Weaving Our Days with Wisdom-Sophia

Being faithful to a spiritual practice of deep listening brings about a change in our daily living. We notice a presence of Loving Wisdom that embraces us in the ordinary moments of each day, assisting in decision and choices, lifting our spirits when clouds obscure our inner light, opening us to see the beauty in the life, the beings, around us. She befriends us in every activity, every aspect of our lives.

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro unpacks the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, we learn that the sages who honour Sophia/Chochma have known this guidance, this companionship for millennia.

Although She is one,

She does all things.

Without leaving Herself

She renews all things.

Generation after generation She slips into holy souls

Making them friends of God, and prophets,

for God loves none more than they who dwell with

Wisdom.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 27-28)

Commenting on this passage, Shapiro writes: This is what Wisdom can make of you: a friend and prophet of God. A friend of God is one who dwells in Wisdom. A prophet of God is one who shows others how to do the same. To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come. To see the ground is to open yourself to what is rather than what you desire. Opened to what is, you engage the Way of things in this very moment. Things arise from the conditions that precede them, but options are always present. The prophet works with the current embedded in the conditions to nurture justice rather than injustice, compassion rather than cruelty. (pp.32-3 The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Rabbi Rami Shapiro  Skylight Illuminations. Woodstock Vermont 2005)

Far before the words about Wisdom Sophia were recorded in the Bible, long before recorded history of any kind, Wisdom was present in the human heart, though never possessed fully:

The first human did not know Wisdom fully,

Nor will the last ever fathom Her.

For Her mind is more spacious than the sea,

Her counsel more deep than the great abyss.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach: 28:29)

Wisdom cannot be contained, Shapiro writes, and that which cannot be contained cannot be known completely….Wisdom is the ground out of which you come, and cannot be separated from your self …. You can no more know Her than your nose can smell itself or your ear can hear itself. Wisdom is not a thing you can know but a Way you can follow…. The way to follow Wisdom is to surrender narrow mind to spacious mind— the mind that knows to the knowing itself. (pp. 26-7)

Yet Wisdom’s overflowing presence extends far beyond the humans who honour her:

She is more beautiful than the sun,

And the constellations pale beside Her.

Compared to light, She yet excels it.

For light yields to dark,

while She yields to nothing.

She stretches mightily throughout the cosmos,

and guides the whole universe for its benefit.

(Wisdom of Solomon: 7:29-8:1)

Reflecting on this passage, Shapiro comments: What is to your benefit? To be wise, to immerse yourself in the Way of Wisdom. Wisdom’s desire is for you; She wants what is best for you, and that is for you to embrace Her. (pp.34-5)

Wisdom is not only all-pervasive, but also timeless:

Before time,

At the beginning of beginnings,

God created Me.

And I shall remain forever.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24: 9)

Referring to the English language translation of Genesis: In the beginning God created… (Gen 1:1)  Shapiro writes:

This is a misreading of the Hebrew. A more precise translation would be, By means of beginning, God created… Creation is the stuff of beginnings. There is no beginning unless there is something that begins. Wisdom is said to have been created before beginnings. This shows the limits of language, for in fact this cannot be. If She is created, then there is a beginning. What, then, is this Wisdom Who was created before the things of creation? She is the pattern of creation, the Way of God’s unfolding from eternity into time. (pp. 22-23)

Wisdom is the earth’s foundation,

and understanding the sky’s pillar

She is the divine order patterning all creation,

from the ancient oceans to this morning’s dew. (Proverbs 3: 19-20)

Reflecting on the way Wisdom patterns all creation, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is not separate from creation; She is the order of creation. She is the grain of wood, the currents of wind and sea. Everything rests on a metaphysical order, a principle that patterns all reality. While the world you encounter is impermanent, the principle of Wisdom is limitless. To know Wisdom is to know the current in the midst of the chaos….There is a guiding principle that orders even that which appear as random. That guiding principle is Chochma….

Using the metaphor of a dice game, Shapiro says: The extent to which you fixate on any one throw is the extent to which you are lost in chaos. As you step back and see the pattern, you are free to engage the game with equanimity. (pp. 14-5)

Discipline AS a Way of Love

Sophiawakens for August 19, 2020

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,

care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

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

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :

The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.

“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”

“Please tame me”

“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”

“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”

The next day, the little prince returned.

“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”

“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.

“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one

day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”

(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

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

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:

While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….

Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:

Listen to Me:

Follow Me and be happy.

Practice My discipline and grow wise….

(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

Commenting on this, he writes:

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

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

I wish I could show you,

When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

(I Heard God Laughing, translations by Daniel Ladinsky)

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

I bring joy to those who listen;

I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…

Find Me and find life,

Find Me and find grace…

(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

Call Upon Wisdom, She Will Come

So I prayed, and understanding

was given me:

I called upon God, and Wisdom came to me.

I preferred Her to sceptres and thrones;

Vast wealth was nothing in

Comparison to Her.

Before Her, gold is like sand;

Silver like clay.

I loved Her above health and beauty,

And chose Her eternal radiance

Over the most scintillating light.

All good things came to me with Her,

And I took joy in them because of Her,

But I did not then know She was

Their Mother.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-12)

 

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

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

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

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artwork by Meinrad Craighead

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

You have captured my heart,

My sister, my bride,

You have captured my heart

With a single glance,

With one coil of Your necklace.

How sweet is Your love,

More intoxicating than new wine!

Your perfume more fragrant than the finest spice!

(Song of Songs 4:9-10)

 

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.

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:

First because 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

 

Walking with Wisdom Sophia

Where do you seek wisdom? Do you have overflowing shelves where recently acquired books hide earlier treasures like the nine layers of settlement in ancient Troy? Do you seek teachers trained in ancient wisdom?  Select from among the many speakers now available on-line? Or have you been fortunate enough to find a truly wise teacher who leads you inward to your own source of deep wisdom?  If so, you have already found Wisdom: She has already found you.

Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim.

By those who love her she is readily seen,

and found by those who look for her.

Quick to anticipate those who desire her,

she makes herself known to them.

Watch for her early and you will have no trouble;

you will find her sitting at your gates.

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking

for those who are worthy of her

and graciously shows herself to them as they go,

in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

(Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-17 Jerusalem Bible)

Once we come to know and trust our inner “Sophia”, we have a treasure within us, and the eyes to recognize Her everywhere. The wisdom of the ages, of the sages, of the poets and the mystics. takes on a vibrant clarity, a singing resonance, for we have an inner lake that catches the light, reflecting to us the heart of reality.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005) which I have been referencing for the past weeks, has opened my eyes as well as my heart to the myriad facets of Wisdom’s presence in the natural world from its sunlit morning warmth to night’s radiant moon path stretching across the river, to its wild winds, crashing thunder, its rain suddenly rushing from the skies, a Niagara of unseen source. Within my own life, I have become aware of a presence of Wisdom, showing me the moonlit way through challenges in relationships, difficulties in my work, small or larger questions of “What now?” or “How next?” …  for, as The Wisdom of Solomon assures us:

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown;

be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

I have experienced (as you must have done at times) how a day can suddenly open out in beauty, revealing patterns unseen until that moment, making sense of the journey of our life in ways we had not understood.  I recall a day, reflecting on the work I am called to do in Spirituality, I was led by Wisdom-Sophia to Jean Houston’s talk on the fluidity of time from her Quantum Powers course.

Following Jean’s guidance, I stood before a curtain of time, allowing a moment in my life I had not understood to reappear. A few years ago, I was invited into a new beginning. I have since thought I had missed the moment, had not taken the road shown to me, and somehow lost the gift being offered.

Now in a sacred moment, with the assistance of a true Wisdom teacher, I found that the invitation had taken me to just where I needed to be: to this place where I have everything I require for this work among you.  I experienced a moment of joy, a recovery of trust, finding the way right here under my feet, a yellow brick road, hiding under a layer of dust, pine needles, dried autumn leaves.

I share this with you, not that you need to know about my life, but that you may know more about your own, learn with Sophia to recognize your path, find the joy of walking in it, companioned by Wisdom.

We live now, as Jean Houston reminds us, in the time of the great confluence, when the wisdom of the ages, from many different sacred traditions, is available to us, along with the newest discoveries of the physicists, who have been called the mystics of our time. What we need is inner guidance to open our hearts to recognize wisdom when it presents itself to us. Often for me, especially when my spirit is deflated, when the moon of my soul is obscured by clouds, light breaks through with poetry. During such a moment this past week, I came upon these works of Hafiz:

You don’t have to act crazy anymore—

We all know you were good at that.

Now retire, my dear,

From all that hard work you do

Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.

Look in a clear mountain mirror—

See the Beautiful Ancient Warrior

And the Divine elements

You always carry inside 

That infused this Universe with sacred Life

So long ago

And join you Eternally

With all Existence—with God!

(trans. Daniel Ladinsky in I Heard God Laughing)  

 IMG_3819-775x522

May you too find that clear mountain mirror within, kneel there beside Wisdom-Sophia and be amazed at what you see, O Beautiful Ancient Warrior, bearer of Divine elements.

 

 

 

 

 

Sophia: Beloved Travelling Companion

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

Reading Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005), I have again and again found something as old as longing, as fresh and new as a summer breeze.

Like this, from the Wisdom of Solomon (6: 15-16)

Resting your thoughts on Her—

this is perfect understanding.

Staying mindful of Her-

this is perfect calm.

She embraces those who are ready for Her,

revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,

meeting them in every thought.

Now, seeking words to convey the wonder, the joy awakened in me, I think of guidance, then companionship, or having a wise friend to turn to in times of doubt or struggle…

A memory comes of summers spent in my grandmother’s home, entering the magic within a book: a heavy, hard-bound copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.  The tale I turned to over and over again, as summer succeeded summer, was “The Travelling Companion”.

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

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

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

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

With these words he disappeared.

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

Through Shapiro’s unfolding of the Wisdom passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, I recognized in Sophia/ Chochma the beloved friend I had sought, the One who

embraces those who are ready for Her,

revealing Herself in the midst of their travels,

meeting them in every thought.

images

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

It is Sophia whom I now recognize as the presence who sometimes speaks in a poem, as in this one by Hafiz, sent to me by a friend shortly after the death of my sister Patti:  

Keeping Watch

In the morning

When I began to wake,

It happened again…..

That feeling

That you Beloved,

Had stood over me all night

Keeping watch.

That feeling

that as soon as I began to stir

 You put your lips on my forehead

And lit a Holy Lamp

Inside my heart.

 Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky:  I Heard God Laughing

Who among us does not yearn for such a presence of love?  And yet the beauty of Wisdom-Sophia is that we have only to desire her in order to find her:

Do you desire Me?

Come to Me!

Do you crave Me?

Eat My fruit!

Even the Memory of Me is sweeter than honey,

And to possess Me is sheer ecstasy.

(The Book of Sirach 24:19-20)

Reflecting on these words, Shapiro writes:

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

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

 

For each one of us, May it be so!

(And so it is, should we desire that it be!)

 

Seeking Wisdom-Sophia

As we continue our search for Wisdom-Sophia, our guide for the next few weeks will be Rabbi Rami Shapiro speaking to us through the pages of his book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Illuminations, 2005).

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Rabbi Rami Shapiro

In his Preface, Rabbi Shapiro tells of being pursued by the Sacred Feminine:

I began to see her everywhere. She started talking to me….She intruded on my meditation and prayer time, and just would not leave me alone….She had me. I would go for walks late at night and talk with her.

His friend Andrew Harvey advised that he had best surrender: “She calls to everyone, and to ignore her is to ignore the greatest gift you may ever be offered: the passionate embrace of the Mother. She is going to hound you until she has you, and then She is going to strip you of all your ideas and notions until there is nothing left to you but the ecstasy of her embrace.”

Yet still Shapiro struggled, for it seemed to him that the presence was the Virgin Mary, someone he could not commit to as a Jew.

Andrew said to me, “It isn’t Mary, but the Mother. She comes to the Christian as the Blessed Virgin; She comes to you as Chochma, Mother Wisdom.” And with that my whole life changed.

Shapiro writes: Chochma, the Hebrew word for “wisdom”, is the manifestation of the Divine Mother as She appears in the Hebrew Bible. She is the first manifestation of God, the vehicle of His unfolding, the Way of nature, the way God is God in the world you and I experience every day. Seeing her as Chochma removed the last of my defenses. I stopped running away, and gave myself to Her as best I could.

As he began to share Her teachings as found in the Jewish Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, Shapiro found his listeners “began to relax”, not because he had made Her ”kosher” but rather because “what they heard in the text was what they somehow already knew in their hearts”.

As you read the teachings of Mother Wisdom, know that She is speaking to you, inviting you to Her home, to Her hearth, to her teachings that you may become a sage….Wisdom is taught, so the student needs a teacher, but once She is learned there is a great leveling: Teacher and student share the same understanding. (from the Introduction)

As Shapiro began to move through the Hebrew Scriptures, citing passages, reflecting upon them, I as a reader felt I was hearing what I “somehow already knew in (my) heart.”  See if this is also how it is for you.

In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom/ Sophia/ Chochma speaks:

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.

I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…

When He established the heavens, I was already there.

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

When He made firm the skies above,

When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…

I was beside Him, the master builder.

I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.

Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.

(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”:

She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well.  (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)

 To know her, according to Shapiro,  is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them. To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise. To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace.

She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy.

(Proverbs 3: 17-18) 

Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy, peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made. This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.  

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“When She Rises” Artwork by She Who Is Mixed Media 2017

Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality. Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself. You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning. As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves, but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.

I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)

Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes. She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.  Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.

….To  know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.

In our becoming partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom will not tell why things are the way they are, but will show you what they are and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones. You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind, swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts. She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you what things are and how you deal them to your mutual benefit.

Where Is Sophia?

What Wisdom is and how she came to be, I will now declare,

I will hide none of the secrets from you;

I will trace her right from the beginning

And set out knowledge of her, plainly,

Not swerving from the truth.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 6:22 Jerusalem Bible)

Last week, we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, aware that traces of her presence can be glimpsed in old stories, ancient wells, crumbling parchments, carvings of small feminine figures, buried ritual sites, in the names of hills and rivers. Yet if these ancient sightings were all we had, her tale would be a tragedy, telling of a great treasure irretrievably lost… Instead, the story of Sophia has never ended. Her presence among us is moving towards a shining moment, a fresh revelation.

Years ago, I purchased a book that sat for almost two decades in my library, unopened. When I decided I needed to know more of the Sacred Feminine for this blog, I drew it from my shelf, began to read, and knew almost at once that I had found a treasure: Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews (First Quest Edition 2001,The Theosophical Publishing House, PO Box 270, Wheaton, IL  60189 -0270)

Here are a few excerpts from the Prologue:

The Goddess simply did not die out or go into cold storage two thousand years ago to be revived today in the same forms she manifested then. If the Goddess wanted to survive and accompany her people, surely she would have done so in a skillful and subtle manner.

Sophia is the great lost Goddess who has remained intransigently within orthodox spiritualities. She is veiled, blackened, denigrated, and ignored most of the time, or else she is exalted, hymned, and pedestalled as an allegorical abstraction of female divinity. She is allowed to be a messenger, a mediator, a helper, a handmaid. She is rarely allowed to be seen in charge, fully self-possessed and creatively operative.  

Flo Schell Mother Earth

Mother Earth painted by Flo Schell 

Sophia is the Goddess for our time. By discovering her, we will discover ourselves and our real response to the idea of a divine feminine principle. When that idea is triggered in common consciousness, we will begin to see an upsurge in creative spirituality that will sweep aside the outworn dogmas and unliveable spiritual scenarios that many currently inhabit. When Sophia walks among us again, the temple of each heart will be inspirited, for she will be able to make her home among us properly. Up to now, she has been sleeping rough in just about every spirituality you can name. (Prologue xxv, xxvi)

What is it about our time that has lured Sophia to walk among us openly again? I suggest that it is what calls to every earthly mother most compellingly: our need. As we have been recognizing in the decades before and after the millennium, our planet is in crisis, and we are finally understanding that we cannot live a healthy life on a sick planet.

COVID has written this truth as clearly as if it were carried in the white smoke of an airplane across the skies. Scientists are connecting the dots. This pandemic and recent outbreaks of illness that arose among other species and became virulent in humans cannot be cured until we recognize that our lives are interconnected with all life on the planet. Our disregard for other species has sent them into crisis, and ourselves as well. A return in our time to our ancestors’ honouring of the earth and all her life as sacred is as crucial as it is alluring.

Decades before this pandemic, Caitlin Matthews wrote:

For the first time in two millennia, the idea of a goddess as the central pivot of creation is finding a welcome response. The reasons are not difficult to find: our technological world with its pollution and unbalanced ecology have brought our planet face to face with its own mortality; our insistence on the transcendence of Deity and the desacralization of the body and the evidence of the senses threaten to exile us from our planet.

The Goddess appears as a corrective to this world problem on many levels. In past ages she has been venerated as the World Soul or spirit of the planet as well as Mother of the Earth. Her wisdom offers a better quality of life, based on balanced nurture of both body and spirit, as well as satisfaction of the psyche. (Prologue xxix)

And so we take up our search for her with hope, trusting that our desire to find her is matched by her desire to be found. Jean Houston writes in Godseed: “The longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us.” (130)

In our quest, we may say that “The longing with which we yearn for Sophia is the same longing with which Sophia yearns for us.”

When we begin the search with longing and trust, we soon discover someone is coming to meet us: perhaps in a conversation with a friend, an article we read, a song we hear, an experience that holds that mix of surprise and joy that is her trademark…

For me, this happened only days ago when I was in a time of deep distress, too troubled to even pray for help. CBC Radio’s Classical Music station was offering the “signature series”. I was only half–listening, caught up in my own despairing thoughts, when I heard the announcer say with great conviction, “She will never leave you.” Though he was speaking of the key of F sharp major, the words pierced my darkness with a shaft of light as surely as though he were speaking of Sophia. At once they returned me to my senses, to my trust….

Let us offer ourselves to Sophia as co-creative partners in her coming more visibly among us. A simple practice of sitting in silence for ten minutes each day, perhaps at dawn and dusk, opens a window for her entry, creating a space for her to come to us bearing the wisdom we each need to do our part to assist in her return.

Seeking the Lost Mother

We in the West are haunted by the loss of our Mother.

(Caitlin Matthews Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Quest Books Wheaton IL 2001)

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

Recently I heard Peter Kingsley, the English philosopher and writer, say something that astounded and delighted me: “The new is giving birth to the old… the task is to give birth to the old in a new time—to the primordial ancient in a world that is new.”

It is now almost six years since I began this weekly blog dedicated to giving new birth to the ancient knowing of the feminine principle of the Sacred whom some cultures have known by the name “Sophia.”

Today, I invite you to enter this quest with me.

As we set out to find Sophia, the missing feminine aspect of the Holy, we prepare for a long journey, following tracks that are millennia old. We learn to be adept at time travel, at exploring deep dusty caverns of pre-history, at unravelling, then reweaving, threads of ancient stories.

goddess-hathor

Egyptian Goddess Hathor

Sophia is nowhere precisely, yet everywhere subtly. Mythologies of many cultures abound with tales of her presence, her power, her sufferings, her diminishments. Old fairy tales hold glimpses of her that are both tender and terrifying. We will need to look into sacred wells, old ritual sites, ruined temples and sanctuaries. We will carefully examine fragments of poetry, shards of pottery, pieces of drums, tiny perfect feminine figures carved of stone, buried in the depths of the earth.

We are living today in the time of the great recovery. What has been hidden is being revealed to us. Scholars of ancient civilizations are writing of their findings: the traces of a sacred feminine presence within the stories, myths and ritual practices of people long vanished.

In A Brief History of The Celts, Peter Berresford Ellis writes of the Great Mother Goddess of the Ancient Celts, revealing the connection between the Celtic Goddess and the great rivers of Ireland, a sacred connection also found in India’s mythology:

“… the Celts believed their origins lay with the mother goddess Danu, ‘divine waters from heaven’. She fell from heaven and her waters created the Danuvius (Danube), having watered the sacred oak tree Bile. From there sprang the pantheon of the gods who are known as the Tuatha de Danaan (Children of Danu) in Irish and the Children of Don in Welsh myths.” (p. 162)

Celtic writer Jen Delyth writes further of the goddess Anu, also known as Danu and Aine: “An ancient figure, venerated under many names, she is known as the womb of life. She is the spark and vitality of life. She is the seed of the sun in our veins. The Great Earth Mother is … the Mother whose breasts are the hills known as the “Paps of Anu” in Ireland. Her hair is the wild waves, the golden corn. Her eyes are the shining stars, her belly the round tors or earth barrows from which we are born. Like the cat, the sow, the owl, she eats her young if they are sick or dying. She is the cycle of life, the turning of the seasons.”

In rivers, waves, and corn, in stars and earth barrows, in the very seasons of our land, this sacred presence is embodied, immersed, implanted in the universe, around, above, beneath, within us.

In Women of the Celts Jean Markale offers an overview of the decline of the Sacred Feminine presence as the Jewish/Christian religions became dominant, but he also hints at how her presence survives as

“…the disturbing and desirable figure of the Virgin Mary with her unexpected names: Our Lady of the Water, Our Lady of the Nettles, Our Lady of the Briars, Our Lady of the Mounds, Our Lady of the Pines. But in spite of the veneration accorded her over the centuries and the public declaration of successive dogmas related to Mary, the authorities of the Christian Church have always made her a secondary character, overshadowed and retiring, a model of what women ought to be. Now the pure and virginal servant of man, the wonderful mother who suffers all heroically, she is no longer the Great Goddess before whom the common herd of men would tremble, but Our Lady of the Night.”

Our Lady of the Night! What a lovely, appropriate name for the presence we seek, the One who has so many different names… yet is being rebirthed now in our time.

The ways we are to seek her may seem arduous, but the starting place is deep within our souls: the search begins with our longing for her. No one speaks more compellingly of this longing than the 14th c. Sufi poet Hafiz:

 

I long for You so much

I follow barefoot Your frozen tracks

That are high in the mountains

That I know are years old.

I long for You so much

I have even begun to travel

Where I have never been before.

(in Hafiz The Subject Tonight Is Love trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

Powers of the Universe: Radiance

All the powers of the universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another, present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance.

In his concluding talk in the DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe” Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.

The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light. The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light. The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth, pulling the earth to the sun.

We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.

The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does. The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon. The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.

It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT. Radiance is the primary language of the universe.We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance.

The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it, and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!

Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another, a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception, Swimme says, is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depth perception of beauty.

When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth?

Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.

When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates) we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.

We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe. The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance, as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!

We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond with us.

The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire. We feel what reverberates out, Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there. We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer. Reverberation is the primary sacrament. We become the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough, it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other.

The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another.

There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.

The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest-paleontologist who died in 1955, wrote:  “Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within…

The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe…

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”. (The Divine Milieu)

“the Divine radiating from the depth of matter aflame”

Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote: “From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age, my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air….

The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun …. I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”….

Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me. When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”

The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine Inter-Relatedness

On a summer morning seven years ago, while I was living in my hermitage in the woods beside the Bonnechere River, I sat outdoors, holding a mug of coffee, enjoying a warm breeze.  I was preparing to write about Inter-relatedness.

At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.

I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or pummelled by winds in a recent storm.

I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.

After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out. Then, I happened to look up at the tree.

Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.

Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.

Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks led down into the river. Embraced by the slowly moving water, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy.

The Bonnechere  River

But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. Again I sensed a presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…

It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.

Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.

Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.

Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish).  The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.

In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.

Mother Loon nestles babies on her back

Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.

How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.) What would be another way?

Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed–in perspective.

Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.

On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.

 

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives