Friday, September 12, 2008

#44. Noonday Wisdom: Sophia as Gatherer

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This post in the fifth in my attempts to look at the Judeo-Christian tradition in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution. And it's the third of four which deal specifically with the images of Divine Sophia found in the Hebrew Bible's wisdom literature. I find these images tremendously helpful in understanding the relationship between God, humanity and the world in the evolutionary context provided us by modern science.

Post #42 (Evening Wisdom) is about Sophia as the creative architect or artisan of the cosmos, while post #43 (Morning Wisdom) deals with Sophia both as director of the cosmic process and as the guide of human beings who are called to be free and creative participants in it. I've named this present post "Sophia as Gatherer" because this set of images emphasizes the role of Divine Wisdom in gathering us, in Teilhard's words, "for all time and from the four corners of space," into the unique persons which we are.

The hydrogen atoms in our bodies were formed at the Big Bang billions of years ago; the iron in our blood, the carbon in our bones and the oxygen in our lungs comes from the dust of long dead stars. Each of us has, indeed, been "gathered" from all time and space into a unique expression of the universe become conscious of itself as the human person which we are.

I've also called the post "Noonday Wisdom" because this group of images relates specifically to the South on the Native American Medicine Wheel. "South" includes daytime and summer as well as the four-fold mind's Feeling function. The Feeling function is the source of both our sense of personal self-presence and of our relatedness to all else, and it's this sense of self-presence that Karl Rahner refers to as one of our primary "existential" experiences: of being, in Rahner's words, a "person in the world."

As I've mentioned often in previous posts, we have many names for this mystery of our self-awareness: "mind," "consciousness," "experience," "gnosis," "knowledge," "episteme." And humanity's growing "awareness of awareness" is what philosophical thought refers to as "the turn to the subject." We are coming to see ourselves not as separate from the rest of the world-- not as anthropos alienated from cosmos, as dualistic thought has it-- but as, quite literally, the cosmos become conscious of itself.

And as Teilhard notes, "Seeing is being." This growth in self-understanding-- this growth in knowing ourselves in a new way, as anthropos-in-cosmos and "person in the world"-- also allows us to be in a new way.

It's that new way of being which has to do with our sense of relatedness and connectedness. We are not isolated individuals, alien to the world, as religious dualism claims, but part of the entire process of cosmic evolution. We belong to the universe; Sophia "gathers" us not only to be the unique individuals that we are but also into a communion of personal relationships.


In our highly individualistic society, it's not easy to recognize that the personal and the communal go together. I think C. G. Jung's work especially helps us to understand this communal aspect of our personal existence.

In Jung's understanding, as I spelled out in post #29 (on The Four-fold Mind), Feeling is one of the two judgment functions of the conscious mind. It's like the other judgment function (Thinking) in that it's always evaluating what we are perceiving; both Thinking and Feeling are adaptive actions from our evolutionary ancestry. But while the Thinking function is concerned with accuracy and authenticity, always asking "Is my perception of things correct?", the Feeling function is concerned with the potential benefits or harmfulness of whatever we encounter. Feeling asks, "Is it good or bad? Can what's there help me or hurt me?"

Another difference between the two judgment functions is that while Thinking is concerned with change and newness-- with "letting go to grow"-- the Feeling function is especially concerned with stability, holding on to the past, keeping things as they are.

On the Native American Medicine Wheel, the animal associated with the Feeling function is the Green Mouse of the South, a small creature who lives close to the earth, can't see very far, and is a packrat. It's a wonderful image of all that psychologists call "affect," the Feeling function's need for holding on, for closeness, connectedness, relatedness, togetherness, communion. What a difference from the Thinking function's animal, the Golden Eagle of the East flying high in the sky at dawn!

One more contrast between Thinking and Feeling is that while air (wind and breath) is the primal element associated with east and the Thinking function, the primal element connected with south is fire. The heat of the noonday sun in summer images the power and passion which sparks our energies and fuels the life-force running through us; it's an excellent image of the warmth and closeness of the personal relationships into which we are gathered by Sophia.

In neurological terms, our Green Mouse/Thinking function is apparently based on the brain's Parietal lobe, which is specifically concerned with the relationship of objects to one another in space and especially with the spatial orientation of our bodies. Here, too, relationship is the key. At the deepest biological layer of ourselves, being person means being in relationship. Conscious awareness and community go together.

The Feeling function's Green Mouse concern for the stability of our relationships even shows up in the familiar greetings of everyday life. Although we hardly notice it, we never say to a stranger, "How are you?" Greetings such as "What's happening?" and "What's going on?" are directed to people we already know, to those with whom we already have some kind of relationship. Even the super-brief "W'sup?" is an expression of our Green Mouse/Feeling function's concern for the status of our relationships. It's asking, "Has anything changed? Is our relationship still what it used to be?"


These thoughts are obvious once we see them, but in our highly individualistic society we don't easily put together "personal awareness" and "communion." So it's important for us to understand this "Noonday" group of Wisdom images in their own context. That context is, of course, Hebrew thought. The connection between the personal and communal in Hebrew thought is described well in Rabbi Mike Comins' book, A Wild Faith, Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism, which I mentioned in my post on Hebrew Thought (#39).

He writes about finding himself alone in the wilderness at the start of the Sabbath. "I'm in a group of pine trees by an alpine lake in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada mountains." He lights the sabbath candles and begins to chant the Friday night service. "Alone," he says, "I am anything but lonely. As I sing the melodies and daven the prayers, my people are all around me. I don't see them, but I am with them and they are with me."

He notes that "Jews have said these very same Sabbath prayers for many centuries. All around the world, as the sun sets, Jews are gathering in their communities. We share the same ritual, the same language, the same history. We are all members of the covenant, the age-old marriage between God and the Jewish people which started with Abraham."

This "Wilderness Rabbi," as he describes himself, spells out the relationship between person and community as it's understood in Hebrew thought in three brief sentences: "In Judaism, personal salvation is not the ultimate goal. The focus is communal. It is not the individual but the Jewish people and, ultimately, the entire world that will benefit if Jews respond to the demands of Judaism."

In a very different cultural context, although one in which the Wilderness Rabbi would feel comfortable, the Lakota teacher Black Elk expressed this same understanding of the connection between the personal and communal in speaking of the Native American sacred pipe. "When you pray with this pipe," said Black Elk, "you pray with and for all things. The whole world joins with you. "

It's in this communal context that we need to understand the "noonday" images of "Sophia as Gatherer." It's easy to hear names for Divine Wisdom such as "lover," "spouse," "mother" or "father," "friend" and "companion" in personal terms, but we need to be careful not to miss the fact that these names describe relationships and the human-cosmic community which results from them. Again, the personal and the communal go together.


Here are some thoughts from Hal Taussig's book Wisdom's Feast, Sophia in Study and Celebration, which I mentioned in several previous posts; they are especially relevant to the noonday and gatherer aspects of Divine Wisdom.

Taussig notes that in the scripture passages about Sophia as teacher and guide, some of which I quoted in the previous post, we have "already encountered the metaphor of Sophia as lover. This image of Sophia," he says, "grows directly out of passion for Sophia as the One who knows and creates all things. But the image itself gains so much momentum that in a number of texts it stands practically on its own without reference to the learning or creating processes."

He quotes the author of Ecclesiasticus, Ben Sirach, who in Chapter 6 urges his followers to "court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you." The Feeling function shows itself quite clearly in this passage (also from Chapter 6), where Ben Sirach says to his disciples, "Once you hold her, do not let her go. For in the end you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you."

The author of Wisdom 8 talks about Divine Wisdom as his bride. "I therefore determined to take her to share my life, knowing she would be my counselor in prosperity, my comfort in cares and sorrow... When I go home I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her there is no pain, gladness only, and joy."

Wisdom 8 also pictures Sophia as God's bride. The sage says, "I fell in love with her beauty. Her closeness to God lends luster to her noble birth, since the Lord of All has loved her."

Taussig notes that while few of the Wisdom texts dwell on the love affair between Sophia and the "Lord of All,” many of them in fact take this relationship for granted. It is, he says, a "common theme in near eastern mythology," where the love affair of the earth mother goddess and the father sky god results in the creation of life.

He also mentions the scene in Proverbs 8 which I quoted in post #42, where God and Sophia are creating, delighting, and playing together. And he mentions a line in Wisdom 9 which pictures Sophia and God as king and queen together.

But, Taussig notes, the real emphasis in the wisdom literature is on Sophia's relationship to humanity. She is mainly pictured as the lover of human beings.

Ecclesiasticus 4, for example, pictures Sophia as lover, mother and teacher: "Sophia brings up her own children, and cares for those who seek her. Whoever loves her loves life, those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness. Whoever holds her close will inherit honor, and wherever they walk the Lord will bless them."

Whoever loves her loves life! Even in these twenty-five-century old texts, the communal nature of being a person stands out: "Whoever obeys her judges aright, and whoever pays attention to her dwells secure. If they trust themselves to Sophia, they will inherit her, and their descendants will remain in possession of her." It's easy to imagine Rabbi Comins adding, "and, ultimately, it will benefit the entire world."

But Taussig is no less clear: "Relating to Sophia means involvement with the world." He quotes the rest of the lines from Ecclesiasticus 4 which I mentioned in the previous post in connection with what I called there the Trickster aspect of Sophia as Guide: "For though Sophia takes them at first through winding ways, bringing fear and faintness to them, plaguing them with her discipline until she can trust them, and testing them with her ordeals, in the end Sophia will lead them back to the straight road, and reveal her secrets to them."

"Sophia's central call," says Taussig, "is the call to participate in and understand the world in which we live."


Of the four groups of Sophia images found in the Wisdom literature, I think this one is the most difficult for western people to understand. The words of Black Elk and Rabbi Comins can help us, but recognizing this communal aspect of wisdom isn't easy for us.

As descendants of the rugged individualism of America's pioneer days, we're just not used to seeing a level to the cosmic process beyond the emergence of individual consciousness; before it's spelled out for us (as I attempted in post #22) we can't even guess what "the Other Half of Person" means.

One of the reasons why this is difficult for us is that western culture has been dominated by the perspectives of patriarchy for many centuries and to a great extent we remain unconscious of those patriarchal perspectives. We take them for granted. Becoming aware of them is a major aspect of the Immense Transition we are currently experiencing.

What it comes down to is that the patriarchal mind is afraid of relationships. Western culture is afraid of our relatedness to the Earth and of our connectedness with all things. Western religion is still afraid of the relationship between men and women! The patriarchal mind has such a hard time with relatedness and connectedness precisely because it has such a hard time coming to a sense of self-awareness beyond the level of adolescent self-interest.

The "other half of person" doesn't make much sense until we value our personal selves in a mature way. Knowing our own limitations and taking care of ourselves is what allows us to know not only what's important to us but also who is important to us. Our individuality and our relatedness are two sides of the same coin.

When the fear of relatedness remains unconscious, that fear surfaces as the patriarchal need to control what is feared. We can see this fear expressed especially clearly in the patriarchal control and exploitation of women, children and the have-nots of the world by the authorities of religious institutions and the officers of business corporations, but it's also the cause of much of our racial and religious conflict and of our on-going destruction of the environment.

As we move away from the lopsidedness of western culture it is not enough only to say that individuals are important. Nowadays hardly anyone would deny that "people count." But there's one more step in humanity's growing-up process. It's coming to see that "relationships count" too, and that nothing and no one is excluded from those relationships.

It's this "other half of person," our human communion with all the things of the cosmos, that's dawning on us at this time in humanity's history. This all-inclusiveness is the very essence of the New Cosmology. And this is what Sophia calls us to. The bride of the "Lord of All" seeks to gather us into communion with All.

And once again, as with the previous two posts, the question 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.