Tag Archives: Wisdom Sophia

Isis/Sophia in Egypt

I waken to a world of sunlight so strong that I need dark glasses and sun hat for the short walk to breakfast in the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. I pass the sun-soaked turquoise pool that sits like a small lake surrounded by palm trees, flowers in brilliant reds and yellows. I climb the marble stairs to the dining room, find breakfast spread out in silver bowls: pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, yogurt, abundance of muffins, breads, sweet rolls, coffee in silver urns on a long linen-covered

 

Immediately afterwards, we gather in one of the hotel’s elegant meeting rooms.
An Egyptian man, perhaps in his early fifties, stands at the front of the room. With shy pride he welcomes us to his country. “I am Mohamed Nazmy”, he says “and my company, Quest Travel, is making the arrangements for your time in Egypt. I know what it is you seek. I have been in communication with your teacher Dr. Jean Houston for several months, preplanning as much as we could, waiting for the time to be right for this sacred journey. My company guides only people like you who seek the spiritual heart of Egypt. But this,” and suddenly his shyness dissipates as a smile like a rising sun irradiates his face, “this will be our greatest challenge, and our deepest joy. Samei, though young, is an experienced and learned travel guide. He will go with you everywhere your journey takes you. I will accompany you when possible, and shall be in constant communication with Samei.

“I do not need to tell you that some of the places you will enter are dangerous, some carefully guarded. As far as possible, I am making arrangements for your group to have private visits inside the tombs, temples and pyramids to allow for the teaching and rituals that are part of your journey.” He pauses, then adds, “the only solitary visit I cannot arrange is to the Valley of the Kings where each day this month, the number of tourists will exceed ten thousand.” With a gracious wish for a safe and blessed journey, he concludes his talk, turns to speak quietly with Jean.

 

We return to the chairs at the front of the room and Jean introduces the guest who has come to speak to us this morning. “You’ve seen him on the Discovery Channel and on National Geographic Programs. He’s Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, passionate about receiving, rescuing, restoring and retaining its ancient treasures. His ongoing archaeological work has earned him world-wide recognition and we can thank Mohamed, his close friend, for arranging this presentation by Dr. Zahi Hawass.”

 

“They call me the Indiana Jones of Egypt,” Dr. Hawass says, with a boyish grin. “They even say I wear an Indiana Jones hat, but the truth is that Indiana Jones wears a Zahi Hawass hat.”

With a power point he takes us with him as he is lowered by a rope into cavernous depths. “What did I find there?” he asks. “Not the wonderful things of Howard Carter’s experience in the tomb of King Tut, but the dung of centuries.”

These days, he’s working with a grant to study DNA from ancient mummies, seeking to trace relationships among King Tut, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti. He’s also excavating in the Valley of the Kings and seeking the burial site of Anthony and Cleopatra. He radiates joy and the passion of his commitment to work he loves. “With passion, any job can be the best in the world,” Dr. Hawass says.

 

“Egypt is a state of being that exists eternally in archetypal reality.” Dr. Hawass has gone, and Jean Houston is speaking to us now. “It is a quality of the psyche, of the intelligence, existing on the space/time continuum. Five thousand years ago, the essence of possibility entered into time”.

 

The magic has begun. I breathe in these words, not fully understanding, but knowing at a deep level their truth. This will be a journey of discovery even more enticing than those of Dr. Hawass.

 

“When in the thirteenth century St. Francis of Assisi visited Egypt, he sat with the Sultan in silence for hours before the Sphinx. At last Francis said, I know the answer. It is love.

“Now you are here as archaeologists of Egypt’s ancient spirit. We shall visit powerful sites, seeking matrix points for a world civilization, a world spirit. As the Ancient Egyptians dreamed a world, we shall, by use of imagination, bring forth a new reality that wants to emerge. We shall collect the broken pieces of our world and gather them into wholeness, as did Isis with the broken body of Osiris.

“And just as Hatshepsut restored the ruined temple of Hathor and created ceremonies of the Feasts of Light, we shall inaugurate ceremonies on behalf of our Temple of Earth.”

I listen intently, believing this to be possible, seeing it as absolutely achievable. It doesn’t occur to me then that a personal descent into cavernous inner places holding dung and wonderful things in equal measure, will be required of me.

“For today, you may be tourists”. Jean is saying now. “Samei will take you to a papyrus factory, then to some of the shops. After supper we’ll see the Egyptian Museum. Enjoy Cairo!”

In the papyrus factory store, we watch the process as papyrus stems are soaked, then soaped and placed under pressure to create paper. Young Muslim women wearing hijabs smilingly show us around the room’s collection of illustrated papyri.

 

Hampered by my lack of Arabic (I am able thus far only to say “Shokran”, “thank you,”) I manage to convey to one of the young women that I am seeking a painting of Isis. After some searching, some reading of identifying hieroglyphs, the young store clerk smiles brilliantly, places a richly-painted papyrus of Isis in my hands. I take in the rich midnight blue of her robe, the throne-shaped silver crown on her head, the breadth of wing span in silver and gold beneath her arms, the mystery of the many-hued hieroglyphs of bird, snake, woman, throne, carefully arranged above beside and below her. I hand it back to the young woman who carefully rolls it, inserts it into a cardboard tube, then returns it to me. I am in awe at this beautiful treasure I now carry.

image of goddess Isis

Isis, with whom I began my journey two months earlier in a darkened room at my community’s retreat centre. ( to be continued)

from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin Borealis Press 2013  (http://borealispress.com)

Sophia: Her Design in the Universe

Last week, we saw

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

Ever since we humans gazed, astonished, at the stars, we have intuited a pattern in the Universe. We have wondered at the pattern maker for eons of time. Have we understood that there is Love within every aspect of this many-faceted reality?

English poet-mystic Edwina Gately speaks of this:

They stretched beyond my sight —

millions of tiny pebbles,

broken stones, and smooth rocks

thrown together,

heaped, it seemed,

in careless huddles,

then washed apart

and rushed into new places

to nudge against

other, different shapes,

falling together

in patterns ever changing.

But over all,

in never-ceasing constancy,

flowed the great water,

drenching and shifting

great and small,

stretching out

in wondrous unfolding

of Wisdom’s great design. 

(Growing into God, Sheed and Ward, Franklin Wisconsin, 2000 p.38.)

Do we experience that great water of Wisdom flowing over the smooth rocks, the pebbles, the broken stones of our lives, forming fresh new patterns? When we dare to name the pattern-maker Sophia, when we come to know her as Wisdom in the Universe, we experience her loving guidance in the small everyday moments of our lives. We sense that we are held in a tenderness that can be, at times, overwhelming.

Joyce Rupp, in her Prayers to Sophia (Innisfree Press, Philadelphia, 2000) writes of knowing and living within the awareness of Sophia’s guidance:

Trusted Guide,

you are my Mentor, my Inspiration,

my Home of good choices and decisions.

You help me to search with confidence

as I find my way to inner peace.

Please gather your wisdom around me.

Guide me carefully as I make choices

about how to use my energy positively.

Place your discerning touch on my mind

so that I will think clearly.

Place your loving fingers on my heart

so I will be more fully attentive

to what is really of value.

Teach me how to hear your voice,

to be aware of what is in my mind and heart,

to attend to your wisdom in those around me,

to acknowledge my intuitions and ponder my dreams,

to listen to earth and all of life,

for in each piece of my existence you are guiding me.

Guide of my life,

thank you for all you have given to me.

Reveal my spiritual path 

and direct me in the living of it.

Lead me to inner peace and oneness with you.

Joyce Rupp invites us to reflect on Sophia’s guidance in our lives:

Search your present life situation. Where is it that you most need Sophia’s Guidance?”

Go to Sophia. Find her sitting in her chair of wisdom. Ask her to lead and direct you.”

Receive her wisdom.”

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.

T
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)

Coming to Know Sophia

I have been enchanted in these summer weeks by the book Goddesses:”Mysteries of the Feminine Divine” (New World Library, Novato, California,2013) a compilation of lectures, articles and workshops offered by the late Joseph Campbell, mostly in the 1980’s. In all the richness Campbell offers from ancient mythology throughout time and around the planet, there is but one brief reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, the source book for Muslims, Jews and Christians:

 

The biblical and  Goddess traditions were radically against each other, and while the biblical has remained the authorized tradition, there has been in European culture this waterway of the living Mother Earth flowing underneath. In the Old Testament, we read in early Genesis: “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”. Well, the Earth is not dust, the earth is life, vital, and this intrusive god who comes in late, wanting to take everything over to himself, he denigrates the Earth itself and calls it dust? What he tells you there is, “You really are your mother’s child and you’ll go back to her. She’s nothing but dust, however.” Similarly, you read in Genesis 1:1 , “When God created, the breath (or Spirit) of the Lord brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say he created the waters. The waters are the Goddess — she was there first.

Turn to Proverbs and there she comes back as the wisdom goddess Sophia, and she says, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” She says it. What you have is the same old mythology that the Babylonians and the Sumerians had of two powers, the female and the male power in tension, relationship and creative co-action. But what happened in the Bible was that the male power was anthropomorphized in the form of a man and the female power was reduced to an elemental condition — just water. It says, “God’s breath brooded over the waters.” It doesn’t say the waters of the Goddess, it just says the waters. She’s screened out, but she always comes back. (pp.234-5)

In these words of Joseph Campbell, I find the heart of my work, the inspiration which led me to begin this blog in October of 2014: the intuition that Sophia/ the Divine Feminine Presence is rising in and among us. Her awakening is the underlying theme of all I write.

In her book, Praying with the Women Mystics, (Columba Press, Ireland, 2006) Mary T.Malone offers us a poem in Sophia’s voice, based on Proverbs 8:27-31:

When God established the heavens I, 

Sophia, WomanGod, was there.

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

When God assigned to the sea its limit…

When God marked out the foundations of the earth,

There I was beside Him like a master-worker.

And I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before Him always,

Rejoicing in the inhabited world 

And delighting in the human race. 

 

Sophia is present within all that lives, the beating heart of the planet. We glimpse “Sophia in Splendour” in this poem of Mary Malone’s, based on Wisdom: 7:26-8:11

For Sophia is the splendour of eternal light
And immaculate mirror of God’s majesty,
And image of God’s goodness…
For she is more beautiful than the sun,
And above all the order of the stars.
Compared with the light, she is found before it…
Therefore she reaches from end to end mightily
And orders all things sweetly.

Jean Houston in her book Godseed  takes us on an imaginal  “Visit to the Sophia”:

After a long spiraling journey upwards, you find yourself at the very top of a high mountain. You go inside the mountain to a path that travels downward in a spiral. Moving along the path down and around within the inner mountain spiral, you pass scenes of your own life, from your earliest infancy. You see or sense yourself being born. Continuing on the path down and around, to your earliest childhood, you see yourself taking your first steps, forming words, reaching out and grasping things, learning to feed yourself. Further down you see yourself learning to tie your own shoes and attending your first days at school. Continuing down, you see yourself learning games and reaching out to other children. As you continue, you see yourself growing up fast and learning many things. You see your adolescence. Further along you observe stages of your life until today………..

Suddenly you find yourself at the very bottom of the inside of the mountain. There you discover a door of baked mud. Going through it, you find that it leads to a hallway and to a door of water. You pass through the door of water, and it leads to a door of fire. You pass through the door of fire, and it leads to a door of winds. You lean against the winds and pass through. This door leads to a door of bronze, and you pass through. This door leads to a door of silver. You pass through the door of silver and find a door of gold.

At the door of gold there is a shining figure who says to you: “Through this door is the Sophia. Through this door is the Wise One herself, the incarnation of Wisdom. When you pass through this door, you will be in the presence of the Sophia. There you must ask your question. You may see her or you may sense her. But know that she is there. She who is Wisdom itself.” When you are in her ambience, whether you see her or hear her or sense her or feel her, ask your question. Her answers may come in words or in images or even in feelings.

You now have four minutes of clock time, equal to all the time you need, to be in the presence of the Sophia and ask your question and receive her answers.

Thanking the Sophia for her wisdom and kindness, and knowing that you can always return to visit her again, begin now to go back through the door of gold, the door of silver, the door of bronze, beyond the doors of winds, of fire, of water, of earth, beyond the spiral of the stages of your own life, reaching the top of the mountain. Now take the spiral path back down from the mountain. Find yourself here in this moment, in the Garden of Iona. Open your eyes, sit up and stretch, and if you wish, write your experiences in a journal or make a drawing or sketch of what you found with the Sophia…

 

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.

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)

Talmost spring 003

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 Mystic

In Goddesses in Older Women (2001), Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of Sophia as an Archetype, Friend, Inner Guide that women may feel drawn to in their wisdom years.

“The mystic is an aspect of the Sophia archetype that is evoked by numinous experiences.” Words used in an attempt to describe numinosity are “awe, beauty, grace, divinity, ineffability”. Bolen writes that “a numinous experience is the defining moment for the woman who becomes a mystic.” After this, knowing God in this way “becomes the central focus of her spiritual life and her spiritual life becomes her life…  she seeks to enter and stay in a mystical union with divinity.” (pp. 27-8)

 

Bolen notes that a woman with the Sophia archetype may be drawn to a Contemplative Community, either an Eastern Ashram or a Western Cloister such as many of the Medieval Women Mystics joined. However, she adds, “since mystics directly experience divinity and women (especially older ones) no longer automatically defer to hierarchy, question dogma and are aware of sexism”, they also leave these communities if they find the beliefs of a religion “constricting and in conflict with what they deeply trust is true for them”. (p.28)

With the greater freedom that women enjoy today, many “are inspired by their mystical insights” to seek a more “personally meaningful life”. Bolen notes that though most would not define themselves as mystics, “their mystical experiences are at the core of what they are doing with their lives”. Freed from the need to conform to what an institutional religion may define as mysticism, “women are redefining spirituality” writes Bolen. (p. 28)

Bolen tells of the writer Anne Bancroft who set out to find “authentically feminine insights and ways of being that differed from male thoughts about spirituality”. Bancroft found that “women tend to see all things around them as revelatory, revealing totality and completeness and a numinous quality. To see things in this way a certain attention has to be given, which women are good at. It is not the kind of attention with which one acquires knowledge, but rather that which happens when one lets go of all concepts and becomes open to what is there.”( Bancroft in Weavers of Wisdom 1989, cited on p. 29)

Bolen writes that Bancroft found in her study that women mystics “renewed and cultivated their mystical relationship with the sacred in their own way; in nature, in creativity, in contemplation, in a deep connection with another person, and had a life other than being a mystic… ” Their mysticism provided light for their particular path, as for Joanna Macy, whose “mysticism matured through Buddhist meditation and deepened her already-formed concern for social justice; this led her to become an anti-nuclear and ecological activist.” As a practitioner and teacher of “deep ecology”, Joanna uses a “meditative and active imaginative way of listening to plants and animals and even stones, to reach a deeply-felt mystical sense of a web of life.” (p. 29)

Bolen adds that mystical experiences may also inspire writers, poets, artists. She cites Meinrad Craighead as “an artist whose mysticism and paintings have become inseparable.” (p. 29)

Yet the difficulties encountered in describing one’s mystical experiences and in having them understood lead many “contemporary Sophias” to become “closet mystics”, writes Bolen. “Many women who have attempted to describe their mystical insights and found themselves having to defend or justify them arrive at the conclusion that it is enough to live with this connection…” (p. 30)

On this aspect of the Sophia, Bolen concludes: “When Sophia is not only a source of mystical insight but is also the archetype that fully engages the attention of a woman, then it is accurate to say that she is a mystic and her Self-directed task is to find a means of expression and a way to convey the insight she has acquired.” (p. 30)

Greece 2015 138

And what of you, who are now reading these words? How does the Sophia archetype show up in your life? When have you experienced the numinous? Have you felt drawn to pursue that “knowing of God”as a life path? Do your mystical experiences shed light on your calling in social justice or poetry or art or service?

Please email me your thoughts: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

If you would like to know about the monthly “Sophia Salons” offered here from February to May 2016 in the Ottawa Valley of Central Canada, send me a note asking for the information using the email address above.

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”

Travelling with Sophia

Even to think about (Wisdom) is understanding fully grown;
be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her
and graciously shows herself to them as they go,
in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

(Wisdom 6: 15-16 Jerusalem Bible)

Poring over notes from the Greece Journey, I seek a place of re-entry, so that I might invite you back inside the deep teachings, the healing processes, the beautiful sights, sounds, stories of our travels in that blessed land. Once again my memories turn to Sophia, the Greek name for Wisdom. Icons of Mary, such as the ones I showed you from the Church of the Hundred Doors on Paros Island, abound in Greece.

For the Greeks, Sophia is a loving presence, close, active, supportive, loving, healing, often seemingly conflated with Mary. I turn again to last week’s posting for Epiphany, find the quote from Chapter 6 of the Book of Wisdom (see above). And then I decide to share a deeply personal experience.

In Holy Week of 2015, I was taking some retreat days here in my riverside home in the woods. As happens when the mind is quiet, dreams came. In one, I found myself in a darkened room, where my teacher Jean Houston was showing me framed depictions of the work I have begun in recent years: a promo for my Irish play, “The Wooing of the Soul”, my book Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind, the retreats I facilitate…

Further into the room, the darkness was deeper. I understood I must go there alone in order to encounter the Sacred Feminine, the Presence of Sophia. The dream ended there, but stayed inside my heart like an unfinished story. A few weeks afterwards, as I was wondering whether I should consider the Greece Journey, I remembered that dream. Would I find there the presence that awaited me?

On our last morning on Paros Island, before departure time for our ferry, I was walking through the streets of the town, hoping to find the shops open. They were shut tight, but on a narrow side street, I chanced upon a tiny white building whose door stood invitingly open. Inside, I found a small darkened chapel. On two walls were Icons, glowing in the fiery red light of lamps.

The Icon on the wall to my right was of Mary/Sophia. I gazed at her calm lovely face. It seemed that she gazed back. I stood there, unable to move, drawn to rededicate my life to her. Still I could not go. Then I noticed the child she held. At once I recalled the Inuit tale of the Sealwoman who set her son (her spirit) on the shore in the moonlight for his task was to become a drummer, a singer, a storyteller. She promises him, ” I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”

I understood that I must do the same: send my recovered spirit out to tell the stories, trusting that she, Wisdom-Sophia, would “breathe into (my) lungs a wind for the singing of (my) songs”… I was filled with joy and gratitude. I took this photo before I left the small chapel.

Greece Paro dark chapel t2015 174

It was only later, on the ferry back to mainland Greece, that I remembered my dream of the darkened room and the Sacred Feminine Presence who awaited me there.

Truly Wisdom-Sophia  herself walks about looking for (us) and graciously shows herself to (us) as (we) go, in every thought of (ours) coming to meet (us).

Here is a poem by Jan Richardson to give heart to us in all our journeys:

For Those Who Have Far to Travel

A Blessing for Epiphany

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions,
beyond fatigue,
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know:
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace
– See more at: http://paintedprayerbook.com/2016/01/02/epiphany-for-those-who-have-far-to-travel/#sthash.jTkLHSWC.dpuf

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)