Today on Facebook, a friend posted what might be thought of as sage advice. Take a look here. At first, it seems to deal with not losing your temper. Many of my friends and colleagues may like this advice. It’s so practical.
So, it was not by chance, I decide, that an article also appeared today in Huffington Post entitled “Sophia – The Christian Mystic’s Path To Wisdom.”
Such opposite approaches to wisdom inherent in both posts.
The “Sophia” article was the second in a series of unexpected openings of doors along my labyrinthine path. The sage advice image was entertaining, but not new.
The article told of “Sophia” and how she is met by Christian mystics on their journey to commune with God. The sage advice more likely has to do with how best to exact a telling revenge.
The “Sophia” article reinforced the earlier door opening that occurred when I was doing some research for a screenplay my writing partner and I have been planning. I had plugged in the unusual name of one of our characters to see what I could find out about him for deep background. The Google search brought me to the center of a book called “Wandering Joy” that delves into Meister Eckhart’s mystical philosophy and again speaks to me of “Sophia.”
Who or what is this “Sophia”? How is it different than such punching advice?
Obviously, philosophy involves love of wisdom and it is clearly possible to treat “Sophia” as if “Sophia” is an it, neutralized if not neutered.
It is hard, though not impossible, to relate to an object, an it, called “Sophia.” Perhaps it’s the romantic in me that prefers to approach “Sophia” as feminine, a personification at least. This would mean that the Christian Mystic’s path to wisdom, to “Sophia,” involves a subject to subject encounter. Not a you-to-you, not a me-to-me, but an I-to-I with the prospect of the I-to-I becoming a We. Thus not an exchange of blows to the face if you’re not knocked out by the first to throw the punch.
“How so?” I wondered while wandering on my daily walk.
“Sophia” is the feminine presentation of the wisdom of Jesus Christ, whom Saint Paul called our “Sophia.” Gnostics have long wanted to claim this insight for their own agenda. (See the Wikipedia article on “Sophia (wisdom)” for an introduction to the history of the debate. Note especially Doctor of the Church St. Hildegard of Bingen’s celebration of “Sophia.”) But Gnostics are indulging an oversight, I see, whereas St. Paul urges an inspired insight about Jesus. Gnostics are fighting themselves. They are in a duel because they are into dualism. Eric Voegelin writes about the consequences of our unconscious Gnosticism in science and politics, but I have been unsuccessful thus far in getting anyone of my friends or colleagues to read his book on the subject, even though it would clarify much of the sources of their pain.
By contrast, St. Paul’s insight involves the way in which Jesus, in the context of the “Sophia” of the Old Testament creation story, is the first fruit of the non-dualistic and completely fulfilling union of the One True God with human beings via the one person named Mary. The singular result of the life of Jesus is reflected in many ways, one of which is most obvious in the way we calculate dates around the world: Anno Domino.
As I pondered the “Fields of Gold” being presented in these transparencies, I was struck by the way in which the masculine-feminine conflicts in our current church organization, not to mention our theology and our human cultures, may be founded on such apparent opposites.
As I walked further I thought of my friends, men and women, who tug at my ear almost daily with their humble (?) opinions about most everything, though most often not only in opposite ways, but in intended contrary and occasionally contradictory ways. The voices are full of doubt, discouragement, despair, dispirit, and, in the end, denial.
Denial of what? That there is any solution other than their own? Or any solution at all? Ah, egocentrism and nihilism.
And as the pot is continuing to be stirred each and every day, the peace among my friends is disturbed to the point of boiling over.
“Where is ‘Sophia’ in all of this? Where is she (or he) when we need her (him)?” I asked as I made another lap.
“Do I have to lose my temper like so many of my friends in order to find the answer to these seemingly relentless fights over this and that?”
The answer came quickly and from an unexpected place: in cards I have read about in many places.
One of the books my cousin introduced me to many years ago now is called “Meditations on the Tarot – A Journey into Christian Hermeticism.” This profound book (reviewed here for those who are curious and here as well, with an image of Pope John Paul II and an hard-cover edition of the book) uses the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot de Marseilles not for purposes of divination, but for purposes of helping readers explore the findings of Christian mystics throughout the ages. The cards may be considered like stained-glass windows that allow views of deep archetypes in our human consciousness.
One of those cards popped into my mind while meditating on “Sophia” and the solution to the profound oppositions of our times. The card may be viewed here.
As you can see, the angel of Temperance is depicted pouring liquid from one vessel to an opposite one in her other hand. This Temperance is the aspect of “Sophia” I saw as suddenly transparent.
I am not wanting to take us down the path of examining the philosophical principle of non-contradiction. Rather, I want to consider how this simple visual depicts the seeming problem of paradoxical opposites.
So much of our lives are disturbed by opposite takes on things, contrary positions, contradictions. When we a-void the approach of trying to solve the puzzle by finding the missing piece (we have it, they don’t), I see we are missing the opportunity to experience the void.
What is the void?
It is where we are most empty. When we are most empty, the angel of Temperance, sent by Jesus Christ, our “Sophia,” can fill us up with water or wine or both from the endless fountain that is God.
The image thus suggests, to me at least, the profound understanding of the Christian mystic that when we become one with God, we commune with God and God with us as if both of us are the water or wine or both communicating back and forth from one vessel to another.
This means that God may be communicating to us even in and through those who appear in opposition to everything we love. For example, we learn what is false, by understanding a truth that pops out in bas-relief when confronted with the false. Thus the false, though opposite to the truth, contains the truth in a way we may not have experienced it before.
It is at our own peril that we a-void the communication with our God who is voiding Himself with His love for us. He gives His all in everything.
We learn to see this and understand it best by following Jesus. Jesus incarnates Yahweh.
(For a visual person like myself, the following image provides a handy abbreviation of what is going on: first see the Hebrew letters that write the name of God as Yahweh here; then see a transposed image of the letters that suggest the symbol of God becoming man.)
When I read Meister Eckhart about “Sophia,” I also find myself thinking about how to better understand Saint Mary’s role in the Incarnation. Her “yes” to the angel’s question fulfilled the communication and so it began. Thus, from the beginning of the conception of Jesus, he was in human communication and one with “Sophia” as was his mother. Their mutual communication was not just between the two of them, but always with God the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. At least that’s how I would speak of it.
To help me resolve disturbances I encounter each day, to regain the temper I would lose otherwise when disturbances arise, I find temperance is not simply a balancing of opposites, or a resolution of contradictions, but a participation in the mysteries that paradoxes present to me as a human being.
Were I only a philosopher, I might follow the path of Odysseus when faced with the Sirens of our times, strapping myself to the mainmast and holding on for dear life as depicted here.
But as Catholics, we have more than philosophical wisdom to rely on to get us through the tumult. Perhaps we are more like Job in this regard. But rather than lose our tempers and get mad at God for our puzzling problems, and thus risk Him getting mad at us, we can find temperance.
How? By going to Mother Mary and through her to her Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Through that path, we can, like Meister Eckhart, find the “Sophia” we are looking for: in the welcoming arms of The-Lover-Beloved-Love who is our God.