contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Anam Cara

THE WAY OF SOPHIA

“A Sufi mystic was staying with Rabiya. His name was Hasan. He must have heard Jesus Christ’s statement: ‘knock and it shall be opened to you. Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you will find it’. So every day in his morning prayer, afternoon prayer, evening prayer, night prayer, five times a day he said to God, ‘I am knocking, Sir, and I am knocking so much. Why has it not opened up to now? I am beating my head against your door, Sir. Open it.

“Rabiya heard it one day. Rabiya heard it the second day. Rabiya heard it the third day. Then she said, ‘Hasan, when will you look? The door is open. You go on talking nonsense – ‘I am knocking, I am knocking’ – and the door is open all the time. Look! But you are too concerned with your knocking and asking and desiring and seeking, and you cannot see. The door is open.” (1)

For me Rabiya is the Sophia in this story, the teacher and guide. Sophia emerges in the eastern Mediterranean. She is most associated with contexts that are urban, multicultural and entranced by the power of the written word. She inherits the rose from Aphrodite and Isis, and the grove from Asherah, the lost goddess of Israel. She becomes a traveller, eastward bound on the Silk Road, taking other names.

The Sophia of my experience is not quite the being of the traditions, though the traditions have fed me (2, 3). As a living presence, anam cara and guide, she undermines my pompous attempts to impose narrative order on the cosmos and thus possess the infinite. She stands for creative mythology, continuous revelation, and a compassionate free spirit. Infinitely sceptical and infinitely believing, she embraces the life of the senses, feeling and thinking. Yet she points also to other possibilities: nourishment in the silent heart of being, and the energy of what Coleridge called the primary imagination and Druids call Awen.

  1. Osho Zen: the path of paradox New York, NY: Osho International Foundation, 2001
  2. Caitlin Matthews Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Wheaton, ILL: Quest Books, 2001
  3. Anne Baring & Jules Cashford The myth of the Goddess: evolution of an image London: Arkana, 1993
  4. Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographia Literaria: or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions London: Dent, 1965 (Edited with an introduction by George Watson)

 

ANAM CARA

This post is about the anam cara, or spiritual friend in Gaelic tradition, and about the use of language. Recently I wrote about allowing more space and using fewer words. This wasn’t a renunciate view of language, which I value highly. My hope was that “more space” would allow “something new to emerge”, and that my words, though fewer, would be better chosen.

I am starting to see some fruits from this strategy. I’ve also recently said that I experienced Sophia “as a psychopomp or inner guru”. Now I would say, “anam cara”. This term is known from the early days of Christian monasticism in Ireland and is in current use within the Scottish-based Celie De – see http://www.ceilede.co.uk/

It is a mentoring relationship, not a peer one, but it includes the sense of a real personal connection, not just a role. People speculate about whether it is an inheritance from indigenous Druidry. Subjectively, my relation with Sophia feels like this: much more than psychopomp or inner guru. In my understanding ‘anam cara’ is gentler, subtler and less formal.

The Sophia I experience is not a rhetorical device (personification) or a glove puppet arbitrarily selected by me. She is also not – in my sense of things – a mind independent celestial being. Rather she is the felt presence, the voice, and at times the image of a deeper nature – and my inner link with the Oran Mor (the song of what is). From a personality perspective, this deeper nature is ‘not me’ and not owned and controlled by ‘me’, so I have to work at relationship.

From the perspective of deeper nature, the separation doesn’t exist. At times Sophia can point beyond herself and then I may enter the subjectivity of deeper nature and experience the world differently. The little ‘I’ and the anam cara are as one, beyond separation and immersed in the song. But most of the time that’s not how it is in my subjective life world, and a link to that fuller reality is provided by Sophia and her nudgings and promptings.

I don’t make any fundamental distinction between nature and spirit. All, for me, is contained in the word nature (or terms like the Oran Mor).  Nothing is lost. Cosmos, relationship and practice remain the same. But the use of a nature language is truer to my experience.

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