Tag Archives: Jean Houston

Powers of the Universe:Transformation

Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe. Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.

A few summers ago, at our community’s holiday place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body. Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly. Transformation.

 

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In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.

Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE. Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth. Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.

Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.

These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.

Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun. That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it. The memory is passed on by cells.

With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways. The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.

The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.

A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community. We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.

We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species. With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.

The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century age that, We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.

Swimme asks what laws we are proud of: ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals?
Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?

And what of the seismic shifts happening in our purchase of food? What of our growing need to know where our food comes from? Our choices based on local sourcing? farmers’ markets sprouting everywhere? What of clothing purchases now that we know more of the sweat shops in Bangladesh and China?

From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative. We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.

One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace. She writes:

It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes….I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not something I had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.

Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this. Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us.

We are the recoding, the reset button.

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We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love,

enable us to undertake this task.(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm

Cataclysm, as Brian Swimme teaches in his DVD series: “Powers of the Universe”, is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.

Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.

But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium, that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity. The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.

But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos. This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies. (for a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in  Journey of the Universe,  co-authored by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011)

The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe. Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now. Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes, our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure.

I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals, gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang as a prayer of pleading, “let them continue on….” Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…

Concurrent with this extinction of species is the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes. As though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures, we see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.

Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects…We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.

When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster that revealed what is worth valuing in life?

The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auswitch, wrote words that might be a light for us in this time: I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes, our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.IMG_0007

For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us. Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence. Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes. Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds, “You are blessed to be alive at this time.”

Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis

One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.
Diarmuid O’ Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998 p. 41

Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis: the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body; the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body. The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.

The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas. In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater. In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode. Homeostasis.

Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.

When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life require for continuance.

Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence, the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.

Asking the question why homeostasis is falling apart in major life systems, (the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet…) Brian Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body. The great search now for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, is a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.

Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community. There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.

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“Not just stuff”the chambered nautilus knows when to move to a larger room 

 

Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet. If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.

On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.

Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.

But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side. Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”. The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing. The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.

 

When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play: Cataclysm ….

To my readers: I welcome your comments and questions: what further Sophia themes would you like to read about here?  Contact me: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca 

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge…. the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.
Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination. Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

 

In her teaching on the powers of the universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us. We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly to signal our intent to be open. We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us. We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

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Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred. Eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:
…the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us. We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognise that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?
As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a n experience of the newness in religion, in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

 

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy. For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

 

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

 

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought her here, that have awakened her awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies. For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men. You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked. Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

 

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?” No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother’…   “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”… “A partner, inviting me to co-create with her”…“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

 

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her? Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

 

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess. There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

 

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about. They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.

Sophia and the Universe: Allurement

The process through which the universe unfolds into radiance is our process as well, our story, and our most urgent call in this time. As Jean Houston reminds us: All the powers of the universe are seamlessly one, trying to bring forth radiance. These powers can be understood mystically as within ourselves waiting to assist us to bring forth a world that works for everyone.

Brian Swimme, in his DVD series Powers of the Universe, describes ten interwoven powers: Centration, Allurement, Emergence, Homeostasis, Cataclysm, Synergy, Transmutation, Transformation, Interrelatedness and Radiance. Centration is the coming together in one life of the entire 13.8 billion year process of evolutionary development.

Allurement is what holds everything together. At the heart of the universe, Allurement holds the earth in thrall to the sun, the moon to the earth, the tides to the moon, our very blood to the surges of the sea. The planets are lured by the sun to orbit ceaselessly around it, while our galaxy spins, in harmony with other galaxies, in one great dance of desire and longing.

The universe is bound together in communion, each thing with all the rest. The gravitational bond unites all the galaxies; the electromagnetic interaction binds all the molecules; the genetic information connects all the generations of the ancestral tree of life. (Brian Swimme)

4.5 billion years ago, the earth and the sun discovered one another, coming forth in a powerful field of allurement and attraction. Swimme notes that the action of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in most plants, responsible for absorbing light to provide the energy needed for photosynthesis, only works on our planet. It is an inter-creation with our sun, the earth being shaped by that which it loves. Atoms respond to allurement, becoming stars, becoming part of a gravitational field, becoming themselves a source of allurement even though, Swimme adds, “they have no idea why they are responding.”

After they were birthed, the Magellanic Clouds, nearest neighbour to our Milky Way Galaxy, stopped making stars for eight billion years. Four billion years ago, this luminous mass was drawn into an encounter with the Milky Way that ignited its star-making capacities…it’s been making stars ever since!

On our planet, sexuality began some 300 million years ago and allurement has been developing ever since in life forms. Life wants to deepen the journey that begins with allurement, Swimme says. We can think of ourselves as the place where the universe houses its power of allurement, wanting it to burst into conscious self-awareness. The power of allurement is at work within us. Swimme suggests that if we are attracted, we have already been acted upon; and we are molded by what we love. As with the earth and the sun, through the work of adoration we allow the Beloved to begin to shape who we are.

We need to be aware of the tenderness of the human, remembering that what we’re attracted to is also wounded; it is true of bio-regions as well as of communities and individuals that membranes guard our sensitivities. The intensity of attraction, the power of allurement, can, over time, dissolve these protective membranes, allowing for mutual enhancement and mutual healing.

Our capacity for self-reflection enhances our desire to merge, to be a presence of joy and pleasure, to evoke a depth of feeling and well-being in the other. This desire is so deep that we learn to feel what the beloved is feeling; we desire to be a cause of joy.

And for us humans these powers of love go beyond the partnership of human lovers, expanding into a partnership with the Divine, allowing us to become a presence of love wherever we are: with persons, with other life forms, with the planet herself, through our awareness of the interconnectedness of all of life.

In the process of loving, the Mystics become our friends, our teachers, our guides. They lived in the power of allurement through their love relationship with the Sacred Presence at the heart of the Universe. Writing in the thirteenth century, Mechtild of Magdeburg exults in a passionate love with and for the Holy One:

I cannot dance, O Lord, unless Thou lead me. If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully, then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing! Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge, from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense. There will I remain and circle evermore.

Hafiz, the Sufi mystic poet of fourteenth century Persia, teaches us:
Know the true nature of your Beloved. In His loving eyes, your every thought, Word and movement is always, Always beautiful.

As the mystics did, we draw unto ourselves, and are lured towards, the love that holds the universe together. We allure all we require to grow in that love, within the calling, the shape of destiny that is uniquely ours. And we ourselves can be principles of allurement. Again, Hafiz says it well:
There is only one reason we have followed God into this world: To encourage laughter, freedom, dance and love.

Swimme believes that by allowing allurement to unfurl in our consciousness, we can develop:
*passionate absorption in the world of others with a capacity to enter deeply into its reality
* a wide spectrum of feelings and moods because of the ability to absorb the needs and feelings of persons and places
*an amazing capacity to become completely overwhelmed in situations that seem trivial, such as sitting by a pond
* a sensitivity to beauty in all its forms.

The challenge for someone deeply drawn by allurement is to maintain a sense of identity. (Am I a cloud or a raven?) Allurement is balanced by the opposite pull of centration.

Yet if we allow ourselves to be drawn by beauty, releasing ourselves into the field of our allurements, we’ll create a mutually-enhancing lure to beauty. And in doing so, we will discover something that Swimme wrote many years ago in his book The Universe is a Green Dragon: Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you.

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Swimme tells how he was lured by the wonder of the stars to study physics. One day a student of his changed his major from music to physics. This is how the universe works, Swimme believes. We are captivated by the beauty of the universe. We pursue this beauty. Others are captivated through us.

Jean Houston advises us to have leaky margins, to be able to fall in love with everything. We live then with delight in the other, experiencing the energy and generativity that come with loving.

Sophia in the Easter Mystery

Through the cold, quiet night time of the grave underground,
The earth concentrated on him with complete longing
Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond
To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.
The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.
He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.
John O’Donohue “Resurrection”

The Easter Mystery of life-death-life is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of life on our planet, in the deep heart of our own lives. From its birth out of the womb of a dying star, through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn, its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring, the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.

 Ancient peoples understood this mystery. Through their careful observations they constructed buildings such as the mound in Newgrange Ireland where a tiny lintel receives the first rays of dawn only on the winter solstice.

The ancients wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies: the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened; the Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended to the underworld to visit her sister Erishkigal. There she was stripped of all her royal robes and insignia, and murdered by her sister who then hung her lifeless body on hook. Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.

The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other great myths of the ancient Near East. What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person. The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith. As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain”.

In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe. Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed into a deeper more joyous existence. By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits, old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be, we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us. As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.

“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns  appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed. For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core to “the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits. It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed.”

“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues. “We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.” Yet “the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us…. the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone, the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life”. (Godseed pp.129-130)

The yearly miracle of Spring awakens within us the confidence and joy that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live. We know our call to green our lives, our times, our planet:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)

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Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?
What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?
How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?
What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me? for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?

May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom, gently guide us through the death of what no longer serves us into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.

Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom

Sophia: Who or What is She? Where may we find Her? How might we come to know Her?

These questions draw me here to my computer each week. For the past fifteen months, I have been offering you what can only be a whiff of Her presence, a hint at Her activity in our lives, a suggestion of how She longs to befriend and guide us, how She seeks us as co-creative partners in Her work.

I have offered you a few of my own experiences, but mostly I have shared with you the discoveries of other seekers. Through their luminous writings on Sophia as She emerges in the Hebrew Scriptures, in ancient stories and mythology, in poetry and mystical experience, they continue to open new portals, new ways of knowing and experiencing Sophia in our own lives.

Today I share with you insights from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s 2001 book, Goddesses in Older Women. As I read it last evening by the fire, I found my awareness of Sophia expanding through seeing her as an archetype. It was Carl Jung who taught us that we hold within us ancient knowings/images inherited from our earliest ancestors: archetypes of mother /lover /friend/warrior/father/son/wise one/ teacher/daughter… and so on. In The Search for the Beloved (1987-1997) Jean Houston writes of a realm where these archetypal guides dwell, a place of myth and symbols, of sacred time and sacred space, a “container of that which never was and is always happening.” (p. 24)

(I)t is the place where the self joins its polyphrenic possibilities, including the gods and goddesses and their courts. In Sanskrit these celestial beings are referred to as yidams, the personified “rivers to the Ocean of Being.” The gods — Athena, Asclepios, Sophia, Shiva, Quetzalcoatl, and thousands of others — are those forces that have been crystallized in human cultures and worshipped as personalized emanations of a greater unknowable and unnameable power. Sometimes they assume a humanized form, as did Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and Zoroaster. We may feel a particularly loving resonance with such beings who have been elevated to godhood. By virtue of this identification, we are evoked to become much more fully what we can be in the depth and breadth of our existence. (pp.24-5)

Jean Houston’s description is helpful as it places Sophia in a sacred realm, beyond the human/historical and yet accessible to us, “as the contact point for sacred time and sacred space”. (p. 24)

Now when I turn to Jean Shinoda Bolen’s writings, I have a clearer sense of how Sophia appears in our lives as Archetype of Wisdom. And I recall the frisson I experienced when I read in She Who Is (Elizabeth Johnson, 1992) the suggestion that Jesus was himself the embodiment of the Sophia archetype! Johnson writes that Jesus lived the qualities of Sophia as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, but his historical entry into time was during a period when a woman would not be accepted as a spiritual teacher.

In Goddesses in Older Women Bolen speaks of Sophia as “a forgotten goddess figure within a monotheistic, patriarchal religious tradition that denies feminine divinity” (p.25) Describing Sophia as “the archetype of spiritual wisdom or soul knowledge,” Bolen writes:

Sophia’s wisdom is insightful, it is what we know through gnosis….Gnostic or noetic…knowledge is what is revealed to us or intuitively perceived as spiritually true. I think of gnosis as what we “gknow” at a soul level, it’s what we know “in our bones”…. At a soul level, we can know that we are spiritual beings on a human path, or know that life has a purpose, or know that we are loved, or know God, or know that we are part of an interconnected universe. (p. 26)

For Bolen, “gnosis” is “an intuitive process of knowing oneself at the deepest level” akin to the Jungian concept of connecting to the Self where with soul knowledge we sense our life as meaningful. “What we know through a connection with the Self is divine wisdom,” Bolen writes. “This is a wisdom that isn’t the exclusive possession of authority above us; it is the wisdom that dwells in us and is everywhere.” (p.27)

What we call “women’s intuition” is also an aspect of gnosis. Bolen writes:

Far from mysterious, it’s a combination of noticing what is going on and processing what we are noticing in an intuitive way. It has to do with knowing people, of assessing character, of seeing through the façade – it’s insight into the presence or absence of soul. The click! insight that sees the underlying sexism or power politics in a situation is gnosis. The Aha! that happens when something important to you suddenly makes sense is gnosis. The moment when you know that your spouse is unfaithful, is gnosis. That inner twinge of a guilty conscience is gnosis. (p. 27)

Bolen concludes her reflection on Sophia as Archetype of Spiritual Wisdom or Gnosis with these words:
Growing older and wiser is a lifelong process that accelerates in the third phase, especially if you heed gnosis in yourself. This is how the archetype of Sophia becomes known to you. She is a way of knowing, a source of inner wisdom as well as an archetypal wisewoman. When Sophia dwells in you, you perceive the soul of the matter or soul qualities in others. (p.27)

Next week: “Sophia the Mystic”