Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Edwina Gateley: Sophia and the Feminine Mystics

Edwina Gateley is a Roman Catholic lay minister. She should be Pope. Here, she writes for Call to Action, USA.

In the beginning there was the Spirit of God. Wisdom. Sophia. Ruah in Hebrew. Co-creator with God in the Hebrew Scriptures. She danced, and was playful, and called the universe into being. The Spirit, working side by side as co-creator with Yahweh. Bringing forth, birthing the earth. Filled with imagination, life, energy. And she was the feminine principle. She was female. In the Hebrew Scriptures, only Moses, Job, David and God are treated in more depth than Sophia, Wisdom. She was such a powerful force in the beginning. But today it seems that Sophia-Feminine-Wisdom is not commonly understood. Our children don't talk about her calling forth new life. Slowly she was edged out of our traditions. Marginalized in favor of the single, male, Yahweh, because Sophia, the Feminine, was too exuberant, too elusive, too ambiguous for our rigid Christian doctrines. She was left to the fringe groups: the school of John, the poet, the artist. She was left to the mystics, who were always a little bit wild. The whole feminine dimension of God's creative power had to be suppressed if we were to put some order and rationale into our Christian doctrine.

Today Sophia, Wisdom, is sneaking back. Little by little, I believe, from a grassroots, deep level, the Spirit of Wisdom is reemerging in our consciousness. She is returning - mostly in women.

Mostly we have seen Sophia in the early feminine mystics. The mystics are God's last resort. Because they are not normal, and have not bought into our rigid Christian doctrine, the mystics have encountered a God who electrifies them, fills them with a wild hope and dream for the human race. For a world which is hungry and tired, God manifests the Divine presence in Sophia through people who are open to the mystical experience. We have to loosen up if we are to experience in our frightened and insecure world God's more wholesome life, linked not only with the masculine Yahweh, but with the feminine Sophia.

Mystics break through with a new vision. Mystics say to the people, 'Look! There is another way.' But in that journey, mystics first hit rock bottom themselves. The experience of mysticism is a salvation experience. The mystic in experiencing God also experiences the incredible loneliness of the darkness in which God moves within us. Mystics come out of turmoil and darkness, and break through to the world with God's message: I am with you in spite of your darkness.

One of those women mystics was Julian of Norwich. She was an Englishwoman, born in 1342, and interestingly, she was nameless. She is called by the name of the church she lived in: she lived in a part of the wall of the Church of St. Julian in the city of Norwich. A nameless woman - like so many women today who struggle.

In her longing for God, Julian wanted to experience the passion of Jesus, the pain and suffering that Jesus had gone through. And poor woman, she got it real bad. She got so sick she was on the brink of death. In that near-death experience God scooped her up and assured her that God was with her and that she would live. It gave her an incredible awareness of God's presence.

The experience of pain and darkness through which we come to conversion belongs to the community. Julian moved from personal piety, from "me and Jesus suffering together for the sins of the world!" She realized that for her to be comforted was a message for the wider world. All will be well, because I nearly died. but I did not die.

Julian lived in a time when there were many troubles: the Peasant Wars, the Hundred Years' Revolution, and the great plague known as the Black Death. The plague wiped out 50 percent of Europe. People would be fine, and twelve hours later they would be dead. There was no medical science to explain it. People were terrified. The only explanation was: God is punishing us. There must be something wrong with us. (The parallel today is AIDS.) Julian went through three episodes of the plague in her lifetime, and survived them all. She came out alive, and began saying, "It's all right. Maybe we have been brought to our knees, but it's all right." She began using terms for God such as Mother and Comforter - to comfort God's people. The only reason this woman could get through to people was that she had herself nearly died. She had been on the journey. She knew what she was talking about.

So also today, women who have been on the journey of disintegration, oppression and pain are the ones who will call forth salvation, and assure people of God's presence.

People who could not diagnose the plague in those days (like AIDS today) felt that they were sinful - and this was endorsed by the Church. The whole development of confession occurred around the same time. Maybe we must appease a God who is angry. Onto the consciousness of a whole people came the sense of fear and guilt - and original sin along with it. We are sinful; we deserve to be punished. The Catholic Church in particular, I believe, has used the whole punishment business to keep us cowed, to keep us down, when our eyes should be vibrant with God's life and Spirit.

The mystics were different. The mystics celebrated and accepted the darkness as a means to salvation and God's light. That was their function. God appeared to Julian and tried to communicate to God's people through her. She said: God is incapable of anger. God is not going to zap you. God just wants us to understand Wisdom. God never promised that we would not suffer, but that we would not be overcome.

God showed Julian two major impediments facing the human race. One is our impatience with suffering, our flight from all pain. In the spiritual journey it is vital to accept pain, to find God's light within the darkness.

The second is despair. We give up hope so easily. Something sucks us down. But the spirit of Sophia breaks through the darkness. We will hit rock bottom. Both individually and as a people, a nation, we will be bowed down, so that we may experience salvation. When we as a people bow ourselves down because we have no more control, the light of faith that is left, the spirit of Sophia that is in the community, will say, 'It's OK. We will raise ourselves up because God is with us.' And maybe then we will truly be a people of God transformed.

As each individual experiences the journey of conversion, so too must the community. The mystics tried to tell us that. We say: The mystics are special, but don't try to be like them. But God says: Yes, you must follow a journey very similar to theirs.

God waits for us. If we are faithful in that journey, even though we hit rock bottom, all will be well.

1 comment:

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