Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Holy Wisdom in the Trinity


Recently one night when I was trying to fall asleep, I saw a vision in my mind of three intersecting circles. I tried to picture what shape would appear in the areas of intersection but couldn't clearly see it. Last evening, despite my lack of drawing skills, I sketched the three circles joined together. As it turns out, this ancient symbol is called a triquetra, representing a variety of spiritual/religious ideas, prominent among them the Holy Trinity. Often it is difficult to articulate a concept merely with words, so a symbol such as the triquetra operates to deepen understanding through a visual and metaphorical representation. The concept is grasped intuitively as well as intellectually. 

The shape of the intersecting areas resembles a flower or a bird, such as a dove, both feminine symbols, and I saw clearly a trinity within a trinity, where the inner region is part and parcel of the surrounding circles. My working theory is that this hidden, inner region represents the feminine aspect of God, which I believe is most accurately named Holy Wisdom (Sophia in Greek).  Just who is Wisdom? I certainly do not claim to have a perfect vision of what I wish to convey, but I have delved deeper into this mystery of the sacred feminine, and these are some of my findings.

"Sophia can be described as the wisdom of God, and, at times, as a pure virgin spirit which emanates from God. The Sophia is seen as being expressed in all creation and the natural world as well as, for some of the Christian mystics..., integral to the spiritual well-being of humankind, the church, and the cosmos. The Virgin is seen as outside creation but compassionately interceding on behalf of humanity to alleviate its suffering by illuminating true spiritual seekers with wisdom and the love of God" (Wikipedia).

 Sophia by Mary B. Kelly

There are too many biblical references to transfer here, but these are some key passages on the nature of Wisdom:

"For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and subtlest. For Wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with Wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light, she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against Wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well" (Wisdom 7-8:1).

Here Wisdom is portrayed as an emanation, rather than a creation, as she seems to be elsewhere. Perhaps in the case of Wisdom, the word creation has the connotation of giving birth, as in the creation of a poem or song that is not only crafted, but is brought forth by the artist from a divine source. Proverbs 8: 22-31 describes Wisdom as being "brought forth", which is a definition of giving birth or being fathered:

 "The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. Where there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man."

 Sophia by Hildegard of Bingen

Sophia, in Catholic theology, is the Wisdom of God and is thus eternal. In my vision, Sophia is co-existent with the Trinity, part and parcel of it, operating as the feminine, motherly aspect of God in concert with the three masculine principles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As I've before stated in regard to the Catechism, God is pure spirit and is not separated into the masculine and feminine as human beings are. Mine is a human attempt to illustrate a divine concept. It seems to me that Sophia, while contained by the whole Trinity, specifically flows out from the Holy Spirit. Rather than being a fourth member of the Trinity, she is a divine spirit who is of the Trinity, the feminine principle brought forth to reflect the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She is hidden within the Trinity, mirroring God's glory, grace, power, and love, like the moon reflects the sun.

Holy Wisdom emanates from God and is particularly associated with the bridal-maternal function of the Holy Spirit which I have previously described, borrowing from Scott Hahn's terminology in First Comes Love. Continuing on my reflections of his themes, I perceive a tri-fold parallel between three persons comprising the Sophia and the three familiar persons of the Trinity. Holy Wisdom corresponds to the Father (see Luke 7: 33-35, Wisdom as Mother); Ecclesia (the Church, the Bride of Christ) to the Son; and Shekinah (the presence of God strongly associated with the Ark of the Covenant) to the Holy Spirit. In this way both the masculine and the feminine are represented within the three circles of the Trinity. I see no way in which this idea contradicts the teaching of the Church, but rather provides a mystical interpretation of the nature of God as both paternal and maternal, as the Catechism states.

Coronation of Mary

As my concept of Sophia relates to the Virgin Mary, I see that the Immaculate Heart of Mary mystically represents Sophia at the heart of the Trinity. Mary can be understood as the mystical sanctuary of the Holy Spirit by virtue of the Incarnation of Jesus through her. Mary's Assumption and Crowning in heaven portray the divinization that she received by virtue of God's grace and Jesus' redemptive act on the cross, and His resurrection, which is the hope of all Christians. Mary also reveals the indwelling Sophia, or feminine aspect of God, in the ancient archetype of Mother, Maiden/Bride, and Wise Crone, corresponding with Holy Wisdom, Ecclesia, and Shekinah. Mary was not divine; she was completely human, but she partakes in the divinity of her Son, as we find explained in 2 Peter 1: 3-4:   

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." The faithful are all destined to become kings and queens, sons and daughters of God.  The divine feminine is also glimpsed through Ecclesia and her relationship to the Holy Spirit, which is analogous in a certain way to the Incarnation:

"In the Divine Mind, in God's Archetypal Idea of creation, the Holy Trinity eternally sees Ecclesia as intimately united to Christ and 'ensouled' by the Holy Spirit. She so partakes in the divine life that she is, with Jesus Her Divine Spouse, the end of creation, which God made with her in mind and for her sake. The Church of the Living God is no mere human institution; she is Ecclesia Mater, 'spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners'. Our minds cannot comprehend the length, width, height and depth of our loving, all-embracing, cosmic Mother. Ecclesia (pronounces eh-klay'see-uh), the Latin word for 'Church', is sometimes used as a proper name when one wishes to emphasize the fact that Holy Mother Church is a mystical Person, not a mere society or organization, as the word 'Church' might imply to some" (from the Mystical Rose Catholic Page). 

Finally, Mary is associated with the Shekinah by virtue of her identification as the "Ark of the New Covenant" portrayed in Revelation 12, as the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. This woman is woman, Mary, the new Eve, daughter Zion, Ecclesia. Mary is the holy face through which we recognize the sacred feminine, or Holy Wisdom, who we also experience as "Mother Nature", Mother Church, Bride of Christ; and Shekinah, the presence of God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bridal-Motherhood of the Holy Spirit

I feel like I am almost back to square one on the issue of the feminine divine and the Holy Spirit. As I was researching this topic online, I came across some references to Scott Hahn's book, First Comes Love. There was evidently some controversial material in chapter 10 regarding the the "bridal-maternal" imaging of the Holy Spirit, and in a later addition it was relegated to an Appendix at the back of the book, which is where I found it today in my copy from the library. Hahn is attempting to characterize who the Holy Spirit is by what He does. The idea is that we have a difficult time relating to the Holy Spirit, because unlike the Father and the Son, this aspect of the Trinity is without a face. In the Bible we have the name of the Spirit meaning breath and fire, and He is also called living water, the power of God, and love.

Hahn sums up how the Spirit functions this way: "What a mother does in the natural order, the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the supernatural order, in Mary, and through the Church. What earthly mothers do finitely and inchoately, the Spirit accomplishes infinitely and perfectly.  In sum, as our mothers gave us birth, so the Spirit feeds the children of God with spiritual milk. As a mother groans in labor, so the Spirit groans to give us life." Then he goes on to say that this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is somehow engendered as feminine, quoting the Catechism, as I have done, concerning God as neither man nor woman, but pure spirit, etc...

There is a little problem with that logic, to my mind. The Father and Son are clearly engendered as masculine. Though, as George S. Montague pointed out in Our Father, Our Mother, the metaphor "Father" was never meant to exclude the motherhood of God, the language itself gives us a heavily masculine image of God, despite all of the motherly references made in the Bible, even by Jesus himself. Yes, Mary reveals the feminine face and maternal love of God, but she is not herself divine. Which gets some folks all up in arms who misunderstand the Church's extreme veneration of her.

Everything Hahn says seems to indicate an understanding of a particularly feminine Holy Spirit. He points out that in Syriac and Hebrew, the word for Spirit, Ruah, is feminine and so ordinarily calls for a feminine pronoun. In fact, he asserts that St. Aphrahat, the most ancient of the Fathers of east Syria and his contemporaries, as well as later Fathers, such as St. Ephrem, regularly observed this grammatical consistency. This practice dropped off after A.D. 400, but Hahn can only speculate as to why that was, noting that there must have been good reasons for it. But were the reasons really good?

Hahn associates God's Wisdom, who is always referred to in the feminine, with the Holy Spirit. In chapters 7-9 of the Book of Wisdom, Wisdom (Sophia) is referred to as "holy spirit" and is described in divine terms, such as "all powerful", "all-knowing", "overseeing all", and "more mobile than any motion."  I have noted previously that Sophia is described in the Bible as a created being. But in Proverbs, Wisdom says that she was "brought forth" by God, which seems to imply either an emanation or a birthing, not a creation.

Another curious thing I discovered is that yet another of my "original" ideas was not original after all. I discussed how the Holy Spirit could be the "Mother" person of the Trinity, even though He proceeds from the Father and the Son (see "Mary as Spouse"). My reasoning was that Eve was made from Adam's rib, so she proceeded from her Father God from the side of the first human son of God. The woman was created after the man, but as the pinnacle of creation, she is also first among creation and is known as the mother of all the living. Evidently St. Methodius of Olympus, an ancient Church Father, said the same thing! He called the Holy Spirit the "rib of the Word"--the uncreated principle of maternity.

Hahn quotes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) regarding Holy Wisdom: " 'Sophia', a feminine noun, stands on that side of reality which is represented by the woman, by what is purely and simply feminine," and he goes on to note that "Spirit", too, is feminine in Hebrew, concluding, "Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God himself."  Like I have been saying, there is this hidden quality of Mary, Sophia, and the Divine Motherhood of God!

God the Father and Jesus are sometimes depicted in maternal terms, and so is the Holy Spirit (and what the Holy Spirit does powerfully evokes motherhood). Wisdom/Sophia is also understood not just as a mother, but as a co-creator and bride. King Solomon was rapturous in his Book of Wisdom: "The Spirit of wisdom came to me...I loved her...and I chose to have her...because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her...because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother" (7:7, 10-12).

Dominican theologian Father Benedict Ashley points out that while the Scriptures sometimes apply the word "Wisdom" to God's Law (Sir 24) and to Jesus (1 Cor. 1:24), "Yet more properly, it is to the Third Person of the Trinity...who is Love, wise Love, that the Old Testament descriptions of a feminine Wisdom are applied." And Scott Hahn finds this conclusion very reasonable. He also notes that Shekinah, the presence, or "glory cloud", of God is a feminine word, too, and the Shekinah seems to be related to the Holy Spirit as well. Are the Holy Spirit, Wisdom/Sophia, and Shekinah one and the same divine person? Hahn makes the associations but never comes to the point of overtly expressing that this could very well be the case. He all but ties the three together as the same being. Why?

Over and over again, despite what the Catechism teaches about God's divine nature as having both masculine and feminine aspects, there is this insistence on only using male pronouns and avoiding asserting any part of God as mother/bride by name (leaving this revelation in feminine language only in relation to Mother Mary and Mother Church). So here we are, still up in the air. So close, but no cigar. I'm going to keep trying to work this out, because if we can use masculine terms to discuss God, despite his being pure spirit, then there seems to be no theological reason not to use feminine terms as well. I will imitate Jesus in calling God, "Abba, Father" and the Holy Spirit "Lord", as the Church teaches. However, if Sophia is the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit is also called "Lady Wisdom."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

God and Gender

God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature...God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman; he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard... In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective "perfections" of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband. -CCC 239, 370
"Yet it is kind of hard for us to conceive of a Being Who is both Father and Mother, since we are used to having two separate parents: a woman as a "mother" and a man as a "father". Also, the image of a Father/Mother deity is androgynous, and not everyone is comfortable with that. So God has chosen to reveal Himself primarily as "Father" and to reveal the "divine maternity" primarily through Mother Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary" (from the Mystical Rose website.)

 The above explanation reflects my previous writings on the subject of God and gender, the Father and Mother metaphors, and Mary's place in understanding the feminine face of God. This description makes sense to me, but I have still sometimes lamented that there is no explicit name given to the Divine Feminine. Holy Wisdom, or Sophia in Greek, certainly is depicted in many Biblical references as a mother and co-creator with God, who was with him and created by him before the creation of all else, and is his delight. She is infused within all of creation, a sort of "Mother Nature", if you will. But I don't know if she can be considered divine. As I have expressed before, she is not a member of the Trinity, but she is a feminine spirit who seems to emanate from the Holy Spirit. I realize I still have much more Bible reading and research to do on the subject of Sophia!

Sophia under the Arm of the Father

I have also suggested before that the Holy Spirit seems to me to be primarily feminine, just as the Mystical Rose page explains that God has chosen to reveal himself primarily as Father. I want to be careful not to contradict any Church teachings on this matter. In the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is called "Lord", and both the Church and the Bible use "he" and "him" when referring to the Holy Spirit. So I will not refer to the Holy Spirit as "she" or "her" myself. It seems that most often the Spirit of the Lord is referred to directly by his name in the Bible, without the use of any pronouns at all. God is imaged many times using motherly language yet is always called "him", so it makes sense that references to the Holy Spirit as "he" are consistent.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost

My fear is that the very use of exclusively masculine terms for God can have the effect of many people thinking that God is male only, especially those not familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and those Christians who do not venerate the sacred feminine in the person of Mary, or even recognize "Church", or Ecclesia, in the feminine way that Catholics do. This uneasiness with terminology may be residual, habitual Protestant thinking on my part, something that will hopefully work itself out as I continue my journey to the Catholic Church.

It is perhaps incorrect for me to understand the Holy Spirit as primarily feminine as I have done, as God is pure spirit, and the persons of the Trinity can't really be split into fractions of masculine and feminine. Jesus is a male person obviously, yet he represents all of the perfections of both man and woman, though not all of the functions of woman, of course. He was a perfectly balanced human being who did not value either the masculine or the feminine over the other. And it seems that his intention was to give his human mother to us, to be as immanent a representation of the motherhood of God as possible, rather than revealing to us a divine Mother along with the divine Father.

Nevertheless, I think it is fitting to reflect on the motherly images of the Holy Spirit, and to conceptualize this person of the Trinity in equally masculine and feminine terms, perhaps giving more consideration to one aspect or the other depending upon the Bible story or specific situation, whichever contributes best to one's spiritual growth at any particular time. So I hope that clarifies what I have said, and where I am at, regarding these mysteries of the nature of God.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dark Night of the Soul

I first heard the term, Dark Night of the Soul from spiritual speaker and writer Carolyn Myss. She describes a prolonged period of sadness and feeling of separation as one prays to move away from the false voices--those people, situations, and events that distract a person from his or her higher purpose--into a closer relationship with God and a deeper spiritual orientation. This can be mistaken for depression. One feels alienated and abandoned. But the Dark Night is a necessary step on the path to wholeness and an authentic way of living. Mother Theresa is said to have experienced such a Dark Night for many years. She was known for praying the Memorare nine times in a row on a regular basis:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen. 

 Our Lady of La Salette

I have experienced at least one Dark Night of the Soul in the past, and it occurred to me today that I may be in that space once again, as a part of turning my eyes back to God and traveling on this journey to the Catholic faith. External events have certainly contributed to my sorrow, which was so intense yesterday that I started crying, really hard, in the shower. My family did not hear me, which is good, because I did not want to alarm my child.

For a number of years I have felt that somehow I have become the black sheep of my family of origin. As a kid I never got into any trouble like some siblings did, was an excellent student, went to college, got married and had a child. Until recently I was the only one to start a family. Along the way I also pursued additional education twice, paying for both schools and becoming a successful esthetician at a prestigious day spa. I paid off all my debts and have had excellent credit for many years. By most standards, I am a productive member of society! So what happened?

Instead of bringing my family closer together, becoming a mother has caused rifts, hurt feelings, and a profound sense of alienation. I thought that healing was taking place, and past disagreements and misunderstandings had been put behind us, but evidently I was wrong, and my wounds have been torn back open. Add to that the sudden death of my next door neighbor last month, and this week the death of my best friend's grandpa. Beezy's favorite little cousin and playmate suddenly moved far away. A school shooting in my state, natural disasters with tornadoes destroying entire towns and taking people's lives, and the continuing unrest in the Middle East are among the contributors to a chain of suffering.

Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

What a lenten season it has been so far! I had a 10 day long menstrual period, and then a family member uninvited my child to a special event, while other children are still welcome. How to handle the rejection? I have been in the habit of praying my Rosary every night, and so I pray for all of these trials and tribulations, for myself and for others that are also going through difficult times. I relate my pain to events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, and also my hope. I read my daily lenten meditation book, the Bible, and Catholic literature. I offer up my sorrow for the blessing of another. Since becoming Catholic, I am learning that suffering purifies us. It is a part of the life of faith and cannot be avoided, should not be run away from. It is a chance to grow closer to God and rely on Him in these tests. Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. We walk with Him and imitate Him, also fasting and praying. We give alms to the poor to remind us of our abundance. We do penance for our sins, and we turn away from sin and toward the gospel. And at the end of the season, spring arrives and we rise again.

 Assumption of Mary

If you are experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Have that good, awful cry and let it all pour out. Be open to God's grace and healing. When others turn against you, remember how Jesus was turned against to the point of death, and carry your cross with dignity. This too shall pass. And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homeschooling as Vocation

As some of you are already aware, homeschooling is not always a popular choice. I would go so far as to say that it is rare that one would not encounter any negativity or opposition. While I felt called to homeschool my child, only recently have I come to really understand it as a vocation. Every day I have the opportunity to choose to see teaching my child as God's calling, as my work for him and for his glory, acting in cooperation with his will.

In modern society, the emphasis is on "What do I want to do with my life?" I graduated from college in a poor job market, with hopes of working in the field of public relations, doing something with my speaking and writing skills. I went to a career counselor at Ohio State, who suggested looking into working for a non-profit agency, and I read a book called Profitable Careers in Non-Profits, or something like that. Feeling like I was having trouble pinpointing the right career for myself, I read another book called What Color Is Your Parachute? I had so many interests that it was difficult to choose just one thing. There is a reason that self-help books are such a popular category.

Even when one focuses on what she wants and spends a lot of time trying to figure out who she is and what her great work in life will be (always imagining something fabulous involving fame and wealth), making God's choice secondary in the matter, if conferring with him at all, God still has a way of leading one to his plan. When Beezy was a baby and the idea of homeschooling came up, I told my husband that I would not do that, because when she was five, I wanted my life back! My mom had told me on a number of occasions, "This is your life now," and of course she was right, but I just didn't get it yet. I did not comprehend that I was never to have my old life back again. And thank goodness! For it is far richer now than it could ever have been had I not become a mother. That is the truth for me. 

I recently started reading to Beezy from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Welbourn. This is a great resource for teaching history and religion. The notion of who saints are is perfectly explained at an elementary age level, without dumbing anything down, and the stories are told in an interesting way, helping to relate each saint's life to the life of the child. Today we read about Catherine Siena, who made an unusual, unpopular choice of vocation, especially for a woman of her times. She knew even as a child that she wanted more than anything else to be close to Jesus, and she decided that the best way to put him first was to never get married. Living from 1347-1380, about the only other acceptable choice for a woman in those times was to become a nun, but she was certain that God did not want that for her either!

Prayer was the most important thing in Catherine's life, and some of her choices baffled and even frightened people. She ate nothing but a spoonful of herbs a day, and she only slept about thirty minutes a night--on hard boards. People thought she was so strange! But Catherine was concentrating her whole self, body and soul, on God. She wasn't trying to worry her parents or upset people. She knew God was preparing her for a big job, and in order to carry out his will, she had to be free, strong, and close to God. Through the example of her life and teaching others about God, people all over Europe knew about her. And they listened to her. Even the pope himself, as it turns out.

The pope was living in splendor in France instead of in Rome where he was supposed to be, because the king of France controlled him and the Church. Christians everywhere were confused, not knowing if the pope was speaking for God anymore. Catherine stood before him unafraid and gave him a message from God. He was to return to Rome and freely lead the Church, as Jesus wanted him to do. Late one night, the pope secretly left France and returned to Italy.

At the end of the story the author says, "St. Catherine of Siena didn't care about other people's opinions or expectations. The only opinion that mattered to her was God's. Can you think of times when you've had to follow your conscience and do the right thing even though other people discouraged you?"

Homeschooling can be a lonely vocation. Others, even those closest to you, may not support you, and may openly and harshly disagree with your choice. They may watch you and your children like a hawk, waiting for evidence that you are not doing a good job, that your child is not learning what he should. The first thing to remember is that God is always with you. The second thing is that you only have one day at a time. Just do what needs to be done that day. Don't compare your children to others, as long as they are making progress and are happy little people. Each child learns in his own way, at his own pace, in his own time. It may be many months or many years before the positive results of your efforts will be manifest to others. Be aware that some may never validate your choice, or admit that you did the right thing. Even when 5 kids in Chardon, Ohio are shot by a fellow student and 3 of them die, people will insist that school is where your kids should be.

Ultimately, you are not likely going to be called to stand before the pope and tell him what to do. But you will be required to stand before Jesus and answer for your choices. His mother, Mary, told the servants at the wedding in Cana, "Do whatever he tells you." Did you listen when Jesus called you to your vocation? That should be your only consideration.