elements as her rocks, mountains, and soil. Your blood and tears contain the same salt that is in her oceans. Your bodily fluids are fortified with the same waters of life. Your body has been formed by her and nature’s wisdom from billions of years of experimentation, learning and evolution. You literally contain within you all evolution’s intelligence and wisdom as her abilities extend into and become your abilities and you evolve each other. (The Quest of Rose, 192)

Today as I think of all this, I remember my experience on Sunday in the snowy woods. This sends me searching for a poem I’d read recently by Wendell Berry. It holds a deep wisdom that weaves the themes of hope and our earth-home into a tapestry for our time.

This Place That You Belong To
–by Wendell Berry

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, 2013).


Sophia at the Dawn of a New Year

Dawn above Glastonbury Tor. photo by Jasmine Grace Zahara

A most likely place to hide a promise. But here it lies. Within the writings of a little-known first century Roman, Lucius Apuleius, whose character, a hapless magician, turns himself into an ass. He cries to the Goddess for help. Suddenly, shining like the sun, she is there. She rescues him, refers to her many names, then makes this promise: I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon…shall the sun of your salvation rise…. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness. 

That darkness would envelop the sacred feminine presence, forgetting her many names, abandoning her temples, sending her into two millennia of hiddenness…

Well, almost, but not quite.

The light of the feminine holy, like the dawn that follows the darkest night, would find a way to break through. The Shekinah of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Sophia of the Book of Wisdom and the Gnostic Gospels, Mary with her wonderful names drawn from the beauty of the planet: Mystical Rose, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of the Pines, of the Lakes, of the Mountains, Madonna of the Rocks… would find her way into hearts ready to receive her light.

We have been born into the time of the great recovery of ancient wisdom from story, myth, legend, from sacred writings, poetry, and ritual, from the peoples of earth-honouring religions: American and Australian Aboriginals; the Ancient Egyptians; the Celts.

Within these rediscovered traditions, we find the presence of a Sacred Mother, a womb of life who calls us to honour the earth and all her living systems, to honour ourselves, to honour our bodies which are part of the earth. She calls us to accept the wisdom of the circle of life: its rhythms of dawn to day to dark to day; of spring to summer to autumn to winter to spring; of birth to life to death to rebirth.  She calls us by our true name as she invites into the adventure of life in a time when each of us is needed to live fully.

She calls us into joy, through allurement to the hope, to the stunning beauty of a promise born in light. She reminds us that the universe herself is drawn, not through duty, despair, grim determination, but through allurement: the earth is allured to the sun, caught up into a dance of spinning wonder; the moon is allured to earth, circling her in ecstasy; the tides of the seas are allured to the moon, as are the cycles of women’s bodies. Each planet in our galaxy, like each of the galaxies of the universe, of the multiverse, twirls in a passionate dance of awe and delight.

Sophia calls us to awaken on this day which is being born from the womb of this present darkness. Her time is now.

From a Ritual for Epiphany, created by Kathleen Glennon in her book Heartbeat of the Seasons, (Columba Press, Dublin, 2005) I offer this chant/and prayer:

Chant: The wisdom you desire will be given unto you. (Eccl. 6:30)

Dance of Wisdom

Wisdom of the Universe, come to me/us/all

raise hands over your head and bring down to your head

Wisdom of the Earth, come to me/us/all

bring hand upwards from the earth and bring to heart

Wisdom of the Ancestors, come to me/us/all

bow reverently

For the following verse, extend arms upwards,

palms facing upwards and sway to the music

Wisdom of the maiden, come to me/us/all. 

Wisdom of the mother, come to me/us/all. 

Wisdom of the crone, come to me/us/all.

Final Blessing

May Sophia, the Wisdom of the Ages, the Wisdom of the Universe,

continue to journey with us.

May she meet us at our gates in the morning.

May she lie down with us at night.

May all who seek her find her.

May she bring the spirit of discernment into the lives of all.

May her company bring joy and happiness to all.  Amen. 

Sophia for Christmas

What does it profit me if Gabriel hails the Virgin

Unless he brings to me the very selfsame tidings.

(Angelus Silesius)

“The infancy narratives…need to be approached afresh….as an archetypal statement of the God of prodigious birthing…. we are called to become co-birthers with our birthing God of the ongoing evolutionary re-creation of God’s world in justice, love, compassion and liberation. Incarnation becomes an empowering and liberating dynamic, and Christians, instead of fleeing the world, are now challenged to embrace it in its full embodied existence.” (Diarmuid O’Murchu)

Jean Houston writes: Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world. It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being.  

“Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

“What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?  It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.” (Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

The Poet Christine Lore Weber imagines our calling in these words:

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

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

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain…

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

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

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain…

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open centre of you will be radiant.

I will call you Brilliant One.

I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.

What is the newness I long for in my life?

What newness is needed throughout our planet?

Where within me/us is the Holy Child awaiting birth?

How do we prepare our hearts for this new dawning of possibility?

How may we nurture that luminous numinous being as our lives unfold?

        Reflective Process based on Jean Houston’s Godseed :

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Imagine that you are dreaming. In your dreams you see light, and into this light comes a Being of Light, a Bearer of Good News. This angel says to you, “O Woman,  fear not to take unto yourself the spiritual partnership of the One who is Holy, for that which is conceived in you is of the Holy, and this Holy seed, if nurtured, shall be born of you and shall help you to go beyond your fears, your limits, your inability to trust in your own goodness, so that you may bring forth the Light, the Godseed, into the world.” 

Now see what the angel sees – the fulfillment and the unfolding of this Child of Promise within you. In the next few minutes, see and feel and know the possibilities, indeed the future of this Child in you,this Godseed, should you allow it to be nurtured and to grow and to be born into the world.

Watch your Godseed self now. Let it grow, love it, observe its unfolding, Its future.

Let it come into the world. Begin now.

Acknowledge that Godseed and its future. Know its future as Mary must have known the future. Stretch and sit up, ready for whatever the next part of your life will bring you.

Receive these words of Rainer Maria Rilke as a Blessing for new life:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

Go to the limits of your longing.

Embody Me.

Flare up like flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.

Nearby is the country they call life

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.

Sophia at Solstice

The external darkness of winter is mirrored by internal darkness this year. The ongoing crisis of a planet-wide pandemic that shifts its shape to re-appear in new forms adds suffering to our fragile planet. In a bittersweet awakening, a collection of birdsongs from fifty-three endangered species in Australia has shot to top of that country’s music charts. The depletion of uncounted life-forms, the pollution of lakes, rivers, oceans, soil, and even the air we breathe can no longer be ignored. The warnings of scientists about a coming time of disaster have shifted to confirmation that the dark future is already here. We see the effects of the destruction of our home planet with our own eyes and hearts.

In a time of great darkness, we may look for light; we may seek it in denial of the reality, in distractions, in whatever comfort we may find to help us “make it through the night”… and yet there is another way: the way of the Cailleach, the way of Wisdom: we may choose to enter the darkness, to explore it for its hidden gifts, for what it has to teach us. We may learn to know the darkness.

Jan Richardson offers a Blessing for this:

Bless those

Who know the darkness

and do not fear it,

Who carry the light

And are not consumed,

Who prepare the way

 and will not abandon it,

Who bless with grace

That does not leave us.

Ancient people came to “know the darkness” with such accuracy that they could predict the time of the longer nights, the earlier dawns of winter solstice when the return of light became visible.

Winter 2020 Solstice Sunrise, Newgrange, Ireland

In our time, we have come to understand the darkness has come from an excessive love of light, from a worship of bright intellect over the nurturing of nature, the extremes of using the planet’s resources without the needed balance of wisdom….

The 20th century Jungian writer Helen Luke explains it clearly in her book The Way of Woman:

…the instinct of the feminine is precisely to use nothing, but simply to give and to receive. This is the nature of the earth – to receive the seed and to nourish the roots– to foster growth in the dark so that it may reach up to the light.

How are women to recover their reverence for and their joy in this great archetype of which the symbols have always been the earth, the moon, the dark, and the ocean, mother of us all? For thousands of years the necessity of freeing consciousness from the grip of the destructive inertia and from the devouring quality, which are the negative side of the life-giving mother, rightly gave to the emerging spirit of activity and exploration an enormous predominance; but the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun have produced in our time an estrangement even in women themselves from the patient nurturing and enduring qualities of the earth, from the reflected beauty of the silver light of the moon in the darkness, from the unknown in the deep sea of the unconscious and from the springs of the water of life. The way back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

Here is a Blessing of Hope from Jan Richardson for Winter Solstice :

Blessing for Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com

__._,_.___

Becoming Wild Inside

On the Greek island of Paros, we come upon a magnificent Church, built by Constantine to fufill a promise made by his mother Helena. 

The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece

In 326, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica.

Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople’s famed Hagia Sophia, to design it.

Inside we come upon two large, luminous icons of Mary. Affixed to the lower frame of the icons we see images made of gold and silver in shapes depicting eyes, legs, arms….. Our guide, Calliope, tells us that these are offerings given in thanksgiving for a healing. Kapi reminds us that we saw something similar in the Museum: plaster representations of an arm or a leg that was healed, offered in thanksgiving to the healer god Asclepius.

 The dogmas change; the traditions go on, our guide Kapi comments, revealing yet another way in which Greek spirituality is part of a continuum from ancient days. Where once the Greeks sought healing from Asclepius, they now turn to Mary in their need.

On this beautiful island in the Aegean, the mystery of Mary of Nazareth confronts us. A woman wrapped in silence, the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.

 As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year, Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.

 Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief, her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.

Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become, as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?

 When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered an invitation.

Here is how the Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time… when our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?

 From Jean Houston, we have learned that there’s no time left for us to refuse any call that smacks of greatness. The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness. Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:

 Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is), because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….

 What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit? It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

(Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)

Eccentric. Inconvenient. Perhaps. But nonetheless it is our call. Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”.

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 Wisdom in the Tale of Vasalisa

Guided by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, we journey deeper into the tale of Vasalisa the Wise:

“Intuition is the treasure of a woman’s psyche.  It is like a… crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision.  It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, the Wild Woman.” (74)

 “(A)ll aspects of the story belong to a single psyche undergoing an initiatory process.  Initiation is enacted by completing certain tasks.  In this tale there are nine tasks for the psyche to complete.  They focus on learning the ways of the Wild Old Mother.” (80-1)

The First Task — Allowing the Too-Good Mother to Die

“Accepting that the ever-watchful, ever-hovering, protective psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life (the too-good mother dies).

Taking on the task of being on one’s own, developing one’s own consciousness about danger, intrigue, politic. Becoming alert by oneself, for oneself. Letting die what must die.

“As the too-good mother dies, the new woman is born.” (81)

The Second Task — Exposing the Cruel Shadow

“Learning even more mindfully to let go of the overly positive mother.  Finding that being good, being sweet, being nice will not cause life to sing. (Vasalisa becomes a slave, but it does not help.)  Experiencing directly one’s own shadow nature, particularly the exclusionary, jealous, and exploitative aspects of self (the stepmother and stepsisters ).  Owning these.  Making the best relationship one can with the worst parts of oneself. Letting the pressure build between who one is taught to be and who one really is.

“Ultimately working toward letting the old self die and the new intuitive self be born.” (85)

The Third Task — Navigating in the Dark

“Consenting to enter into the locus of deep initiation (entering the forest), and beginning to experience the new and dangerous-feeling numen of being in one’s intuitive power. Learning to develop sensitivity as regards direction to the mysterious unconscious and relying solely on one’s inner senses.  Learning the way back home to the Wild Mother (heeding the doll’s directions). Learning to feed intuition ( feeding the doll).  Letting the frail, know-nothing maiden die even more. Shifting power to the doll, i.e., intuition.” (88 )

The Fourth Task — Facing the Wild Hag

“Being able to stand the face of the fearsome Wild Goddess without wavering (meeting up with the Baba Yaga). Familiarizing oneself with the arcane, the odd, the “otherness” of the wild (residing at Baba Yaga’s house for a while). Taking some of her values into our lives, thereby becoming ourselves a little odd (eating her food). Learning to face great power – in others, and subsequently one’s own power. Letting the frail and too-sweet  child die back even further.” (91)

The Fifth Task — Serving the Non-Rational

“Staying with the Hag Goddess; acclimating to the great wildish powers of the feminine psyche.  Coming to recognize her (your) power and the powers of inner purification; unsoiling, sorting, nourishing, building energy and ideas (washing the Baba Yaga’s clothes, cooking for her, cleaning her house, and sorting out the elements).” (94)

The Sixth Task — Separating This from That

“Learning fine discrimination, separating one thing from the other with finest discernment, learning to make fine distinctions in judgment (sorting the mildewed corn from the good corn, and sorting the poppy seeds from a pile of dirt). Observing the power of the unconscious and how it works even when the ego is not aware (the pairs of hands which appear in the air).

“More learning about life (corn) and death (poppy seeds).” (99)

The Seventh Task — Asking the Mysteries

“Questioning and trying to learn more about the Life/Death/Life nature and how it functions

 (Vasalisa asks about the horsemen).  Learning the truth about being able to understand all the elements of the wild nature (to know too much can make one old too soon).” (101)    

The Eighth Task — Standing on All Fours

“Taking on immense power to see and affect others (receiving the skull).  Looking at one’s life situations in this new light (finding the way back to the old step- family). (104)

The Ninth Task — Recasting the Shadow

“Using one’s acute vision (fiery eyes) to recognize and react to the negative shadow of one’s own psyche and/or negative aspects of persons or events in the outer world. Recasting the negative shadows in one’s psyche with hag-fire (the wicked stepfamily which formerly tortured Vasalisa is turned to cinders).” (107)

“Baba Yaga is the same as Mother Nyx, the mother of the world, another Life/Death/Life Goddess. She makes, fashions, breathes life into, she is there to receive the soul when the breath has run out. Following her footprints, we endeavor to learn to let be born what must be born, whether all the right people are there or not. Nature does not ask permission. Blossom and birth whenever you feel like it. As adults we need little permission but rather more engendering, much more encouraging of the wild cycles….

“By the light of the fiery skull, we know.”  (114)

REFLECTION :

As you ponder these nine tasks, where do you find yourself in your own story? 

What tasks have you completed?  Which still await you? 

How do you see your own intuition and power strengthening? 

What new life do you long to engender, encourage, in your own story?

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives