Revisioning the Path of ChristoSophia

 

In 2001, on pilgrimage in Italy, we encountered the numinous image shown above when we entered the church of Santa Maria in Trastavere, Rome, and immediately saw the golden apse mosaic of Christ and the Virgin Mary in its central position at the front of the church.  We were awed by the glorious beauty of the art work and deeply moved by its depiction of the Virgin Mary and Christ reigning together, as equals, in Heaven.  As we were immersed in the writing of our book Walking the Path of ChristoSophia at this time, we realized the profound meaning that the anonymous 12th century artist conveyed in this portrait of the cosmic power of both the divine Masculine and Feminine: ChristoSophia.

We envisioned the spiritual work that we felt called to do for many years as aiding the collective process of reclaiming Sophia’s role in Christian tradition so that the divine Feminine would join the Masculine in the complete realization of ChristoSophia.  During this time we developed our ChristoSophia website and wrote our book as we continued our outer work as college professors.  Then ten years ago we eagerly embarked on the journey of “renewal,” as we envisioned this next stage of life that followed “retirement” from our teaching careers.  But we had no idea of the adventures that awaited us as we discovered new territories in our continued explorations on the Path of ChristoSophia.  The transformative experiences at this stage of our spiritual journey have been marked by our return to the organized church and a shift to contemplative prayer as a primary spiritual practice.  We have been greatly influenced by the work of Cynthia Bourgeault, who has written extensively on the Wisdom way of knowing that Christianity shares with spiritual traditions throughout the world, the Christian practice of centering prayer as a path of inner awakening and nonduality, and the importance of reclaiming Mary Magdalene’s pivotal role in the Christian story.  All of these themes resonated strongly with our own spiritual explorations and our participation in Cynthia’s centering prayer workshops and Wisdom schools provided experiential grounding in the Christian Wisdom tradition.  In addition, retreats with Rabbi Rami Shapiro have opened new insights into the Biblical Wisdom literature and the “perennial wisdom” that is the heritage of all humanity.  Most recently, we have been blessed to discover the internet Insight Timer community so that we can now walk the spiritual path with fellow wisdom seekers of all cultures, traditions, and languages throughout the world.

Our spiritual journey has now led us to a transformed vision of the Path of ChristoSophia that includes and transcends our earlier insights and experiences.  We still believe that the reawakening of Sophia in Christian tradition is essential to the emerging consciousness of Wisdom throughout the world, and that the union of the Masculine and Feminine – which can be expressed in Christian terminology as ChristoSophia – is crucial for the human spiritual journey to personal and collective wholeness.  But we also recognize that this is simply a step on the way to union with the Divine.  Sophia is ultimately “unitive Wisdom” rather than a dualistic goddess figure, and ChristoSophia points the way to nondual realization.

While our spiritual journey has carried us beyond dualistic terms of gender to the One that they signify, the paradox is that we still find images of God to be very important.  Through our explorations we have experienced the “twosided truth” that the contemplative monk, Bruno Barnhart, says is essential to the Wisdom path of Christianity: “the balance between duality and nonduality, between relationship and identity…”[1] The Wisdom way of knowing springs forth from the imaginal ground, the realm of symbols, metaphor, and myth, that is distinctly different from the rational, analytical thought processes of contemporary Western culture.  A crucial task for humanity today is to regain our contact with the imaginal world so that we may access the inner wisdom that is necessary to balance the one-sided development of the rational that has now led us to the brink of extinction.

Divine images are natural expressions of the imaginal world – not unreal creations of fantasy but spiritual realities manifesting in various forms that mediate between the Earthly world and the transcendent One.  As human beings in the space/time realm, we experience the need to relate to the Divine as a “being” in the imaginal realm. This doesn’t mean “making up” new images to express our contemporary beliefs and concerns, but bringing forth those images which are part of our Christian tradition and opening to new ways in which they arise from the collective unconscious to serve our current needs.  At the same time, it is critically important in our global world today that we not view our images of the Divine as literal or concrete, but realize instead that they express true spiritual realities that emerge from the fluid world of shifting forms that we refer to as the imaginal realm.

We are seeing this process throughout the world today as the sacred Feminine emerges in a powerful way, appearing in multiple forms through images consistent with the world’s spiritual traditions as well as in dreams and visions of ordinary people.  Feminine images of the Divine that are spontaneously arising for many, both men and women, speak to the need for relationship with a sacred figure of feminine mercy, compassion, and spiritual strength.  The archetypal energy of the Feminine is erupting in global consciousness in response to our current planetary crisis that demands the wisdom of feminine consciousness to balance the dominant masculine.  An urgent task for all the world’s Wisdom traditions is to aid this transformative process by honoring the sacred images of the Feminine, elevating them to a position of full equality with the Masculine, and being receptive to new ways in which images of the Divine are emerging from the imaginal ground of all religions to express the divinity that is ultimately One.

This is the basis for an evolving mythos, understood in Christianity as the ongoing revelation of the Christ mystery through human co-creation with the Divine.  In every spiritual tradition in every historical time there are visionaries, artists, prophets, and mystics who are especially sensitive to the spiritual forces and energies that are emerging from the imaginal ground and giving form to the new revelation of Wisdom.  At this turning point in our collective experience as human beings, we need to be awake and watch for the revelation that is currently unfolding.  In Christianity we see this as the need to highlight the Biblical figure of Sophia, Holy Wisdom, and her feminine representations, especially the figures of Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene.

The ongoing revelation of Mary as Mother of God is seen in the increase of Marian visions among the general population and in the doctrine proclaimed by the Catholic Church in 1950 known as the doctrine of the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary.”  The Church’s official declaration that the body and soul of Mary was taken up into Heaven at the end of her earthly life, revealing Mary’s role as Queen of Heaven, finally recognizes in modern times the profound spiritual truth that has been understood throughout the centuries, as beautifully expressed in the image of Santa Maria in Trastavere.  Psychologist Carl Jung believed that this new doctrine has deep spiritual significance for our current time, as the inclusion of the feminine representation with the masculine signifies the continuing incarnation of the Divine.  Current efforts to proclaim Mary as “co-redemptrix” with Christ also point to the fuller revelation of her spiritual power in union with Christ.

We are also witnessing the powerful spiritual energies of Mary Magdalene breaking through in the visionary experiences of large numbers of people today.  She responds to our needs to relate to a sacred feminine figure that is portrayed as an actual human being in Scripture rather than Mary whose role as Virgin Mother is impossible to emulate.  This is seen in the intense interest in the possibility of a sacred love union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which has become a provocative subject in popular culture as well as a topic of scholarly investigation.   It appears that a “new story” is emerging in our time in response to our need for images of the “sacred couple” that demonstrate transformative love as the heart of relationship.

But even though it is crucial for us to continue the work of midwifing the birth of the sacred Feminine into our contemporary world, we must emphatically resist the urge to literalize the sacred images as a dualistic goddess figure.  As Cynthia Bourgeault emphasizes, “Sophia/wisdom is presented not as a divinity to be worshipped but as a transformative force to be actualized.[2] Sophia personifies the “living water” of Wisdom that flows from the inner depths of being which brings forth nourishment, healing, and wholeness into the world.  She is the source of the evolutionary creative process, and our co-creative action with her is necessary to actualize the collective spiritual transformation that Christianity envisions as the “New Creation.” Sophia transcends her Judeo-Christian heritage for Wisdom cannot be confined to any particular tradition.  As “unitive Wisdom,” she transcends all dualities, dichotomies, and fragmented thinking; she reveals the interconnectedness of life and the pattern of wholeness that underlies all our perceptions of separation.

The Path of ChristoSophia leads us beyond dualistic images of Christ as divine Masculine and Sophia as divine Feminine to the realization of divine Unity.  The difficulty in expressing this truth is that our language is inherently dualistic, so words and images for the Divine must be perceived within a more expansive sphere of consciousness.  We need to continually hold the tension of the paradox of the “two-sided truth” of Christianity in which dualistic words and images point to the ultimate nondual Reality.  The term ChristoSophia accomplishes this by integrating Christ – the Word of God – and Sophia – the Wisdom of God – as One.  As Cynthia Bourgeault says, “The ChristoSophia is perhaps the most underutilized insight in all of Christian mysticism” as it is the “primordial archetype of androgynous wholeness.”[3] ChristoSophia unites the masculine and feminine dimensions of the divine One that is indivisible and whole.  In this way ChristoSophia transcends the dualistic concepts of masculine and feminine divine beings and points the way to the realization of the nondual Ground of Being.

As we have continued our spiritual journey we discovered this powerful contemporary image of ChristoSophia that points us toward the unitive One.  On pilgrimage to England in 2015, in the cloister garden of Chester Cathedral, we found the stunning sculpture of Jesus and the woman at the well, titled “Water of Life” by the artist Stephen Broadbent, who created it in 1994.  As in Trastavere, we were overwhelmed by the beauty and the profound meaning in this work of art that conveys the sacred union of Masculine and Feminine, represented by Jesus and the woman at the well who in Christian tradition is frequently associated with Mary Magdalene.  In its depiction of two persons who are joined as one, this image portrays the “two-sided truth” of duality and nonduality, of relationship and unitive identity.  This is a symbolic representation of ChristoSophia that includes and transcends the Masculine and Feminine polarities.  The water of the fountain that continually flows from the chalice held between them represents the “living water” of Wisdom that pours forth eternally from ChristoSophia as the dynamic energies of transformation that bring healing and wholeness to the world.  Just as the 12th century mosaic in Trastavere portrayed our earlier vision of ChristoSophia as Masculine and Feminine cosmic powers, reigning together as equals, the late 20th century “Water of Life” sculpture expresses our current vision of ChristoSophia as the transformative power that leads us on the path of nondual awakening.

For further details about the images, see “ChristoSophia in Trastavere” and “ChristoSophia in Chester” in Images of ChristoSophia on our website ChristoSophia.org.

_____

[1] Bruno Barnhart.  The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity.  Bloomsbury Academic, 2007, p. 71.

[2] Cynthia Bourgeault. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Boston: Shambhala, 2010, p. 175.

[3] Cynthia Bourgeault.  The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three:  Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.  Boston: Shambhala, 2013, pp. 144; 172.

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