Category Archives: The Divine Feminine

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)

 

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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)

 

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“To dwell in Wisdom is to see the ground from which all things come.”

Long 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)

 

Sophia:Discipline as a Way of Love

Of (Wisdom) the most sure beginning is the desire for discipline,
care for discipline means loving Her… (Wisdom 6:17 Jerusalem Bible)

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

Reflecting on this, I recalled a story that shows discipline as a requirement of love. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince :
The fox…gazed at the little prince for a long time. “Please tame me!” he said.
“I’d love to,” replied the little prince, “but I don’t have much time. I’ve got friends to find and lots of things to understand.”
“You only understand the things you tame,” said the fox. “People no longer have the time to understand anything….If you want a friend, tame me!”
“What do I have to do?” said the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “Sit down in the grass a little way away from me, like this. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye and you won’t say a word. Language is a source of misunderstanding. And each day, you can sit a little closer.”
The next day, the little prince returned.
“It would have been better if you’d come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then from three o’clock I’ll start feeling happy. The later it gets, the happier I’ll feel….but if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when to feel glad in my heart…we need rituals.”
“What’s a ritual?” said the little prince.
“Something else that is too readily forgotten,” said the fox. “It is what makes one
day different from another, or one hour different from the other hours.”
(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943; English translation, 2010 by Ros and Chloe Schwartz)

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

In her magnificent book, The Search for the Beloved (Tarcher/Putnam New York, 1987) Jean Houston writes:
While the realm of the Beloved may still remain “other”, the distance can be bridged by bringing the extraordinary into the ordinary….
Although being porous to the Beloved increases the capacity to live in two realms, the growth and maintenance of this capacity seems to depend upon the faithful practice of a discipline. Discipline has had a very bad press. We must recognize that the high practice of a discipline gives enormous freedom, and with this freedom comes a greatly increased capacity to love. Often we do not love others, much less the Divine Beloved, because we are caught up with every whim, irritant, and distraction….Discipline, conscious and mindful orchestration of the pieces of our lives, gives us a capacity to live in the depths as well as on the surface. Ideally, a discipline has a physical, mental, and spiritual component and is practiced each day. If, however, your discipline becomes compulsive…then it is time to consciously change it and do something funny or ironic. (pp. 132-3)

Shapiro cites words from Proverbs where Wisdom/Chochma/Sophia again speaks of discipline:
Listen to Me:
Follow Me and be happy.
Practice My discipline and grow wise….
(Proverbs 8: 32-33 NRSV Bible)

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

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

 

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
(I Heard God Laughing trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

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

I bring joy to those who listen;
I bring happiness to those who are mindful of Me…
Find Me and find life,
Find Me and find grace…
(Proverbs 8 NRSV Bible)

The Little PrinceThe

Coming to Know Sophia

We come away from the magic of the Storyteller’s Well on the Hill of Tara. It is time for us to seek Sophia’s Wisdom in other places, in other times, through other voices.

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

In his Preface, Rabbi Shapiro tells of being pursued by the Sacred Feminine:
I began to see her everywhere. She started talking to me….She intruded on my meditation and prayer time, and just would not leave me alone….She had me. I would go for walks late at night and talk with her.

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

Yet still Shapiro struggled, for it seemed to him that the presence was the Virgin Mary, someone he could not commit to as a Jew. Andrew said to me, “It isn’t Mary, but the Mother. She comes to the Christian as the Blessed Virgin; She comes to you as Chochma, Mother Wisdom.” And with that my whole life changed.

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

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

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

As Shapiro began to move through the Hebrew Scriptures, citing passages, reflecting upon them, I also felt I was hearing what I “somehow already knew in (my) heart.”

See if this is also how it is for you.

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

The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.
I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…
When He established the heavens, I was already there.
When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…
I was beside Him, the master builder.
I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.
Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8: 22-31)

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

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

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

Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace. She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18)

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

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

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

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

She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11) and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise. Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.
….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.

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

Sophia in Ireland: Four

I am once more in Ireland, in Mayo, where my father’s people come from. Grey-black weathered stones still shape walls and openings for windows, but the small church on Achill Island, just off the west coast of Ireland, has long since lost its roof. The June morning is cool, ruffled by soft winds, as we twelve women gather under the slate-grey sky around the stone altar.

roofless church with Mary statue on Achill IslandWe have come here seeking an ancient holy well, dedicated to the early Christian Saint Dymphna, (Dimp / Nah) credited with healings. Dymphna was fleeing from her father, a pagan Irish king, her pathway marked by sacred wells, remnants of a tradition that predates Celtic Christianity. People sought healing at such wells, believed to be the openings of the body of our Mother Earth.
Around that altar, we are standing where women have been, in recent centuries, forbidden to stand. With that awareness, a power moves within us, along with a joy that has no words. One of the women in our group reads a poem by Denise Levertov:
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
The fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
refreshed.
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.

With these words still echoing, we walk outdoors, make our way through the old graveyard where in past centuries people from all across the island brought their dead for burial. We find the well of Dymphna on a piece of low ground just metres from the edge of the sea, its small opening protected by a circle of stones. We stand here, ourselves a circle, praying silently for those in need of healing.

well3 on Achill Island

Holy Well of Dymphna

One of the women, kneeling to take a photo, discovers a heart-shaped rock, one side deeply carved and creased with lines of breakage, now healed; another picks up a stone with the clear shape of a mother and child. For both these women, the stones hold a reflection of their lives. I walk a little way past the well and see a small silver stream of running water. Without knowing why I feel drawn to do so, I kneel, scoop up water, place it on my forehead, on my heart.

Later that day, I realize with a shiver of wonder that it is the anniversary of my baptism.

This moment marks a sacred beginning. My life becomes interwoven with a presence of love for whom I have no name. My searching will take me back to the ancient days of Ireland, before the Celts arrived there, forward to the spirituality glimpsed by Teilhard de Chardin, to the newly unfolding mysteries of the universe in whose life and powers we share intimately… for these next parts of the story I shall take you back to the Hill of Tara. There is someone there whom you must meet.

Tonight, I follow the thread of the story that began twice seven years ago. Once more I climb Tara’s hill. I feel the same needle pricks of mist against my face, see again the grey shroud of fog that conceals everything except what lies before me: this stone, this sheep, this tussock, this tree. Each arises, disappears, as on that night, the night when I called out to the Old Ones, and no one answered. Now I know the One I seek. I have found the hidden well where she awaits me, and this knowing has transformed my desert into an oasis. This time, I shall call out and be heard. I shall be answered.

Come with me. It is time for us to begin. The one whom we seek allures us with a flow of energy, but to meet her we must first come to stillness. A strong desire for the encounter is our best assurance of being met by the One we seek. She responds to our longing. I cannot tell you her name. I am not certain she has a name. I know her as the Storyteller.

It is through their stories that we will find how the Celts related to the Sacred Presence of Love at the Heart of the Universe. For this storytelling we need someone whose wisdom is as ancient as the lakes and rivers, the rocks and hills of Ireland.

Sophia in Ireland: Three

My experience watching Siamsa Tire (The National Folk Theatre of Ireland) perform “The Children of Lir” shows me that it is within the stories of the ancient Celts that their deepest truths are woven, a silver thread we can learn to see, to follow, to trust.

The Ceile de, or Spouses of God, a monastic order formed in the early centuries of Christianity in Ireland, and rebirthed in our time, tell this story: A remarkable change happened among the Druids, the priests of the ancient Celtic religion, somewhere around the time of the birth of Christ. A group arose who became known as the Strangers. They spoke out against the ostentations, the warlike behaviour that had characterized the Celts for centuries. They dressed simply in linen, wandered through Ireland, seeking hospitality wherever they were, teaching a new consciousness.

They told stories of a Holy One who would be born of a Virgin, One who would initiate a new time of peace and love. Though the fifth century saint, Patrick, has long been honoured as the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it now seems that the new faith may have arrived as early as the first century. And when these first Christian travellers spoke of a Holy One, born of a Virgin, preaching love, the Celts recognised the tale told by the Strangers. This is why the coming of Christianity to Ireland was without bloodshed, with “nary a martyr” as the old tales say. All it took was a dawn and a song and the ringing of a bell.

Pre-Christian mythology among the Celts told of an invisible god who becomes visible in the feminine, able to be touched with the senses. In one myth a god who wanted to know itself divided into invisible and visible: spirit and matter/ Mater (universe, earth, body). So the Christian story of an invisible Father and a visible mother (Mary) birthing the Christ made sense to the Celts. For them, Christ, born of a heavenly Father and an earthly Mother, represents perfect balance.

Julian of Norwich, in her Celtic Heart, understood that as truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.

Celtic Christianity was woven into the hearts and souls of a people drawn to mystery rather than to rigidity of belief, rooted in the earth, in story, in music, in laughter. The Celts were naturally drawn to the mysticism of the Gospel of John. They embraced and understood a suffering Messiah, for they needed someone who knew pain as well as ecstasy, who could weep as well as sing, dance and rejoice. The Celts loved Jesus so much that re-imagined him as one of their own. That strange depiction on my wall that I thought was a woman crucified was copied from an 8th century image of Jesus with Celtic features, clothed in a long Celtic robe decorated with spirals…. CrucifixLfrom an 8th c. bronze plaque, St. John’s Rinnagan, County Roscommon, Ireland

 

What happened to this indigenous expression of Christianity? How could such a vibrant, rooted, faith wither? Be subsumed into the more rigid forms of Roman Catholic Christianity? The answer is not one of organic development but rather of a deliberate, sustained and determined crushing of roots, uprooting of plants, replanting with other expressions of Christianity by a Church whose increasingly centralized authority in Rome could not abide differences of expression, and valued conformity of belief and practice over a lived and living indigenous faith.

It took centuries for the Celtic expression of Christianity to be supplanted by the Roman expression, but from the moment in the late fourth century when Pelagius, a Celtic monk, debated with the great Augustine of Hippo that goodness, not sin, is at the heart of life, the death knell was already sounding for Celtic Christianity. Augustine won the debate and became a saint of the Roman Church. Pelagius lost and became a heretic. The doctrine of Original Sin took its place in the Christian story.

When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th century, they replaced Irish monastic life with the large European orders of Augustinians and Benedictines, completing the transmutations in line with the Roman Model of Christianity.

What I’ve learned of Celtic Christianity shows me a weaving, still open for the Kairos moment, still loose enough to receive the shuttle cock carrying the weft thread of our new knowing that we are intimately part of, in fact we are holograms of, an interconnected universe. The weaving of Celtic Christianity has honoured the gifts of women, so denigrated, and the spiritual needs of women, so ignored, by the Roman Church. It has honoured the earth with her sacred cycles of night and day, her active summer days of the bright masculine sun-energy, her contemplative winter days of the dark feminine moon-energy, her birthings and dyings and risings.

One night, during these twice seven years of searching, I had a dream. A huge stone Church soars into the sky, obscuring the light. It is heavy, forbidding, much too burdened with all the laws inscribed upon its stones. It suddenly shakes, then topples backwards. As it falls, its perfect reflection in the lake that lies at its base rises. It is lighter, freer, still magical in openness and colour, with spaces where one might breathe freely, even underwater. It rises slowly even as the stone Church falls backwards. It takes its place in the clean and emptied air.

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(to be continued)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-One

On our final night in Egypt, the sacred Sufi dances of ecstasy end. A wilder, joyous exuberance takes over within our group, an explosion of emotion, of deep gratitude, sharpened by awareness of the approaching ending.
Some of our company have prepared songs, rituals, presentations to honour our leaders, Jean and Peg, to thank Mohamed for his provision of private time for us in sacred places where we might experience prayer and ritual and to show our gratitude to Samai, our guide through Egypt.
Soon the audience spills onto the stage, and the Sufis are offering lessons in dance and movement. I watch the wildness of dance, wishing I felt free enough to express all the feelings that dance within me.

After we board the bus to return to the Mena House, I pass by Jean. I ask her if there might be a moment to talk with her before we leave Egypt.
The next morning, at breakfast in the Mena House dining room, I look for Jean, see that she is in conversation with someone. I have left my request too late. We are to leave immediately after breakfast for the airport. There will not be time to speak
with her, to share this sense that things have somehow come together in me. I feel a sharp disappointment. I want this resolution to happen
here in Egypt. I want to leave Egypt whole.

I am walking away from the dining room when Jean joins me. “You wanted to talk? Sit with me on the bus to the airport.”

And so it is that as Cairo’s exquisite ornamented mosques and modern buildings march past the bus windows, like a speeded-up time film moving from past to present, I speak with Jean.

Cairo_tcm294-2363745

Cairo, Egypt

This time I am telling her a story, one I finally understand in my heart, can see in my soul, where its separate pieces are quilted together in a pattern: beautiful, harmonious,
whole.

I begin by diving into the deep end of the pool, trusting that Jean will understand if I frame my experience in terms of durative and punctual time. I speak of my experience of an ending in Mystery School, at the final session of the year before, when I had then no hope of returning. How I came home grieving, aware only when I thought it was over, how important Jean’s presence was in my life. How I had been walking in the
woods beside my home when quite suddenly without thought or intent, I was aware of her presence with me, so real that I could converse with her. And how that presence has returned at rare moments, offering me guidance, words of direction when I lose focus, most often when I am leading retreats, sessions in spirituality with women. I have come to know this as a profound gift of her presence in durative time.

Then I tell her how difficult it is for me to reconcile the real Jean in punctual time, whose energies must flow in so many directions, with the Jean who, in durative time, is wholly present to me. I share the sacred experience at sunset on the deck of the Moon
Goddess. I tell her how I spoke with her imaginal presence even as I saw her clearly across the deck, in conversation with someone else.

I pause. This all sounds rather strange even to my ears. I wonder if Jean can receive it.  I look at her, seeking some sign of understanding. I see attentive presence. I see calm receptiveness.

But I see too the woman whom I wrapped in a shawl because she was cold and grieving outside the tomb at Abu Simbel. I see the woman who one evening had fallen into an
exhausted sleep on the felucca that was taking us back to the Moon Goddess. Then, I had looked at her, as surprised as if a statue of Isis had suddenly closed her eyes and nodded off into sleep. That night when we left the felucca, I had guided her up
the steps to the ship, fearing she would fall asleep again on her
feet. Leonard Cohen’s words come to me now, something about
there being a crack in everything that lets the light in.

This is an ordinary human beside me, extraordinarily gifted,
yes, a woman who has opened her life to be a passageway for the
Holy. My glimpses of the Holy in her have drawn me to her. She
has become for me, especially here in Egypt, an experience of
the sacred feminine, real in a way that Isis or Sekhmet or Hathor
could not be. I feel a deep gratitude along with a searing awareness
that to demand, even to expect, more than a glimpse is unfair, unloving.

No one, no matter how wise and generous and loving, can live always  in a state of being awash with divinity. And in that instant of knowing, I realize something else. This is
a woman whom I would choose as a friend, someone whom I will support with prayer and grateful love all my days.

The journey from the Mena House to the airport takes about an hour, but I have now no sense of time. I know (I have been well taught!) that there will be enough time, all the time I need, so I unfold the whole story. And Jean listens, receives.

“You are a very loving person,” Jean says. “Is that what attracted you to religious life?”
I am startled into complete honesty. “No. I came to find love.”

Later, I will understand that these words are the essence of my journey to Egypt. I came to find love. Later, I will write this discovery in a poem:

Egypt is where I learned about love.
Not a lost coin, forever sought in vain,
Not a boon for which I begged, helpless, empty,
Not a burden I placed on others who could not receive.
Rather, a gift, poured into me from Love
Until, overflowing with joy, I poured it forth.

That is Egypt’s gift to me. I know it has its origins in the Love within the Universe that I have come to call the feminine face of God, the tender love that brought me here, that revealed itself in so many ways, as Isis, as Hathor, as Sekhmet, as Jean, in tomb and temple, in pyramids, in the depths of the Red Sea, here on the bus approaching the Cairo Airport.

Now I know in my whole being the call from that sacred presence to finally Send Sorrow Packing, to release the inauthentic constructs of sorrow that have
clouded my relationships. I feel the harmony of a symphony whose opening chords in September have moved through darkness and light, to finally resolve in closing notes of quiet beauty.

I feel held by love.