Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#42. Evening Wisdom: Sophia as Architect

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This post is the first of four about the biblical images of Wisdom/Sophia. It is a continuation of the efforts I began with post #37 (What's Next) to look at western culture's religious tradition in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution.

While western science uses the mind's thought processes and religion uses our intuition and imagery functions, both (western) science and (western) religion have the same roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We need both to move beyond the lopsidedness of the static, dualistic and patriarchal worldview of recent centuries; and we need both to move toward a better understanding of ourselves as participants in the on-going evolutionary process of the universe. Western religion's wisdom literature especially can help us to do this.

The biblical images of Sophia fall into four main groupings; they constitute a kind of wisdom mandala, with the four sections or quadrants of the mandala corresponding to the quaternary aspects of our four-fold mind which I've spelled out in several earlier posts.

I've called this post (#42) "Evening Wisdom" because it's about that group of images which relate especially to the West on the Medicine Wheel; "west" includes evening, autumn and the Intuition function of our four-fold minds, as well as our openness to the world and to creative ability.

I've added "Sophia as Architect" to the name because this group of Wisdom images especially expresses one of the central aspects of the anthropos-theos relationship: that the mystery of our personal uniqueness is shaped (crafted, forged, built, designed) by Divine Wisdom. I'm aware that "architect" sounds a bit mechanical as a description of Sophia; a better term might be "artificer," the term used by Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a first-century disciple of John the Evangelist. (That fact that we don't have exactly the right word is an indication of our static culture's lack of respect for the dynamic creative process.)

All of these "evening" images of Sophia are expressed with words which indicate the work of a creative artist. The point of them all is that Sophia is not just the creator, in the sense of being the source of our existence (of the fact that we are), but also that aspect of God which accounts for our nature or essence (for what we are). In the wisdom literature, the work of Divine Wisdom-- you and me and everything in the world-- is imaged as the work of a master artist.

And it's one of my main thoughts in these blog efforts that modern science-- especially the fields of evolutionary biology, neurophysiology and cultural anthropology -- can help us to appreciate the artistic masterpiece which the world is. And which, as the "world become conscious of itself," we ourselves are.

The biblical images of Sophia as a craftsperson and our modern scientific understanding of what it is that has been crafted go together.

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It may seem strange to start with evening, but on the Judeo-Christian calendar each day begins at sunset. You may remember the words from the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning-- the first day." Probably the most familiar examples of the day beginning in the evening are Christmas Eve and the first night of Passover.

This same idea is found on the old agricultural calendars with regard to the cycle of the year: the agricultural new year is considered to begin with the end of the autumn harvest time. The Jewish New Year, for example, begins in autumn; Rosh Hoshanna is considered the world's birthday. In the Celtic world, winter and the new year begin together on that unique evening we still celebrate today as All Hallows Eve.

Whether it's a daily or an annual event, we're talking here about an in-between time; what anthropologists refer to as a limen (doorway or threshold): an end which is a beginning.

And with that awareness we are already well out of the rationalistic perspectives we've inherited from the Enlightenment period and 19th-century science. Our great need for a more-than-rational worldview is evidenced by the fact that Halloween has become an holiday for adults. In the United States more money is spent on the celebration of Halloween than at any other time except Christmas.

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The mood of the human mind and heart at the daily and annual "end which is the beginning" is described especially well by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Raimon Panikkar; it's found in his section on Twilight in Part VII of his anthology of the early literature of India, Mantramanjari: The Vedic Experience.

Panikkar describes early evening as a "prayer time when the experience of our limitation is fresh and yet the desire for perfection and for the infinite has not yet subsided." His English text was written before gender-sensitive language became common, so in what follows it helps to substitute "person" for "Man" and "us" for "him."

Panikkar says that at twilight "Man represents the whole universe; the Gods are with him and the material world is gathered around him." "Gods" here means the good energies of the Earth and life-giving energies of the cosmos that are described in various cultures as animal powers, ancestral spirits, angels, archetypal energies; it's also the "chi" of tai chi.

Native American traditions understand the spirit-powers to be "out there waiting to help us." Jung says we should talk to them. Shamanic personalities have the ability to "call in" the spirit-powers and to make them available to others. Intuition is our human capacity to be in touch with these good energies of the earth, and in every culture except our own sacred rituals are understood to be the normal way people come in contact with them. All this is what Panikkar means when he says that at evening time "the Gods are with us."

He spells it out a bit more. At evening, he says, "Man is concentrating in himself the whole stuff of the world and condensing in himself all the desires and dynamisms of the entire universe. It is the time of stretching up to the very ends of the world, not by a mere effort of imagination but by the power of the Spirit permeating everywhere, even to the four corners of reality."

One more quote: "Were it not for these moments Man would not be Man, but only a moving machine, doing many things but not becoming anything, not condensing in himself the whole of reality, not discovering his unique place and thus the uniqueness of his own mysterious being."

Scotch, Welsh and Irish (Celtic) people still refer to Halloween as the year's "thin time," when the spirits of our ancestors are especially close to us and the divide between our everyday awareness and the depths of our connectedness with them and whole universe is especially "thin."

Science hasn't yet figured out just why this mood is so intense in autumn, but we know that it is. At evening each day and in the autumn of the year we more easily experience ourselves as precisely what the modern sciences of evolutionary biology and neurophysiology say we are: the universe become conscious of itself. It is an experience rooted in millions of years of our past primate and mammalian history.

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It's this same experience that Karl Rahner is talking about when he says that one of our primary "existential" experiences of being a person is that we experience ourselves as open to all things.

Rahner calls it "transcendence." One of our deepest personal experiences is that there's more to us than the awareness we have when we are carrying out the normal everyday aspects of living. As "a person in the world," to use Rahner's words, we experience ourselves at a deep level as being utterly open to everything that exists.

As I noted in post #33 (Talking about God), this experience is what Thomas Aquinas meant when he said that a person is "that which can become all things." We are potentially open to everything. We don't have any limits. We participate in infinity.

And this is just what Panikkar is saying. At the liminal time of evening twilight we experience ourselves as "representing the whole universe." The spirits are with us and the material world is gathered around us. We concentrate in ourselves "the whole stuff of the world" and condense in ourselves "all the desires and dynamisms of the entire universe." We "stretch up to the very ends of the world... even to the four corners of reality." And, as Panikkar points out, it is this which makes us human. It is by this experience that we discover our "unique place and thus the uniqueness of our own mysterious being."

As I said in post #34 (Talking About Us), "nothing exists outside the realm of our possible experience. We really are open-ended. We are in some way one with all things. We experience ourselves as infinite, unlimited, unbounded, present to all of reality, participants in infinity. We "stretch out" to the four corners of reality. We do not exist apart from the infinite unbounded reality underlying everything."

Science and Sophia, Rahner and Panikkar, our hearts at autumn and evening-- all tell us the same thing.

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Jung refers to our ability to be open to everything as the mind's intuitive function. He calls Intuition "a direct pipeline to the unconscious." Intuition looks to the future and opens us to healing, wholeness, possibilities, the future, creativity, our co-creative activity as "persons in the world." Intuition is our pipeline to all that has to do with our identity and purpose, the meaning of our lives, the significance of the existence of the cosmos. So it makes sense that autumn and evening are times when our sense of awe, wonder, reverence and mystery are especially strong.

As I described it in post #29 (Four-fold Mind), Intuition is one of the two perception functions of consciousness; it is the one by which we see the big picture and perceive the whole of things, the forest rather than the trees. On the Medicine Wheel this wholistic perception ability is imaged as the Black Bear, the medicine animal which with its sharp claws digs up healing roots and herbs from the earth.

One more link: the primal element associated with the West is water; west is the direction from which summer storms come. In North American they are sent by the Thunder Beings, in Africa by the Lightning Beings. Their heavy rains bring flowing waters, washing and healing.

Whether it's water from the skies or herbs from the earth, these images indicate a central focus of the west, healing, the healing of our vision of the world and of our place in it. How much our lopsided culture needs this kind of healing!

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Jung also calls Intuition the "religious function." Since western culture's rationalistic emphasis hardly allows it to even acknowledge the reality of Intuition, this also means that we have little understanding of the way of being religious associated with west and Intuition, Myth and Ritual. It is the most difficult way of being religious for contemporary secular people to understand.

As I noted in the post on Ways of Being Religious (#33), sacred story and symbol--"archetypal symbols, liturgical rites, art, poetry, philosophy and myth," as Merton says-- are the very means of the healing and wholeness which empower our participation in the cosmic process.

Ritual is the most fundamentally human way of being religious. It was known through most of human history as the very essence of what today we would call "religion. Ritual is so basic to human life that in still-surviving pre-patriarchal cultures they don't even have a separate name for it. But they know it by experience to be the very means by which we are empowered to participate in the life of the universe.

The very idea that life has meaning is still mocked by rationalists and cynics. One of our greatest needs is for some people with wisdom-- with the shamanic ability-- to share that inner experience of life's meaning with the rest of us. Our religious institutions have dropped the ball; to the extent that they have ignored Divine Wisdom they have become failed traditions. It's precisely this Black Bear function of ourselves that western culture most lacks.

Our amazingly expensive and energetic celebration of Halloween points out how much we need to recover this Intuition function of our conscious minds and hearts. How much we need to understand ourselves better! And this is what Sophia is all about.

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In Chapter 2 of Hal Taussig's book, Wisdom's Feast, Sophia in Study and Celebration (which I recommended in the previous post), Taussig notes that for many "It is tempting to greet this discussion of Sophia as she is portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures with irony, or even scorn. Our first inclination is to protest. Surely, we say, Wisdom is a minor figure in the scriptures. How can such a minor figure have any real importance in this exploration?"

But, Taussig says, "A second glance brings us up short. There is more material on Sophia in the Hebrew scriptures than there is about almost any other figure. In all of these books only four persons have more written about them than Sophia. Only God (under various titles), Job, Moses, and David are treated in more depth... There are more pages in the Hebrew scriptures about Sophia than about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Isaiah, Sarah, Miriam, Adam, or Noah."

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Here are some thoughts from Taussig's book about the wisdom literature which are especially interesting and relevant with regard to this evening, autumn and liminal aspect of Sophia.

The Book of Wisdom (chapter 7) describes Sophia as the creator: "She is a breath of the power of God... Although alone, she can do all. Herself unchanging, she makes all things new."

In the previous post I quote from Proverbs 8 where Sophia speaks of herself as present at the beginning, cooperating in the creation of the world and humanity: "When God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God's side, a master craftswoman."

Her presence at the beginning is also described in Ecclesiasticus 24: "I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and I covered the earth like mist. I had my tent in the heights, and my throne in a pillar of cloud. Alone I encircled the vault of the sky, and I walked on the bottom of the seas."

Sophia is a part of the ongoing creative process; she is the source of all good things. The author of the Book of Wisdom says (again, in chapter 7): "Her radiance never sleeps. In her coming all good things came to me, and at her hands riches not to be numbered. All these I delighted in, since Sophia brings them, but as yet I did not know she was their mother."

And in the next chapter that same author describes how the ongoing creative process happens through her: "She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good... Her closeness to God lends luster to her noble birth, since the Lord of all has loved her. Yes, she is an initiate in the mysteries of God's knowledge. She makes choice of the works God is to do."

The Book of Ecclesiasticus (chapter 1) says: "She was created with the faithful in their mother's womb."

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Taussig notes that the creative process as described here doesn't make a clear distinction between the creator and the created. This is similar to the text of Saint John's gospel which says not only that "The logos was with God and was God," but that it is through the logos that "all things came to be."

Taussig notes too that the Hebrew tradition which described Sophia at the heart of the creative process "was aware of the ongoing nature of creation." That's another way to express what I've quoted Claude Tresmontant as saying in several recent posts: "It is the nature of whatever exists to be continually evolving." As I mentioned in those posts (#39 & #41), Tresmontant says that in the static worldview of that time, this breakthrough on the part of Hebrew thought was "as significant as the discovery of fire."

The wisdom literature keeps pointing out Sophia's central role in the creative process. And it's from this dynamic worldview that we can better understand our own co-creative participation in the world's continuing evolution.

The writer of the Book of Proverbs says (chapter 4): "What I am commending to you is sound doctrine, do not discard my teaching. Acquire Sophia, acquire perception; never forget her, never deviate from my words. Do not desert her, she will keep you safe, love her, she will watch over you."

Taussig points out that in this text Sophia is described as being one with perception. "Wisdom means learning," he says; and, as he notes, "an important question is just how human learning is connected with that Wisdom which is at the heart of the creative process."

The Book of Wisdom (chapter 6) pictures Sophia as the very process itself of knowing and understanding. We gain wisdom in our efforts to understand anything: "Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them."

Sophia, then, is wisdom as both the content and the process of learning, so that our relationship with Sophia is the same as our relationship with the process of understanding. To be a conscious person-- to be "the universe become conscious of itself"-- is to be one with Divine Wisdom.

As the One who is at the heart of the process of things coming into being, Sophia "pervades and permeates all things" (Wisdom 7). Taussig points out that, according to these texts, the way to encounter her is "not through any kind of piety or communal resolve." "We do not encounter her by praying or by deciding," he says. "We meet Sophia by disciplined study."

And of course our name nowadays for "the disciplined study of all things" is "science."

Chapter 6 of the Book of Wisdom proclaims that at the heart of all that science studies is Divine Wisdom: "By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her... in every thought of theirs, she comes to meet them."

Isn't that a delight! In every thought, in every scientific concept-- in astronomy, biology, quantum physics, anthropology, psychology-- even biogenetic structuralism!-- Sophia comes to meet us.

As Taussig says: To study what is-- to study all that comes into being-- results in a personal encounter with the wisdom of God at the heart of the creative process. And it is also a direct encounter with the mystery of ourselves. Karl Rahner helps us to understand ourselves in terms of our deepest existential experience; science helps us to understand ourselves in terms of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution.

In the view of the Bible's wisdom literature, it's not prayers or devotions but our study of scientific concepts that helps us to understand how we have been "fashioned" (shaped, built, forged, designed, crafted) by Wisdom/Sophia.

Can science and religion converge more explicitly?

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One more point. It's about the New Axial Period or Great Turning humanity is currently experiencing that I described in posts #35 & 36. A significant aspect of this Immense Transition which characterizes our contemporary moment in the history of western thought is the "turn to the subject." It includes not only an awareness of the importance of personal consciousness to a degree which our ancestors lacked but also a focus on our openness to and our relatedness with all else that exists.

The Immense Transition is indeed immense! And to very a great extent, it's the sciences-- not the religious institutions-- that lead the way. It's science that has allowed us to be open to the world and to love the world, and it's our love of the world that allows us to take our place in the cosmic process.

I mentioned in post #35 the quote from Rudolf Ritsema in Michael Conforti's book about the love of the world. Ritsema describes love of the world as "an overflowing fullness of heart which cannot but be shared with whomever comes in contact with it." He also says that it includes a sense of one-ness "with everything and with the origins of creativity."

A major aspect of the Immense Transition is that we are coming to realize that creativity is the realm not only of artists, musicians and poets now, but of all human beings. Being creative is how we participate in the cultural development of humanity on Earth. And it's this recognition-- by putting us in communion with "the origins of creativity"-- that our openness to and love of the world empowers us to take our place as co-creative participants in the evolutionary process. It makes clear that what happens on our planet-- in terms of peace, justice, equality and ecology-- is up to us.

At their best, this is what both science and religion are all about. Together, they help us to understand that, in the language of the Bible's wisdom literature, this is the way the Wisdom of God has "fashioned" us.

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In practical terms, probably the most significant aspect of the Immense Transition for western people is, as I mentioned in post #35, "the opening which the experience of self-transcendence affords us to the unitive worldview of the Asian religious traditions." They too, like the Bible's wisdom literature, see humanity and the world as one with its creative source. And fundamental to that Asian view is meditation practices such as Zen sitting, yoga and tai chi.

The word "meditation" comes from the term "middle." It simply means "centering" or "focusing," "paying attention." While we don't have a traditional meditation practice to go with the biblical understanding of divine wisdom, the Eastern "centering" practices serve well. Which one works best for each of us seems to depend on our personality and cultural background. For me, tai chi works especially well; I shared some thoughts about it in one of my earliest posts (#6).

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The point of all this is that Sophia fashions us to be who-and-what we are. As Creative Artist, Architect, Artificer, Designer of our identity, the Mystery gives itself to us.

The question is, as Karl Rahner says, "Are we willing to make the effort to be sensitive and responsive?"


1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.