Archetypes in myth

“What Would Maisie (or Robin or Psyche ) Do?”

“Archetypes are many things,” Jean Houston writes, “– primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order.”

Many of the stories we love best are indeed prompted by archetypes, characters whose life struggles, choices, suffering, triumphs, illumine our lives. They are, Jean writes, “our connection to the wider reality…. (they) bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strength to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.”

Last week, we saw how the story of “The Great Stone Face” by 19th century author Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates the power of an Archetypal Story to offer guidance for a lifetime. In the 21st century, English writer Jacqueline Winspear saw in her imagination her fictional character, Maisie Dobbs, emerge fully created from a London Underground Station. In the series of books which follow Maisie’s development as ”Psychologist and Investigator”, through the 1920’s and ‘30’s in London, Winspear presents a character so compelling that her readers tell her that Maisie has inspired them with guidance for difficult times in their own lives. That led Winspear to publish What Would Maisie Do? (Harper Perennial, New York, 2019), a Journal with quotes from the stories of Maisie Dobbs followed by blank pages for her readers’ reflections.

Have you one or more archetypal stories, perhaps heard in childhood, whose characters and their choices continue to guide you? You may have forgotten the original tale; yet, you are still influenced by it.

For me and my siblings, the story of Robin Hood with his band of adventurers in England’s Sherwood Forest was archetypal. Each evening at bedtime, our father would weave a fresh tale, made up in the telling, about Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and the merry band who robbed the rich to give to the poor.

When, as an adult, working in women’s spiritualty, I encountered the power of stories, especially very old ones, to illumine lives, I was re-enchanted. The great storyteller from Chicago, John Shea, came to speak at Ottawa’s University of Saint Paul. Afterwards, I approached him to ask, “How is it that stories, especially ancient ones, hold such power to transform us?”

“Three things,” he began. “First, the stories are very old. No one knows where they came from originally. Second, there’s the power in the one who tells the story. Third is the power within the one who hears and understands the tale.”

Later, I would learn more about archetypal stories from Jean Houston. In her book The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1987, 1997), Jean tells the ancient Greek Tale of Psyche and Eros. For 21st century women, this tale offers wisdom about the feminine way to approach difficult, seemingly impossible tasks.

Psyche, a mortal woman, has fallen in love with Eros, son of the goddess Aphrodite. In her desire to see the face of her lover, Psyche goes against his insistence that she must never look at him. As he sleeps, she lights a candle to gaze at him.

Psyche in Cupid’s Garden Paining by Waterhouse

At once he disappears. Aphrodite, jealous of her son’s love for a mortal, offers to break the spell that separates the lovers. She imposes three seemingly impossible tasks on Psyche. One of these is that the young woman must gather golden fleece from treacherous rams. Psyche weeps in despair, knowing the rams will surely kill her (as Aphrodite intends).

Reeds growing in the nearby river, symbols of the feminine, advise her. Guided by the moon, rather than the all-revealing light of the sun, Psyche is to approach the rams while they sleep. She is to take their fleece not directly from them but rather from the nearby bushes, where tufts of the golden fleece have been snagged as the rams passed by… Psyche completes this task in the feminine way: following the wisdom of moonlight and indirection.

How It All Works

“Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works,”  Jean Houston writes elsewhere. “As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe…. Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience.

“Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.

Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream

“At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the unread vision of the higher dream inherent in both self and society.” (Jean Houston on Archetypes)

archetypes in stories

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

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

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

Does it hold Archetypal  power for you also?

The Great Stone Face

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

The Great Stone Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

partnership with the sacred

A day in late June. The scent of wild roses on the wind. The trees around your home that have been stark, bare, skeletal since November are suddenly lush, luxuriant with leafy canopies. The lake in the distance lifts small waves in greeting.

You cannot enter into the joy around you. Some inner darkness is invading your spirit, an inner voice, silent for so long you hoped it had been banished, begins its lacerating litany…

 “What have you been playing at? You do not deserve the love of the Sacred One you tell others about. Your life is a sham, and it’s time to admit it… Who do you think you are?”

When you are strong and focused you can silence this voice. Even mock it, laugh at it. Yet today, as clouds gather to swallow the June sunlight, you are defeated. The words eat into your joy, into your very heart, just as surely as the hordes of gypsy moth caterpillars are chewing the hearts of the leaves on the trees that shelter you….

A thunderstorm batters your home, rain drenches the deck. The caterpillars who swarm over railings, floor, table and chairs are delighted. If their many legs could dance, they would.

Finally you sleep that night, waken at dawn, still immersed in inner turmoil. Seated before the Icon of Sophia you offer a desperate prayer: “Send me words, any words that will take away this darkness.”

Not long after, though you’ve already forgotten your prayer, you open your phone to check emails. Five lines fill the small screen with words you haven’t seen before, perhaps the tail end of an earlier email? You have no idea who sent them or in what context. Your hungry heart receives them, wanting to believe they have just this moment arisen from the noosphere in response to your prayer. You read them again, a second, a third time.

You are the best we have

You are all we have

You are what we have become

We pledge you our whole hearts

From this day forward.*

And you know, even as your heart rises to sing once more, even as you, unlike the caterpillars, dance with joy, that these words are addressed to you, as well as to others who, like you, seek to serve Her, the Sacred Feminine Presence. This is the way that Partnership Spirituality can fill your emptiness and orchestrate your being.

* days later I would discover these to be the final lines of a poem by Maya Angelou

By grace of fifteen years of absorbing, learning how to integrate Jean Houston’s teachings, woven into our lives through her processes, seasoned with delight through dance, story, music and laughter, I have come to live a radically new way of relating to the Sacred Presence of Love that pervades our lives, as well as every aspect of life on our Beloved Planet and throughout the Universe. Yes, there are times, sudden, inexplicable, of darkness. Yet these moments or days allow the return of the Light to glow with greater radiance, as our earthly nights reveal the splendour of starlight.

Jean calls this new way of relating to a Sacred Presence “partnership spirituality.” Here is how Jean describes it:

It has been my belief and experience that a new order of spirituality is greatly enhanced with the concept of partnership with the Spiritual Friend, the Friend of the Deeps, the Beloved of the soul. This of course is an ancient archetype (as is) the communion with the Beloved whether seen as Christ or Krishna or the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence. The practice of living and loving the Beloved has enormous consequences for our spiritual growth and well-being. It is an essential form of partnership with the Divine. In all the great spiritual and mystery traditions, the central theme, the guiding passion, is the deep yearning for the Beloved of the Soul. This yearning for union with the Beloved lies at the heart of Sacred Psychology, for it is this profound longing—which transcends the desire for romantic love, the nourishment of parental love, and all the multiple and marvelous varieties of human love—that calls us to the Source.

As Jean so often reminds us, this time, our time, is the time of the great rebirthing, when the discoveries about the Universe by today’s physicists meld with the mysticism of ages and cultures and spiritual traditions of past millennia. These combine to offer us a whole new loom upon which our lives may be rewoven.

Jean writes: “We are truly in a time of partnership with God, whether the Divine Friend is known as the Beloved or a sense of Universal spirit, or a transmission of luminous energy and peace.”

Moreover, Jean says, “It is crucial, in any spirituality adequate to our time, that we have both the masculine and feminine sense of Divine Presence.” 

ARTWORK by Mickey McGrath OSFS

This must be an engaged spirituality which means that “one works, wherever one is, for the betterment of all…. the ruling commandment of radical empathy for the other is a manifestation of the true Self, the divine reality of Spirit.”

As I thought about Jean’s words on Partnership Spirituality, a memory rose: Jesus speaking to his beloved friends on the night before he died. The magnificent words in the Gospel of John are themselves an invitation to the adventure of Partnership Spirituality to those for whom the risen Jesus is the Beloved of the Soul:

I tell you most solemnly,

whoever believes in me

will perform the same works as I do myself,

s/he will perform even greater works,

because I am going to the Father.

Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,

so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

(Gospel of John 14: 12, 13)

You are my friends if you do what I command you.

I shall not call you servants any more,

because a servant does not know

her/his master’s business.

I call you friends,

because I have made known to you

everything I have learned from my Father. (John 15: 14, 15)

Summer Solstice with Sophia

The journey of increasing light continues with the approach of mid-summer, around June 21 in the northern hemisphere, when the light triumphs and brightness occupies a large part of both day-time and night-time hours. High summer celebrates the complete blossoming and fruition of the seeds sown back in the depths of winter. However, this triumph of light is, like all things, transitory.

Dawn of Summer Solstice over Calabogie Lake June 2020

Just as the journey toward the summer solstice began at the time of the winter solstice,so too the journey to the winter solstice is initiated at this moment.

The sun begins to lose some of its strength; it shines for a shorter time each day, as the year moves past the summer solstice.

The water energy, in the form of rain—so much a part of summer in the northern regions – tempers the fire energy and ensures that the crops reach full ripeness without being burned.

 (Dolores Whelan Ever Ancient, Ever New Celtic Spirituality in the 21st Century,  published by Original Writing Ltd., Dublin, 2010 )

For this almost-Solstice Reflection, I chose a piece on Sophia inspired by Thomas Merton.

On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Merton wakened in his hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

He wrote of the “fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero.” He expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage,where his life is shared with Sophia. He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom: 8: 16:

When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company,when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy.

Thomas Merton

Reflecting on this text Merton writes: “But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this ‘living together with wisdom?’For me, there is nothing else….I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear….” (p. 14 in  Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Christopher Pramuk  Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)

When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I’ve come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005).  Shapiro opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures. I was finding my own way to sharing my life with Sophia.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Because of Shapiro’s insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs, I glimpsed the meaning of Merton’s dream of a young girl whose name was “Proverbs”.

In Proverbs, Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) 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,” Shapiro adds, “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) 

“Moreover,” writes Shapiro, “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. ” 

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.”

When we become her 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 with them to your mutual benefit.”

Icon of Sophia from a Chapel on Paros Island, Greece

engaging with your archetype

Sophia Reflection for June 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurturing a Relationship with the Beloved:

Care for the relationship as you would a sacred garden.

Spend time within this garden.

Be aware of new plants, growing, emerging.

Water these with your time and attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.”  (Rainer Maria Rilke)

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

Longing Leads to wisdom

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

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

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

Perhaps we do sometimes, perhaps for a little while…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is our longings that lead us to our destiny.

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

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

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

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

And the Sufi poet Rumi encourages us: 

Let the Beauty you love be what you do.

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

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

Where longing leads us

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

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

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

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

How might your life be different?

Out of a woman’s acceptance of her woundedness

comes a quietness and sense of peace.

The transformation of the Masculine energy within her

from negating to supporting allows her to become herself.

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

finally makes the return to Archetypal Feminine ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist sketch of Greece by Dave Neave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean invites us to consider:

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

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

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

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

The Goddess

She in whose lipservice

I passed my time,

Whose name I knew, but not her face,

came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle !

Flung me across the room, and

room after room ( hitting the walls, re-

bounding – to the last

sticky wall- wrenching away from it

pulled hair out!)

till I lay

outside the outer walls!

There in cold air

lying still where her hand had thrown me,

I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:

the seeds of a forest were in it,

asleep and growing! I tasted

her power!

The silence was answering my silence,

a forest was pushing itself

out of sleep between my submerged fingers.

I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue

of day that shone already among stars

in the water-mirror of low ground,

and a wind rising ruffled the lights:

she passed near me returning from the encounter,

she who plucked me from the close rooms,

without whom nothing

flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,

without whom nothing

speaks in its own tongue, but returns

lie for lie!

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

walking with julian

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

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

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

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

I continued on beyond an intersection of a snowmobile trail.

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

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

White Pine Announces Home

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

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

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time,

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always –

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

 (T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding” 1943)

celebrating Julian: TWO

Today, May 13th is Julian’s feast in the Catholic calendar. If you are curious as to why Julian’s Feast in the Anglican calendar is on May 8th, here’s the answer, an illustration of the textual niceties that absorb attention when the focus might better have been on Julian’s glorious writings. As Julian’s original manuscript, written in her own hand, has never been found, we rely on early copies made; the oldest copy of the shorter text that survives was made fifty years after her death. In these earlier copies there is a discrepancy of dates given for her night of visions of the Crucified Christ. The Roman numerals in some manuscripts say May VIII (8) and some say May XIII (13). The Catholic position on this dilemma is that it is more likely a copier might accidently drop the bottom part of the X than that he or she would add to it. Therefore the date must have been XIII.

The happy result of all this is that Julian has two feast days!

Let me take up the tale Ii was sharing last week of my time in Norwich in 1999, offering the play, “Julian” written by James Janda. Following my visit with Julian in her reconstructed anchorhold in the Church of St. Julian, I returned to Felicity, who was organising the stage: “What do you suggest I do about changing into costume?”

“Why don’t you dress in Mother Julian’s cell and emerge from there to begin the play?”

So that is how it was, for the four performances over the two weekends.  At first I had to catch myself in the midst of my lines, distracted by the thought, “It is happening here, in the very place where Julian lived”.

On the night of the third performance there was a difference. The wonder had not ceased, but the lack of reality was replaced by an intense awareness that was joyous.  I felt the role with every aspect of my being, and in the midst of the first act, was so conscious of elation, that I tried to touch its source.  It came to me soon enough.

That afternoon I had been invited to tea in the small apartment of Father Robert Llewellyn, an Anglican priest whose name I had seen liberally sprinkled through every bibliography of works on Julian.  As we shared the last pieces of his ninetieth birthday cake, Father Robert told me of his assignment in 1976, to be a presence in the Julian Cell.

“For the first month, I spoke with no one,” he recalled. “I just went morning and afternoon and sat in her cell, and prayed.”  After a month someone approached with a question, and gradually his work of listening and directing, mostly in aspects of prayer, began to grow. Through Father Robert’s efforts a bookstore/ study room and counselling room were created in a hall belonging to the Anglican convent next door. Now this “Julian Centre” attracts scholars and pilgrims who come to read about Julian, to ask about her teachings, to purchase books and souvenirs.

At the end of our visit, Father Robert asked if we might have fifteen minutes of silent prayer together. There were people he’d promised to pray for, and he suggested that prayers be offered for the performance scheduled for that evening, that it would reach people who would need Julian’s message.

The lightness and joy I felt in the midst of the performance that evening were the fruits of that silent prayer with Father Robert. After the first act, Father Robert pressed my hand to his heart. “Thank you,” he said. “You have given us a gentle Julian. You have made her homely.”  With a smile he added, “I know in America, that is not a good word, but it is here.”

 My life and my work have become intertwined with the wisdom and homely trust of this woman whose teaching is meant for the ordinary days of our lives.  Days like my second last in England in that summer of 1999, when I stood at the airline desk, one half hour before the departure of my flight from Gatwick to Ottawa, and was told the flight was closed. In a moment of near panic, followed by a sense of utter despair, I said, “But what am I to do?  I have nowhere to go.” I was met with closed faces. Then from within me Julian’s words arose: “He did not say `You shall not be tempest – tossed, you shall not be discomfited.’ But He said, `You shall not be overcome.'”

I believed her. I turned my luggage cart around, trying to balance the seven foot container of the tapestry, my luggage with costume and props, my weight of books on Julian. I stood in the middle of Gatwick Airport and cried. Then, having finished with tears, I wheeled the cart outside and found a taxi, a hotel, and the peace to accept this reversal.  I was not overcome.

celebrating julian

On May 8th Anglican Christians honour Julian of Norwich; five days later Catholics do the same. For my part I celebrate Julian on both days, for my gratitude to her cannot be expressed too often.

In these stressful, grief-filled days of COVID, it’s Julian to whom many now turn for hope and courage, for she lived through three outbreaks of the Black Plague which reduced the population of England by one half.

Image of Julian by Jane Joyner

In the wonderful manuscript which she left us, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian shares with us the tender passionate love she experienced in a near-death experience, a night of visions of the Crucified Jesus. Of Julian herself we know almost nothing, not even her name. She took the name “Julian” when she became an anchoress in the Church of Saints Julian and Edward in Norwich England in the late years of the 14th century.

On a cold wet February day in 1992, I first visited Julian’s reconstructed cell in Norwich. I was on sabbatical in England, studying writing at the University of Sussex. I had a writing tutor from Magdalene College at Oxford, Geoff Hemstead, who was a gift of wisdom and encouragement in my fledging work. At his suggestion that I should learn about Julian, I searched the University’s library where I found a 1901 edition of Julian’s “Revelations”. Editor Grace Warrack wrote in her introduction:

From the first we find Julian holding her diverse threads of nature, mercy and grace for the fabric of love she is weaving…

But at the time, I still did not know her. Geoff began to urge me to visit Norwich, and it was only to quiet his insistence that I wrote to the Julian Centre and booked a room for that February weekend. After a two-hour train journey from London, I was walking through the streets of Norwich, map in hand, seeking the Church and Visitors’ Centre. Along King Street, turning right at Julian’s Alley, I found the tiny, perfect flint-stone church, a 1950’s reconstruction after the original was destroyed by a World War Two bombing. A plaque was set into the outer wall: Dame Julian of Norwich, Mystic, became an anchoress living in a cell attached to the south wall of this church soon after 1373, and here she wrote, “Revelations of Divine Love”.

The Church of St. Julian in Norwich , England

The Church was open. I went inside, walked up the centre aisle, saw a low wooden door to the right, with a sign welcoming visitors to the reconstructed anchorhold. I pressed the iron latch with my thumb and entered, thinking I’d take a few photos and leave.

I was stopped in my tracks. There was a presence in the room that I had to acknowledge. I sat down and began to tell this kindly wise woman about the pain that had brought me to England. She heard, and responded with words that sustained me for the rest of my sabbatical and guided me home. Julian has been my friend ever since.

That night in the guest house, I found a small book with a one-woman play about Julian. I copied down the publisher’s information. After I returned to Canada, I ordered the play, paying the royalty as an incentive to prepare to perform it.

In 1999, I returned to Norwich. This time, as I made my way along Julian’s Alley towards the church, my attention was caught by a notice attached to the arched front door. As I drew nearer to read, my eyes focused on something so unexpected that it sent a shock of amazement through my being. I was reading my own name.  As I came closer, the whole notice was legible: it was the announcement of the four performances I had come to Norwich to offer, the one-woman play on the life and writings of Julian, written by James Janda.

The interior of the church had been adapted for the event.  The altar, with its reredos (which had survived the bombing), stood just behind a built – up stage area, adding some three feet to the height of the floor, to allow the audience seated in the church pews a clearer view. Felicity Maton, secretary to the Friends of Julian, who had made the arrangements for the event, explained the plans for lighting. Together we examined the props: bed, trunk, stool and writing desk.

“Excuse me for a moment,” I said to Felicity. “I need to greet someone.”

I walked to the arched doorway at the right of the sanctuary, pushed my thumb down on the iron latch. The door to Julian’s reconstructed cell swung inwards.

Inside, all was as I had remembered it, as I had seen it in memory many times over the past years. I sat down on the bench that was built against the far wall, under the windows that in Julian’s time would have opened onto the street, but now looked out to the green grass and trees of the Church yard, edged with a gigantic bush of red roses.

I let my eyes rest on the marble slab that contained an image of the crucified Jesus.  It bore the words that on my first visit had transfixed me, “Thou art enough to me.”  This time, my eyes lighted on the other words carved into the marble, “Lo, how I loved thee.”

Reconstructed Anchorhold of Julian of Norwich

Yes.  How you loved me, I repeated silently to the One who had brought me here, who had brought me on a far longer journey from emptiness to fullness over the past years, from the state of being without a ministry or a place to live, to the eruption in my life of a ministry so full and satisfying that I could hardly take it in. 

On that earlier visit I had prayed to Julian, “Please, find me a work like yours, where I can speak to others of God’s love.”  Now, in the palpable presence of Julian’s spirit, I thanked this goodly woman who had changed my life.

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives