Friday, September 29, 2017

Saint Michael and the Dragon


When the Saint George of legend valiantly sets out to fight the dragon and rescue the fair maiden, the king’s daughter, he not only accomplishes his mission; he also supplies us with a powerful archetype of the bold knight and the damsel in distress. But: ‘as above, so below’ is the dictum at the cornerstone of Western mysticism, and so we might expect to find Saint George’s bravery mirrored by events in the heavens.

Today, September 29, we celebrate the feast of the archangel Saint Michael, whose name means ‘the one who is like God’. The principal task of Michael is to fight against evil, and evil in Western tradition is personified by the dragon. According to John of Patmos, the author of the Book of Revelation, this battle between these two ultimate adversaries took place in the heavens. John gives us a stirring account of the conflict: Michael and the other angels fight against the dragon and its accompanying demons, “and the great dragon, that old snake… was conquered and thrown out of heavens into the deep.”

When we gaze up into the night sky it might seem a peaceful and orderly place. But appearances can be deceptive, for our telescopes reveal to us stars exploding with such violence that the worlds around them must surely be destroyed. The cosmos is itself a battleground, and reflects the epic struggle of the angels taking place on less visible planes. In John’s narrative Michael emerges as the victor of the battle against the powers of darkness. And so the celebration of Saint Michael on this day is a calling to us to acknowledge and recognize those powers which seek to unbalance the cosmic equilibrium, and each in our own way to strive against them, whether they be destructive forces in the world itself, or demons of a more personal nature with which we must do battle inside ourselves.

And so Saint George rides out to join battle with the terrible monster and rescue the fair maiden. The maiden is essential to the story, for she represents all that is pure and good: those qualities that must be guarded and cherished, especially in the face of evil. Saint George battles the dragon on earth as Saint Michael battles the dragon in the heavens. The one reflects the other, and although the outcome of the battle might at times seem uncertain, to fight and to strive for victory is all and everything.







Painting by James Powell

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

At the Still Point of the Turning World


To ‘stand in truth’. What this phrase means will be different for each one of us, for we all have our own personal truth. But beyond this personal truth, we probably feel intuitively that such a place to stand is a place beyond the habitual momentum which pushes us forward, a place which is, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, at ‘the still point of the turning world’. We feel that this is a place of peace and sanctuary, where it is safe for us to let go of all those chattering voices in us that, perhaps for years, have told us that we are ‘unworthy’, or that we ‘cannot’, or that just give us a feeling that we are ‘not good enough’.

This place where we can ‘stand in truth’ is a place where we can dare to push off from to meet new challenges, even if we feel that our legs tremble with the effort. For this place invests us with the authority of our true Spirit. 
But where is this place to stand? Anywhere where we are, we only need to take one step inside ourselves towards it, and we are there. This is because it is a place where the universe wishes us to be. We only need to show that we are willing to be there, and it will rush to meet us, and allow us to ‘stand in truth.







Painting: The Pilgrim at the Gate by Edward Burne-Jones


Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Gentle Guide


As we travel through the landscape of our lives we must be willing “to go” where the Divine Energy takes us. Often, we must be pried out of familiar surroundings, security, comfort zones, and ego identities. The universe will move us: as old skins cannot contain new wine, and we find we are no longer able to live the old life we once found so secure. Once we arrive, temporarily to rest, with introspection we can then look back and say "Ah... now I see the workings of Wisdom in that journey." 
Sophia - Wisdom - always allows us time to get settled into the new skins, the new view, the new unknown. Her Spirit is a gentle guide, quietly leading, prodding, and moving us to a new heightened sense of awareness and a new view of our souls and the internal work that needs to be done.





Ink painting by Gao Xingjian

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Divine Bride


The return of Mary Magdalene into our consciousness can be understood as a collective necessity to revitalise our connection with Sophia: the intuitive or female way of 'knowing' and 'being' - knowledge which comes from the heart (see my earlier post "Sophia - The Breath of Life"). This 'wave of awareness' is becoming increasingly necessary to make it possible to integrate the presently-dominating male energy with its neglected female complementary Sophia energy. The return of the Magdalene therefore is not so much about the historical Mary Magdalene whose sandaled feet walked beside those of Jesus, but is more about the primal concept of the bride, who is the divine completion of Christ the groom.

Many of us now feel that the time has come to honour this 'holy union', because of our growing awareness that we need both male and female energy, on all levels of existence and of consciousness. We ultimately need a balance - a balancing of both male and female energies - to become whole once more. These are basic cosmic principles. Where only the sun, as a symbol of the male, rules, we find barren desert.

In our times we begin to hear the 'voice of the bride', the sacred aspect of Sophia. We must now also begin to listen by giving her back the role of Divine Completion and Partnership. In Christianity this completion lies enfolded in Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. In India in Shiva and Shakti.
Many such holy couples can be found in ancient religions, and all represent the life-force and the eternal return of Life. Divinity is not just an echo of a painting on a ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. It is everywhere. Each one of us enfolds something holy imbued by the Divine. And so the ultimate holy matrimony is present in every human being who unites him/herself with the spirit of its consciousness.


Close-up of Frieze in the St. Volusien’s Church in Foix, France

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Once upon a Time


“Once upon a time”. How familiar these words are to us, even though it might have been long years ago in our childhood that we last read them on the printed page. The words conjure forth a sense of events about to unfold for us, of ‘what is going to happen next’, and we know then that we can settle down and listen captivated to some magical story filled with heroic daring and romance. 

Beginnings are full of promise. They hold something that is at the same time majestic and delicate, grandly unfolding and yet also fragile. We might not always know what is to come, but that ‘not knowing’ is the very thing which creates a sense of tension. But because this familiar phrase finds its place at the beginnings of stories, and because these stories have already been written, we know that we are going to find out ‘what is going to happen next’. All that we need to do to find out what that something might be is to sit and listen or read further.

And so we accompany a little girl in a red cape as she goes to visit her grandmother in her cottage in the dark woods, or we journey with a mixture of courage and dread with Beauty as she nears the castle of the Beast. The variations are as infinite as the human imagination, and it is our imagination that defines these stories. 

But whatever their individual variations, these stories always begin with “once upon a time”. But so do they always end with another familiar ringing phrase as well. There waiting patiently at the end of the story like an old friend is the reassuring phrase: “…and they lived happily ever after.” Even as we experience all the adventures and setbacks with which the characters must contend along the way, we know that things will work out in the end because ‘happily ever after’ will be the story's concluding words.

Our life, as we know all too well, tends to have a rather different format from one of these stories. What our imagination cannot define, but only wonder about, is what has yet to be written down. “Once upon a time” could also be the commencement of our own lives, or of the coming year, or even of the day that is about to unfold, but whose events have yet to happen. We can guarantee that it will begin with this phrase. How our own story might end is less certain. Those words ‘happily ever after’ are so imprinted in our consciousness that they might lead us into a sense of false expectation, into thinking that this is the way that things ought to end. But perhaps the words offer something more significant than false expectations which might lead only to disappointment.

Perhaps these formulaic story phrases also offer us promise, of a sense that events are unfolding as they should, even if these events are very different from what we had imagined for ourselves. “Once upon a time” is always the beginning. And if we allow ourselves the space, and perhaps also the compassion and forgiveness for our circumstances, it is always possible that “happily ever after” will be the conclusion.






Illustration: Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs by Lidia Postma

Sunday, April 30, 2017

In the Heart of Heaven


Are you feeling restful? We usually take this question as meaning that we are being asked if we feel at ease and contented, if our thoughts are peaceful and untroubled. If all is well with us then it is nice to be able to reply in the affirmative. These are the states of wellbeing in our everyday world, but supposing that we alter the question slightly.

Supposing instead the question is: are you at rest within yourself? Now there is a deeper meaning implied: something which hints at a state of rest beyond simply ‘feeling restful’. The key word seems to be ‘within’. This, we sense, is something beyond feeling merely at ease about things. It carries the promise of a deeper world that is somewhere accessible: a peace beyond even ordinary contentment. But do we even have to feel good about things to reach this inner level?

Even when the ocean is a raging storm on the surface and great white-foamed waves are tossing and rolling, we know that deep beneath those waves all is calm in the depths, where the silent blue waters remain indifferent to the fury of the weather above. So perhaps it is possible that in our own lives we can reach this deeper peace, even when the events around us are filling our every thought with stress and confusion. The storm may rage around us, but these still, quiet depths within ourselves are always there and always accessible. But how are we to access them?

In one of the Gnostic texts known as ‘The Paraphrase of Shem’ the creative Light utters the mysterious phrase:


AI EIS AI OU PHAR DOU IA EI OU


This strange phrase seems to be beyond translation: unrecognisable as a known language, perhaps it is intended as a magical incantation. But in spite of this ambiguity we need not wonder about what is being said, because the following passage in the text gives us the intended meaning: ‘I am in great rest’, is what the Light is saying. The text further explains that in this blissful state all impurities are burned away in the presence of this purest of lights, and a state of rest like no other is offered.

Perhaps only in the heart of heaven is such perfect rest attainable, although we still may taste its sweetness, perhaps through the practice of meditation, or maybe we might use our own methods, such as listening to a favourite piece of music, or reading some choice lines of poetry, or being in a particular place where we feel contented and at home, whether in deep woodlands or by the sea’s shore.

Such places, such states, might seem to be a solitary activity, but always they are a dialogue, a communion with the Divine. In such moments, and without words, the Light is speaking to us, reminding us that even when we are by ourselves, even when we are only one, we still remain, and always will be, One.






Painting by Vasily Polenov

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Easter Palms, Easter Eggs

Today it is Palm Sunday, and in countries where the tradition is observed children will walk with crosses made of palm leaves. This tradition commemorates the triumphal ride of Jesus into Jerusalem, when palm leaves were strewn in his path to carpet the way. Here in the Netherlands we have a charming children's rhyme, and this deceptively simple rhyme seems to be in the form of a riddle:

Pallem-pallem-Pasen
Ei koerei
Over ene zondag krijgen wij een ei. 
Eén ei is geen ei, 
twee ei is een hal-lef ei 
Drie ei is een Paas-ei!

"One egg is no egg - 
Two eggs are half an egg - 
Three eggs are an Easter egg!" 

It occurred to me that what at first seems a charmingly simple children's rhyme could be pointing us towards something much deeper, something which could offer us no less than a profound understanding of that most fundamental of ideas: the Holy Trinity.

In Christian tradition the Trinity existed from the beginning, so it is to the beginning of all things that we need to return to unravel this mystery of the Three-in-One:

One - the first state - is also none, for it is an existence without form. When this original state of the One becomes aware of itself – when it contemplates its own being – it becomes two, just as when we regard ourselves in a mirror there are ‘two’ of us, the one being aware of its reflected self. But still this is not yet the complete Self, not yet the complete story.

With this ‘Two’ growing aware of itself, ‘being’ turns into ‘becoming’. What these two manifest together is Form. So in this curious world of the Trinity, one plus one equals, not two, but three. Being, Awareness, Becoming: the three states of the Trinity which are the Three-in-One. As the rhyme tells us: the first egg is no-egg – it has no form. The second egg is half an egg – the process is still only half complete. But three eggs together are a whole egg: the egg has materialised into existence! 

So our humble Easter eggs form a wonderful connection with the 'Cosmic Egg'. And what at first seems like a simple children’s rhyme can contain a profound truth of what happened ‘in the beginning’. 


"Our Lady Częstochowa"

There is also a story (if I remember it correctly) that Peter challenged Mary Magdalene to prove her divine worth by changing the chicken's egg she happened to be holding. Before his eyes the egg turned red - which is how the tradition of painting Easter eggs began!







Monday, March 13, 2017

Arise, My Darling, My Beautiful One



Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, 
come with me.
See! The winter is past; 
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth.
The season of singing has come
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away...

*



Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 
Illustration by Z. Raban


Saturday, February 11, 2017

What the Earth Mother Said to Me


Be in awe of the world around you.
It is a living, breathing organism 
fit not only for human habitation
but for the sustenance of all life, 
whatever form it takes.
Remember that all life is sacred;
we are all 
interdependent
interconnected
One.

Treat all with respect
and look for divinity in all things.
It is there 
even if it is not obvious
to the naked eye.
Instead
close your eyes
open your heart
and you shall find it.

Feel it. Live it. Be it.
The “multiverse" is truly within you
and all else that exists.
In the all-encompassing light of divinity
all is sacred
all is loved
all is One.
Respect all things.

Nature is your greatest teacher 
second only to yourself.
Do not harm either. 
The spirits of this place
will help and guide those 
who but ask. Let them be
your teachers, not your deities.
In return for wisdom they ask only 
respect.

Your intuition speaks truth.
Listen to it and do not be deceived
by the false truth of words.
The path to enlightenment 
honors peace.
We are caretakers only; we cannot "own"
the land and the sky.
It is not ours for the taking, 
yet it "belongs" to us
as we "belong" to it.

When Mother Earth is injured, 
all her children feel the pain.
She is a temple to life - she is life.
Feel the universal heartbeat that she holds. 
It is up to us to heal her, 
heal ourselves, 
just because we are here.

Live harmoniously together.
Take only that energy which you need 
to survive and return, replenish it in kind.
Cultivate balance and harm none.
All that you do 
shall be returned to you.
All is sacred. 
All is One.
Such is the Law.




Photo: Edward S. Curtis - 1923

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Touch me, but don't touch me.


“Touch me, but don't touch me.” This statement might seem like a paradox. But when we examine it attentively and with compassion, what we realize is that what people want most of all is to be touched in the heart.

People wish to be touched emotionally, yes, but for reasons only they can know, they might prefer to keep some physical distance between the other and themselves: as if they have drawn a circle around themselves which protects them from an over-familiar approach by others, and which at the same time assures themselves some protection. When these signals are understood on both sides, and the boundaries are established, most people will respect these unspoken agreements.

But what happens when these signals show some discrepancy? What happens to these ‘unspoken signals’ when someone appears to be sending out conflicting signals? “Come closer - but not too close!” What happens when this yearning of the heart to be stirred or touched requires us to take a forbidding step out of our carefully-defined comfort zone? And once that step has been taken, how must we react when someone else then reaches out to us and invites us to communicate? Then we find that our precious inner space must undergo expansion and grow in the outer world if we are to be able to communicate in a meaningful way.

This step into a larger unknown might be a moment of hesitation, of withdrawal, even of fear. It is then, in that moment, that we somehow must find our way to compassion: compassion for ourselves and our incapacity to make space in our safe circle. After all, is this not what compassion is? To give space to something to just be, to give space to the other to be whoever he or she is or wants to be? It is unconditional and fearless acceptance of the other person. It is giving space without judgement or interfering with or wanting to change them. Why then should we not also apply all this to ourselves?

It can often seem more difficult to give that space to ourselves than to others. Still we should learn to look at ourselves in a compassionate way whenever we reach a point in our life where we have to move outside of our comfort zone if we wish to fulfil our heart's yearning. 

In allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected, in allowing ourselves to be deeply moved, we engage ourselves. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that the feeling of affection stems from a certain ethical attitude - an attitude in which one dares to connect with others and with the world around us. In that sense to be affected is a choice. And there is always a choice, even if we think that there is none. All we have to do is to dare: to dare to take that step into the emotional unknown, to dare to allow ourselves to be touched. For surely if we allow ourselves this greater space then others will feel this from us, and compassion will flourish and we will touch others as surely as we ourselves are touched. 






Painting: Couple by Edward Burne-Jones

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Transforming Void

Our world is full of distractions. When we feel too crowded-in, we talk in terms of ‘taking a break’, or we might even express a wish to ‘get away from it all’. We might think of such places as being away from the crowd, as offering us a longed-for solitude. But it is perhaps the case that, were we truly to find ourselves in such extreme isolation, we would long for social company, for the daily round of meeting and chatting which we had become conditioned to and which we then would miss. The security of an ‘away-from-it-all’ holiday lies in knowing that it is limited in time, and that we soon-enough will ‘get back to it all’.

But what about those who ‘get away from it all’ and then choose not to return? A previous post on my blog tells the story of Mary of Egypt, a 6th-century hermit who lived in total seclusion in the Jordanian Desert, not for months, nor even for years, but for almost five long decades. Mary was a seeker, a soul on a quest for an encounter with the Spirit, and in this sense her solitary existence was also a pilgrimage: a journey into herself across an inner void perhaps more vast than the great and unforgiving void of the barren wastelands which surrounded her. 

A woman knows this void well. In a world whose social structures, whose very belief systems, are places built upon foundations of male power, women own this inner void as part of their natural estate. From the line of succession of a monarch to that monarch’s eldest son, from a deity who is thought of as being essentially masculine to that deity’s son, from religious beliefs whose texts quite literally spell out that men are a superior creation to women, from places of worship where women must occupy a segregated space that sometimes is actually hidden from the sight of the male congregation: all conspire to drive a woman into her own inner void and claim it as her own. For often-enough it is this emptiness which is the only place that is truly left to her.

But emptiness is power, for a void is never truly ‘empty’. Perhaps we do not need to actually live in a desert or in some other isolated place to experience this sense of pilgrimage, of self-exile. If what is within us, and sometimes what surrounds us, can at times seem like a void which might lead us to bleak despair, then that is perhaps the very moment to remember that it is the seeming emptiness of a void which can be full of the potential for transformation, and that what we experience as a void in our lives is not only not empty, but actually full of promise. The difference is only in our point of view, in how we choose to see the situation.

Who knows what miraculous mandalas Mary might have glimpsed in the red Jordanian sands? When Mary crossed the Jordan to live her life of self-imposed exile she took with her just three loaves of bread. The loaves quickly dried out and became inedible but Mary still managed to survive, for bread lasts but a little while, and yet the sustaining spirit endures.





Photo credit: India Flint