Monday, August 25, 2008

#43. Morning Wisdom: Sophia as Guide

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This blog entry is the second of four about biblical images of Wisdom/Sophia. The main purpose of these four related posts is to look at western culture's religious tradition in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution, and to do so with the help of the four-fold perspectives on the human mind I've described or mentioned in many previous posts.

As unlikely as it seems, and as unfamiliar as the Bible's wisdom literature is to most of us, these biblical images of Wisdom/Sophia can help us to move beyond the lopsidedness of the static, dualistic and patriarchal worldview of recent centuries and help us move toward a better understanding of ourselves as creative participants in the evolution of the universe.

I've called this post "Morning Wisdom" because it's about that group of wisdom images which relate especially to the East on the Medicine Wheel. "East" includes morning, springtime and the Thinking function of our conscious minds.

I've also included "Sophia as Guide" in the name because this group of wisdom images especially expresses one of the most central aspects of the anthropos-theos relationship: that Divine Wisdom not only fashions us to be who-and-what we are but also guides and directs us in our efforts to become all that we have been fashioned to be.

The primal element connected with the east is air. As wind and breath (pneuma, spiritus, ruah, vayu, chi), it is in us as much as we are in it. The animal associated with the east on the Medicine Wheel is the Golden Eagle of the Dawn, an image of our mind's Thinking function which focuses on the dynamic flow of time. In Native American tradition, the Morning Star, the Rising Sun, is also connected with knowledge and growing self-awareness.

All of these images-- the freshness of the breeze on a springtime morning, the eagle flying high in the sky at dawn, the sharp piercing rays of the rising sun-- evoke new beginnings.


Old Russian icons show Sophia as the Guardian Angel of the Universe, the "wisdom from on high who orders all things mightily," as the old Advent hymn says. We have a familiar phase, "the wisdom of the body," expressing the idea that, while we don't understand much that goes on in our anatomy and physiology, the innate wisdom of the body knows what to do; it heals cuts and digests food, for example, without any conscious effort on our part. In the same way, there is a wisdom of the universe: Divine Sophia guiding and directing all things "mightily."

It's easy to forget that "all things" includes you and me. Just as modern science helps us to see that we are the "universe become conscious of itself," so the Bible's wisdom literature helps us to see that as participants in the cosmic process, our personal growth and development is no less "ordered" by the same Divine Wisdom that guides the sun and moon and stars. Our individuation process-- our "ontogenetic development" in the jargon of biogenetic structuralism-- is guided in the same way.


All of this is what these "morning" images of Sophia express. The view of God which western culture inherited from the Enlightenment period sees a distant and alien divinity who created the world but then abandoned it, to let it flounder on its own. It's such a culturally pervasive viewpoint that it makes it difficult for us to appreciate the very different perspectives offered by the wisdom images.

In contrast, post-Enlightenment evolutionary science helps us appreciate these 25-century-old wisdom perspectives, to appreciate that Sophia/Wisdom is not a clockwork creator and that we have not been brought into existence out of nothingness and darkness only to be hung out to dry.

We are not alone, we're not on our own, Creative Wisdom does not abandon us. These wisdom images picture the master artisan of the universe as active here and now, not only in our bodies but also in our minds, hearts and psyche.

Another reason why it's so hard for us to appreciate these images of divine Sophia is that for many centuries religious authorities have presented us with a picture of a creator who treats humanity as children and who does not expect us to be able to be in charge of ourselves. (It's really those patriarchal authorities who want to be in charge of us, of course.) So we especially need these "morning" images of a Creative Wisdom which not only respects human initiative but calls us to be nothing less than what we are: the "world become conscious of itself"; to be, in Karl Rahner's words, free and conscious "persons in the world."


In the previous post (on Evening Wisdom: Sophia as Architect) I shared many thoughts from the work on Raimon Panikkar about the mood of evening. With modern technology and instant communication-- not just electric lights but especially TV and now iPhones!-- we have lost the earlier sense of what happens within us as the daylight hours draw to a close and darkness comes on. But I don't need to do that with regard to the mood of morning.

Each of us knows by experience that morning means a new start to our lives, just as we know by experience that each springtime marks a new start for the life of the earth. Many non-western cultures still have their new year in spring, and even western culture once did, until Julius Caesar transferred it to the time just after the winter solstice. The New Year used to begin on March 25, which in those days was the date of the spring equinox, when after many months of winter cold and darkness the hours of daylight begin to be greater than the hours of darkness.

We don't need science to explain to us the mood of springtime or morning. Think of that special morning in early spring when we first hear birdsong again and when we first can smell the life oozing up out of the earth. For many of us perhaps the strongest image of springtime newness is sunrise on Easter morning, but all of us still experience every morning's dawn and sunrise as a new start to our lives.

In the morning, we "rise and shine," as people of earlier generations used to say. We get up and go to work. Not just to a nine-to-five job, but to the larger task of making something of ourselves and of making something of our world.

Even though western culture doesn't have the idea-- yet-- that each of us is "the universe become conscious of itself" and that we have, therefore, a participatory, creative task in the cosmic process, the mood of morning and spring is clear enough: we are called to take responsibility for our selves and our lives, our loved-ones, our jobs and our interests. In making a new and better world, we have a lot of work to do.

And what these morning images of Sophia tell us is that, just as we can trust the wisdom of the body, so we can trust the wisdom of the universe to guide us in our work of creative participation in the cosmic evolutionary process.


It's this same experience of newness and creativity 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 free. Freedom has to do with "our place in the vast scheme of things."

As I said in post #36 (on Aspects of the Immense Transition), "the experience of freedom means that, although we know ourselves to be limited in so many ways, we also experience ourselves as being able to make choices. Probably the best word we have to describe this existential aspect of our personal experience is self-determination."

In terms of neurological functioning, the main idea is what biogenetic structuralist jargon refers to as the cognitive extension of prehension: because of the structure and function of the human brain, our actions are not controlled totally by our instincts. We can choose, in ways our animal relatives can not. And it's in making these free choices that we "actualize"-- make real and actual-- our individual uniqueness which is our personal contribution to the evolution of the universe. We have a place, indeed, "in the vast scheme of things."


In Jungian terms, it is the conscious mind's Thinking function that allows us to see the world as dynamic rather than static. Thinking is a judgment function, based primarily on the activity of the brain's Temporal lobe and concerned with distinctions, differentiation and diversity. It is concerned especially with the flow of time and, just like the Golden Eagle of the Dawn, it flies high and sees vast distances.

Sequence-- the flow of time from past to future-- is the key. The Thinking function's orientation to sequence and flow is what keeps us moving forward. Its energy is always directed toward newness, growth and development. And not just to the evolution of the cosmos and of life on Earth, but especially to our personal evolutionary development -- via what Jung calls "the individuation process" and what biogenetic structuralism calls our "ontogenetic development."

It's important to keep in mind that the main activity of the Thinking function isn't logical reasoning but questioning. As I mentioned in post #30 (on Ways of Being Religious), the Thinking function's orientation to the dynamic flow of time (and thus to cosmic and personal evolutionary development) has been wonderfully described by the artist-psychologist Steven Gallegos. He calls it "the psyche's relentless search for wholeness and the 'not yet'."

It's this "relentless searching" which explains why being religious via the Thinking function has to do with effort ("asceticism" in the classical sense), the discipline we need to become all that we can be. The most fundamental ascetic practice is simply being attentive: paying attention, being aware-- being "mindful," as the Buddhist tradition emphasizes.

And at the heart of the Thinking function's way of being religious is courage: the willingness to courageously follow that inner generative drive for enterprise and exploration which we experience as personal freedom.

That impetus-- that "inner generative drive"-- is a way of describing the work of Divine Wisdom who guides and directs us-- by our genes, our cultural background, our personality and the circumstances of our lives-- to become all that we can be.

And "to become all that we can be" is precisely what Sophia wants of us. Back in post #19 (on Diversity: Our Service to God) I mentioned the work of the 17th-century Catholic saint Louis de Montfort who wrote of Divine Wisdom long before the modern re-discovery of the wisdom perspectives. Montfort was a young and enthusiastic missionary priest when he wrote The Love of Eternal Wisdom and, as I said in that post, the resulting text "is filled with the breezy slang of a youthful but charismatic leader trying to speak in a hip style to an even more youthful audience."

Montfort describes Sophia as almost like a stalker; she is always pursuing us. "Divine Wisdom inspires us to do everything, to go everywhere, to try every new thing, to leave nothing unexplored. That we should become all that we can be. That," says this young visionary saint, "is what the Wisdom of God wants from us!"


Montfort also says that Eternal Wisdom "gives us the courage to be creative." He says that Wisdom's "greatest need, from its point of view, and its greatest gift, from our point of view, is our collaboration with it in the on-going creation of the world."

As I mentioned in the second of my two posts on the Immense Transition (#36), an emphasis on creative transformation, especially on having the courage to be an explorer or pioneer, is not something that was stressed in the religious writings of the past. But as we move beyond the limitations of the Thinking function's imprisonment in the patriarchal perspectives of former centuries, we are coming to recognize, as Matthew Fox notes in his book on Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, that it's precisely our creativity, via our free choices, that defines us.

"Human creativity," says Fox, "is not frosting on the cake" but "integral to our sustainability." Creative newness is our "survival mechanism... it is the essence of who we are."


There's one more image of Sophia that goes along with "teacher," "guide" and "counselor." It, too, is unfamiliar, but it's especially important. It's the one that shows up when we are most in need of becoming more aware of ourselves. I mentioned it in one of my very earliest posts (#3, High School 50th Anniversary Report) and also more recently in post #36 (on the second of two posts on Aspects of the Immense Transition): the image of the trickster.

Native American peoples and all the earlier pre-industrial cultures which daily honor the first rays of the sun know about the trickster image. Even Louis de Montfort saw it in 17th-century Catholic France. Montfort says that "although Eternal Wisdom is in charge of the whole world, it works unobtrusively." And "This means," he says, "that often we don’t recognize it, especially in life’s difficulties."

This divine guidance that we "often don't recognize" is described in many religious traditions with animal names such as Coyote, Raven, Brer Rabbit or Anansi the Spider. Although they are often presented in a negative way, these trickster figures don't put obstacles in our path just for the fun of it. They are ways that help us to become more aware of ourselves, to be more conscious of what's needed in our efforts to become all that we can be. And they always promote cooperation rather than competition as the way to our creative transformation.

Trickster images especially help us in one additional way: in recognizing our need to face evil, death and tragedy as aspects of the cosmic flow. In the words of Claude Tresmontant, the author of the book on Hebrew Thought who I quoted back in post #39, transformation "often comes to us via boredom or suffering."

As director of the way the world works and guide to our personal growth and development, Sophia tests us; in her role as trickster-guide in our path to creative newness she helps us to accept our woundedness and vulnerability and to make the right choices in our efforts to become all that we can be. The Book of Ecclesiasticus says explicitly that "She will lead us over rough, narrow and winding ways."


Here are some thoughts from Hal Taussig's book, Wisdom's Feast, Sophia in Study and Celebration, that I mentioned in the previous post which are especially interesting and relevant with regard to this morning/guide aspect of Divine Wisdom.

Taussig begins by noting that "because she is at the heart of all things coming into being, Sophia is Wisdom itself." It's not, he says, "an obvious connection for the twentieth century mind."

In chapter 4 of the book of Proverbs the author talks about Sophia this way: "Listen my children, to a father's instruction; pay attention, and learn what clear perception is. Acquire Sophia, acquire perception; never forget her. Do not desert her, she will keep you safe, love her, she will watch over you."

Wisdom will not only watch over us; Sophia is identical with "perception" itself, with being a conscious person. Taussig spells it out: "The relationship a person has to Sophia is virtually the same as their own relationship to the process of understanding."

Sophia is also imaged as the process of learning in chapter 6 of Wisdom: "Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them." Sophia means learning!

At the heart of the creative process, Sophia "pervades and permeates all things" (Wisdom 7). She is at the heart of all that one studies.

Wisdom 6 proclaims: "She is readily seen by those who love here and found by those who look for her. In every thought of theirs, she comes to meet them." As participants in the cosmic process, our conscious growth and development results, in Taussig's words, "in a personal encounter with the One at the heart of the creative process."


Taussig also notes that most of the texts about Sophia have to do with her relationship to humanity. The first chapter of Proverbs, for example, says of her: "Sophia calls aloud in the streets, she raises her voice in the public squares; she calls out at the street corners, she delivers her message at the city gates."

Wisdom wants to be our teacher! Proverbs 8 says: "Does Sophia not call meanwhile? On the hilltop, on the road, at the crossways, she takes her stand; beside the gates of the city, at the approaches to the gates she cries aloud, 'O people I am calling you; my cry goes out to the children of humanity'."

"Listen, I have serious things to tell you," she adds. "From my lips come honest words. My mouth proclaims the truth. All the words I say are right, nothing twisted in them, nothing false, all straightforward to the one who understands, honest to those who know what knowledge means."

Taussig notes that Sophia gives the impression of being impatient with Earth's children: "Her main complaint is that they will not listen to her."

Taussig also points out that the most interesting thing here is that Sophia never teaches anything specific. What she teaches is herself. Sophia is something and someone to obtain and possess. And the reward is fullness of life. In Proverbs 8 she says, "With me are riches and honor, lasting wealth and justice." And the first chapter of Ecclesiasticus says: "She fills their whole house with their heart's desire, and their storerooms with her produce. The crown of Sophia makes peace and health flourish... [for] those who hold her close."

Sophia and her rewards are identical. Proverbs 4 says, "Acquire Sophia, acquire perception. Hold her close, and she will make you great; embrace her, and she will be your pride." And Wisdom 8 says, "If in this life wealth be a desirable possession, what is more wealthy than Sophia whose work is everywhere?"

Taussig says that as the learning process itself, Sophia "calls us to a life of seeking understanding of the world in which we live. Since she is the One who participates in bringing everything into being, she is the natural teacher and the natural content." He spells it out explicitly: "The learning process is a way that humans share in the creative process." Our personal growth and development, and our growth in awareness of the world, are Divine Wisdom.

In the previous post, I remarked, "Can science and religion converge more explicitly?" Here I would put it in more personal terms: Can our personal growth and development be understood any more explicitly as being convergent with the activity of Divine Sophia "whose work is everywhere"?


Chapters 10 and 11 of Wisdom offer not just an dynamic view of our personal transformation but also of human history itself as it is guided by Sophia. There, as Taussig says, "the writer retells the sacred history of the Hebrew people from Sophia's point of view." In the stories of "Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and Lot, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses," Sophia is seen as the designer and guide/director of human history and cultural development.

Wisdom 11 even describes the Exodus event as the work of Sophia: "She herself was their shelter by day and their starlight through the night. She brought them across the Red Sea, led them through that immensity of water, while she swallowed their enemies in the waves, then spat them out from the depths of the abyss."

Taussig notes that the familiar images of the pillar of cloud and fire (which guided the slaves through the desert in their escape from Egypt) are described here as shelter and starlight. And Sophia not only leads the Hebrews through the sea, she is also described as a kind of sea monster swallowing the Egyptians and spitting them out.

Fascinating stuff!


My main point in the previous post (on Evening Wisdom: Sophia as Architect) is that Sophia fashions us to be who-and-what we are; as creative artist, architect, artificer and designer of our identity, the Mystery gives itself to us. My main point in this post on Morning Wisdom is that as counselor, teacher and trickster-guide, Divine Wisdom calls to each of us personally, asking for our free and full cooperation in the work of the creation of the world and of ourselves.

The question once again is, in Karl Rahner's words, "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.