Tag Archives: Biblical Wisdom Literature

Sophia’s Presence in the Universe

In recent weeks, we have been reflecting upon the Powers of the Universe
as they have been described in Brian Swimme’s teachings: allurement and emergence,
cataclysm, synergy, transmutation, transformation… In the Hebrew Scriptures Sophia speaks of being present in the very beginning of the Universe,  an inherent part of the whole amazing story of its unfolding.

In the Book of Proverbs we read:

(Sophia/Wisdom) is the divine order patterning all creation,
from the ancient oceans to this morning’s dew.

In the song-prayer “Ancient Love” composed by Carolyn McDade, we find a
beautiful tribute to the Sacred Feminine Presence in the Universe:

Long before the night was born from darkness
Long before the dawn rolled unsteady from fire
Long before She wrapped her scarlet arm around the hills
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before the grass spotted green the bare hillside
Long before a wing unfolded to wind
Long before She wrapped her long blue arm around the sea
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before a chain was forged from the hillside
Long before a voice uttered freedom’s cry
Long before She wrapped her bleeding arms around a child
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Long before the name of a God was spoken
Long before a cross was nailed from a tree
Long before She laid her arm of colours ‘cross the sky
There was a love, this ancient love was born.

Wakeful our night, slumbers our morning
Stubborn the grass sowing green wounded hills
As we wrap our healing arms to hold what her arms held
This ancient love, this aching love, rolls on.

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And in this meditation written by Bridget Mary Meehan, we find an invitation to embrace this loving presence of Sophia, to make space for her within our lives:

I therefore determined to take Sophia to share my life,
knowing she would be my counsellor in prosperity,
my comfort in cares and sorrow…
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,
gladness only, and joy.

(Book of Wisdom, Chapter 8)

“Take a deep breath, as if you were breathing through your toes
and let your breath be carried up through your feet, legs,
abdomen, lungs, mouth, nose – your entire body.

“As you breathe in, say silently, ‘Sophia’ while taking in
whatever you need from Sophia: wisdom, knowledge,
strength, joy, courage, comfort, peace, love….

“Do you remember a time when you felt whole?
… peaceful?…strong? … joyful? …loving?…

“Do you remember a time when you felt alienated? …
broken?…hurt?…angry?
lonely?… guilty?…

“How did you feel? What was it like? Why were these experiences
significant for you? How have these experiences continued to influence you?

“Did you experience comfort and counsel in any new way because of these experiences?

“Image Sophia, God’s Wisdom, as Counselor, wise guide,
who helps you discover meaning in your experience
and aids you in recognizing these experiences
as important touchstones of your unique spirituality.

“Image Sophia as Comforter who assists you to find
your own identity and strength in the midst of disappointments and sorrows of your life.

“As you reflect on your experiences what insights, feelings, thoughts,
images, memories, sensations, are you conscious of?”

Choose a creative way to record your insights, feelings, thoughts, images, memories, sensations, whether in poetry, art,song, writing, dance or any way you wish.

( Meditation adapted from Bridget Mary Meehan: Exploring the Feminine Face of God

pp 28-9 Sheed and Ward Kansas City Missouri 1991)

Mystics, the Universe and Sophia

As we awaken to the presence of Sophia in our lives, we are coming to know her as creative partner of the Love at the heart of our universe. In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom/ Sophia 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)

For the next several weeks, we take on the magnificent task of exploring the new story of the evolutionary universe, seeking within it a new way of knowing the Love at its deep heart. Mystics, like Julian of Norwich, Teilhard de Chardin, and Hildegard of Bingen were so in tune with the sacred centre of themselves that they intuited things about life in the universe that are only now being affirmed scientifically.

Julian of Norwich, fourteenth century English mystic, writes that God showed her:
in my mind’s eye…something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and I perceived that it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought “what can this be?” And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God. (Showings, Colledge and Walsh p. 130)

Look now at the photo that has become a major icon in our lifetime:

earth from Apollo 17

(earth from Apollo 17)

Seven hundred years after Julian saw the earth as something small…as round as any ball in the palm of her hand, the U.S. Astronaut James Irwin wrote:

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. (p. 158 The Hand of God)

If you have ever had, in a moment of deep prayer, in an out-of-body or near-death experience, a knowing beyond that available through your senses, you, like Julian, have had a mystical experience. Mystics fascinate philosophers, psychologists and scientists especially now when perceptions by mystics and physicists about the universe are coming into startling coherence.

Who or what is mystic? Theologian Margaret Brennan offers a response that opens the door where we all might enter with grace:

Mystics are people who come in touch with the sacred source of who they really are and are able to realize and experience that in their lives. When we have come in touch with the deep centre of ourselves/our lives we realize that we are more than what we seem to be, that there’s something deeper in ourselves than meets the eye.

Evelyn Underhill, early 20th c. English scholar and mystic, gives this descriptor:

Mysticism…is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience – one whose religion and life are centred, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which (s)he regards as first-hand personal knowledge.

In Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood, 2002, Mary Conrow Coelho speaks of the relevance of mystics for us today:

The contemplative tradition certainly provokes many questions about the nature of matter, the identity of the person, the meaning of the word God.
It once seemed impossible to understand and accept the contemplative’s claims, given Western assumptions about matter and God. But now this has changed. Within the new story of the evolutionary universe and the new cosmology and new physics by which it is informed, the contemplative tradition finds a central place.

When the 20th c. Physicist David Bohm said that we are “frozen light” did he know that in the 12th century, Hildegard had proclaimed that “every creature has a radiance”?

The mystics intuited the interconnection of all of life long, long before physicists in our time made the same discovery. Hildegard of Bingen wrote: Everything that is in heaven, on the earth and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness…with relatedness.

W.T. Stace, a contemporary scholar of mysticism writes: The whole multiplicity of things which comprise the universe are identical with one another and therefore constitute only one thing, a pure unity. The Unity, the One…is the central experience and the central concept of all mysticism, of whichever type.

He quotes the medieval Dominican Mystic Meister Eckhart:

All that a (person) has here externally in multiplicity is intrinsically One. Here all blades of grass, wood and stone, all things are One. This is the deepest depth.

20th century mystic Thomas Merton experienced this oneness with life: One only ceases to be absurd when, realizing that everything is absurd when seen in isolation from everything else, meaning and value are sought only in wholeness. The solitary must return to the heart of life and oneness, losing himself, not in the illusion but simply in the root reality, plunging through the center of his own nothingness and coming out in the all, which is the void, and which is, if you like, the Love of God. (Journals, June 20, 1966)

As we journey together into the insights now available to us about our universe, we shall also be deepening our understanding of ourselves, for we are beings who live in the universe and the universe lives in us.

Wisdom Imaged in Nature

The ancient writers see in Wisdom’s flowing, all-pervasive presence an outpouring like rain or floodwaters:

Who knows the root of Her?
Who fathoms Her subtleties?
There is only one so wise and so wondrous – God!
He created Her and saw her true nature
God gave Her life and poured Her out
Upon all creation.
She is with you according to your ability to know Her;
For God has given Her to all who love Him.
(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 6-10)

Of these wonderful images, Shapiro writes:

Wisdom is the way God lays out the foundation of creation….She is both the field and the rain that nurtures the field.
And just as rain falls on all, so too Wisdom. You do not deserve Her; you do not earn Her. You simply receive Her. And yet…
She is with you according to your ability to know Her. It is as if you were begging for pennies in the street without realizing that your pockets were stuffed with hundred dollar bills. Your love of God and your ability to know Wisdom are connected. Knowing Wisdom is the way you love God, and loving God is the way you know Wisdom.
(pp.18-19 in “The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature” Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Illuminations, Woodstock, Vermont 2005)

In the following passage, Wisdom speaks to us of Herself as Cosmic Being:

I am the breath of the Most High,
blanketing the earth like mist,
filling the sky like towering clouds.
I encompass distant galaxies,
and walk the innermost abyss.
Over crest and trough,
over sea and land,
over every people and nation
I hold sway.
(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:3-6)

Shapiro notes the many water metaphors that hint at Sophia’s nature:
She is poured out, She falls like mist, She rises like clouds. Like water, Wisdom is yielding, and yet, like water She is capable of wearing down the hardest stone. She holds sway not by attacking but by embracing.

In these qualities, Shapiro finds resonance with the “highest good” described in Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching:
The highest good imitates water,
Giving life to all without struggle or striving.
She flows in places you dismiss and in this She is like the Tao.
Shapiro adds:

There is no struggle in Wisdom’s way. She does not exert Herself, but simply is Herself. When you act in accordance with Wisdom, you act without coercion. You act in sync with the moment, engaging what is to nurture what can be. (pp. 20-21)

In our time, when we are beginning to grasp the truth that we are all interconnected, it is Wisdom-Sophia who draws us together:

She arises in God
and is with Him forever…
Established before beginnings,
She transcends time.
She is God’s word, a fountain of understanding;
Her ways are timeless, linking each to all,
and all to One.
(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 1: 1-5)

Shapiro finds here another parallel with the Tao:

The valley spirit never dies;
She is woman, primal mother.
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.
She is like a sheer veil, translucent, almost transparent.
Use her; She will never fail.
(Tao Te Ching: Chapter 6)

Wisdom arises in God, and is the gateway to God writes Shapiro. Referencing the Tao, Chapter 11, he adds:

She is the foundation of all things and the Way of all things. Wisdom is both timeless and timely, open to you now and capable of lifting you to eternity. She is the center that holds the periphery, just as the spokes of a wheel share a single hub. (pp. 16-7)

Wisdom is honoured as “Mother” in the Hebrew Scriptures:
I am the Mother of true love,
wonder,
knowledge, and
holy hope.
Beyond time, I am yet given to time,
a gift to all My children:
to all that He has named.

(Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:18)

Shapiro writes: Wisdom is the Mother of quality as well as quantity. Wisdom is the Mother of the metaphysical as well as the physical. Wisdom is not only the Mother of the rose, but the Mother of the delight that arises when you smell one.

Wisdom is a gift to all God has named. The named are the seemingly separate things of the natural world. Until a thing is named, it is undefined and not fully alive. In Hebrew the root of the words “speak,” “word,” and “thing” is the same: dvr. Until the word is spoken, until the thing is addressed, it does not truly exist. Wisdom is the ability to reverse the process, to speak the name in such a way as to return to the silence of God that preceded it. (pp 24-25).

Sophia reflects light and goodness as a mirror of the divine:
She is God’s spotless mirror,
Reflecting eternal light,
and the image of divine goodness.
(Wisdom of Solomon 7: 24-26)

Shapiro comments:

The Mirror of God reflects all things and is none of them. She reflects whatever is: good and bad, hope and horror. Wisdom is not one thing or another, but the Way to deal with all things in their time. (pp. 30-31)

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 decisions 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 game of dice, Shapiro suggests:

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)