Chapter 17

The Divine Spark Within
Part III: Via Creativa

Retaining the Child-like Spark Within
My Personal Story

No information or Sophianic songs found in these pages matters unless a seeker enters into it through the portal of their own experience. Especially when it comes to the enigma of the hidden pearl, there is no priest or guru, most likely, who can awaken your divine spark. No, it is you, it is I, it is each individual who has the key, the song, the precision of consciousness to free the inner pearl from the sleeping dragon, whatever that might be.

As I have written, Christianity developed as a tighter orthodoxy to hide this theme of the Sophianic spark within. It also created an intermediary of the church and the priest that became the authority over the subtle alchemy of our spiritual process instead of encouraging us to stay rooted in the enigma of this inner fire, this personal power. If we are to take seriously this ancient creation story as a rough overview of how we, Homo Sapiens, Sophianic Man, got here, then we might also take seriously our enormous potential as creative beings.

The Divine Spark Within: Archetypal or Literal

Like many parts of this Sophia Christ story, the lines between archetypal expression and hard core reality are often blurred. Is this divine spark something that is a real phenomenon within the human form, or is it metaphor?

Like the word “soul”, the inner spark is sometimes referred to in general terms as the creative impulse, a burst of inspiration, the surge of new artistry. The archetypal mythologist, Michael Meade invokes this metaphor of the divine spark in his book Awakening the Soul, “There is a fire at the center of the earth and a flame at the center of our hearts. The divine spark within us is the gift of life, a burning birthright that makes us both the children of, and at times the agents of, ongoing creation…The divine spark is both the living seed of our life potential and the inner light of the soul.” (1) 

Similar to the uncertain relationship between myth and history, we are being asked to look at this idea of an inner spark that with something that, according to the gnostic texts, appears to be something that is quite specific and even literal, the discovery of which could open up unimaginable new horizons of our potential. 

Dan’s Story

In light of this, all I can do is to share how this process, this Christ Sophianic mythos perhaps, has been moving through me. In my life, I have not experienced knee dropping, eye popping mystic revelations. However, I regularly am moved with inspiration, insight and profound experiences of opened awareness. I am not extraordinary but rather am quite ordinary in this way. And it is from this humble place that I have been traversing the labyrinth of the mysteries of the spark within.

It has been during my 60th year that the elements of a book manuscript have been crafted in this web series. This writing project is the outgrowth of a long trajectory of how Sophia and her spark have been moving through me, at least as far as I can imagine. This has been an often destabilizing if not crazy journey in following what has been for most of my life, the beacon of an inner light. Years before I became aware of the gnostic creation story, the very name Sophia brought me a strange sort of guidance. 

When I was 18, in the throws of life crisis of meaning and direction, I went on a sort of walkabout around the country that led me squarely into what became a unique, highly personal doorway into the “mysteries of Sophia.” (2)

This all started when I was a child.

The Child-Like Inner Spark, Via Positiva

I suspect that a child plucks its first flower with an insight into its beauty and a significance which the subsequent botanist never attains.  Henry David Thoreau.

As a child, I was intimately in touch (to at least some degree) with this inner spark. Full body ecstasy and profound levels of excitement that came with the smells of the seasons and bigness of the world around me. There was an aliveness, a reaching curiosity that was just there, with little self consciousness about it. They say play is the language of children and I was fortunate to have this growing up. Diving to catch the ball, crashing down the snow mound as a fallen soldier, tackling my friends in play wrestling and running just for the sheer delight were all hints of this obscure inner spark. Or at the very least, this was my life that was not yet clouded by the filter and psychological defense of thought as well as anxiety and shame. 

The child self, I believe, carries the raw beingness of this latent fire prior to its descent into the complexity of adulthood. Though this might be a cliche, still, we need only take in the sounds of an elementary school playground that is filled with the unrestrained yelps of passion and delight to see that there is something going on here. There is a purity and immediacy in children’s aliveness, in their uninhibited play.

I have had the good fortune to have worked as a psychotherapist with three and four year olds in pre-school class settings (3) and it is not my intention to paint some naive glowing picture of a magical child land. There are huge swings of emotions and many behavior challenges in a room full of kids with all varying degrees of impulse controls. But still, the rawness, authenticity and genuine desire expressed so often in these pre-socialized little people is more the rule than the exception. Contrast this to that found, say, at a college football game where the play (though of course not all bad) has now shifted from screams of delight to the competitive shouts of win-lose.

As Joseph Chilton Pearce speaks of in his book Magical Child, (4) a child’s squeal of delight is connected to the impulse or intent that moves out into the world with a highly personal curiosity. Bill Plotkin speaks of it as our original and unbuffered state of being in awe and in direct relationship with the (natural) world around us. (5) In many ways this is obvious. Simply observe any child animal and see how it is filled with an exuberance typically not seen in adulthood.

The uninhibited experience of joy that comes so often in little children is a way in which this soul fire lurks. Or at least this is what I was aware of at a time when I still had a foot in a child’s world.

The Descent of the Child-Like Spark, Via Negativa

The natural feelings of joy I felt as a child became complicated by the transitional stages of puberty. At age 12, I found myself being thrust into a school system and a peer culture where the uninhibited child-like esprit became more complicated. This was not the stage for uninhibited play. School and life in general were getting more serious. 

This is not easy to unpack as certainly we are developmentally and biologically programmed to eventually set aside childish ways. I am aware of the risks of this line of thinking being used to justify a shallow way of staying in a dreamy child like state and avoid the demands of such things as responsible parenting and commitment in relationships. However, this inner pearl, the uninhibited awe that is hard wired to play, dance and otherwise riff off the creative improvisations found in nature all around us, does not need to be outgrown or sacrificed in the name of maturity.

Over time, I was becoming aware that this adolescent transition is the crux through which much of our original spark potential gets clouded. Thick layers of socialization and identity contortions build up around us, making the flicker of innate illumination ever more faint.

This child-like impulse became my reference point to what I eventually understood was an expression, if not just a hint, of the divine spark within. Even more, I was sure that this was something that was a birthright that was not designed to be extinguished in adulthood. “Such experience of ‘ecstatic transcendence’ is known ot msytics, artist, lovers, sages and anyone living creatively.” (6)

In contrast to the systemic prejudice against women in a patriarchal culture, a case could be made that the child has it even worse, being at the bottom of the social pecking order. As a psychotherapist, I would say that most of the adult cases I see are presenting mental and emotional afflictions that relate back to a mal-attuned parental or social environment that have caused some form of psycho-emotional injury during the most sensitive stages of childhood. In adolescence as well, struggles in relationships with parents, peer group and schools can be intensely taxing on this childhood spark, as I became acutely aware of.

In the middle of my high school years, I read a poem that affected me profoundly. (7) 

Crushed

He always wanted to explain things.
But no one cared.
So he drew.
Sometimes he would draw and it wasn’t anything.
He wanted to carve it in stone or write it in the sky.
And it would be only him and the sky
And the things inside him that needed saying.
And it was after that he drew the picture.
It was a beautiful picture.
He kept it under his pillow and would let no one see it.
And he would look at it every night and think about it.
And when it was dark, and his eyes were closed, he could still see it.
And it was all of him.
And he loved it.
When he started school he brought it with him.
Not to show anyone, but just to have it with him like a friend.
It was funny about school.
He sat in a square, brown desk
Like all the other square, brown desks
and he thought it should be red.
And his room was a square, brown room, like all the other rooms.
And it was tight and close.
And stiff.
He hated to hold the pencil and chalk,
With his arm stiff and his feet flat on the floor.
Stiff.
With the teacher watching and watching.
The teacher came and spoke to him.
She told him to wear a tie like all other boys.
He said he didn’t like them
And she said it didn’t matter.
After that they drew
And he drew yellow and it was the way he felt about morning.
And it was beautiful.
The teacher came and smiled at him
“What’s this?” she said. “Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”
Isn’t that beautiful.
After that his mother bought him a tie.
And he always drew airplanes and rocket ships like everyone else.
And he threw the old picture away.
And when he lay alone looking at the sky,
It was big and blue and all of everything.
But he wasn’t anymore.
H
e was square inside
And brown,
And his hands were stiff,
And he was like everyone else.
And the things inside him that needed saying didn’t need it anymore.
It had stopped pushing.
It was crushed.
Stiff.
Like everything else.

(This poem was written by a high school senior. Two weeks after handing it in, he committed suicide.)

I remember shedding tears over this poem, not only for the tragedy of its author, but because it felt like it was foreshadowing what my life could become if I didn’t protect against these square, crushing, brown erasures of my own unique personhood.

The Dialectics of Child/Youth Oppression and Liberation: Via Creativa

When I began college, I looked more into the dynamics of what could be called “youth oppression”, or more specifically, The Dialectics of Age. Applying Hegelian dialectics of change to age difference (8) became a map that helped me to identify the forces of socialization that might not always be working in a child’s, youth’s and even society’s best interest.

It was a half priced book that I found on the table of a used book store called The Oppression of Youth (9) that provided the ground upon which my spirited child self found at least some footing in this treacherous world of adolescence. “Converting socialization into a coercive, oppressive depersonalization of the individual, society has attempted to eliminate the fear young people engender; this fear lies in young peoples; potential for social change.” This book spoke poetry for me, naming the unseen forces of control, largely through the use of fear and anxiety, that guard the status quo against each new generation’s potential.

This book sat juxtaposed to The Magical Child on the bookshelf of my mind, as I stumbled my way through the psychological minefields of this life stage. Joseph Pearce offered me solace as he articulated his own struggle with this. “I underwent some depression when I began to see the potential of the child and the monumental tragedy that befalls us anew with each generation. I knew guilt over my own experience as a father and nostalgia over the loss of potential I had once felt so keenly. Only by delving as completely into the material as was possible for me did I finally see why I was not guilty, why none of us is or was, and why blame is largely fruitless.” (10)

Carrying the Spark into Adolescence

I was increasingly aware of what my inner child life force was facing, both in tending to it and also being keen to the forces that might be consciously or unconsciously trample over it. In my senior year in high school, I started an “underground newspaper” that featured articles related to youth rights. This triggered a months-long legal battle between our editorial staff and the local school committee to defend our first amendment right to distribute our “unauthorized” paper on school grounds. Even though, with the help of the ACLU, we were ultimately victorious in upholding this right, it was ultimately the architecture of control that I saw as being an invisible but unrelenting foundation to the whole educational system. The complex and many pages-long student publication distribution policy became the strategy by which the school system was able to allow “free speech” while at the same time ensuring that wayward students were kept in line. Though I was aware of what the School Committee was having to juggle, I nevertheless received their doctrine as a final insult against the spirit of our publication that I saw as a championing the esprit of new generations, and the unheard voices of Thoreau’s innately brilliant child botanists. To me this was just one of the many personal battle fronts of my non-school sanctioned, unfettered, child-like impulsed expressions of creativity that was desperately trying to keep that inner flame from snuffing out.

So when I was finally able to get temporary relief from what could be called the initiatory journey of adolescence, I stumbled out of high school dazed and emotionally exhausted. Putting off college for a year, in 1978, I went on a sort of walkabout to visit friends who were in college. It was during this time that I had the time, the space, the freedom to try to grapple with how my personal consciousness, my individual soul, if you will, might make sense of what I saw as this plight to keep the inner fire going.

Of course there are innumerable layers to all this, involving the dynamics of my family system and how both my psychology and temperament found its way into what, in many ways, was a loving and well supported upbringing. As well, the role of socialization is multifaceted and, ideally, is essential in helping young people to be able to enter into the world so that his or her spark can be engaged with others and be a valuable offering. 

But a theory of age dialectics was a sort of life saving lens that I was looking through during these key formative years. This was my own kind of descent, my own fall into matter, where, like Sophia, the task was to cry out, to reach out, and to push through the enticing lure of just giving up.

Carl Jung had a secret box that he kept in his attic, with strange little items that had numinous significance to him, though to anyone else might just look like silly trinkets. I too had my secret little box of sorts, though in my case, it was a simple name. I felt like I had to name what I was wrangling with before it all faded away. The name became the flag behind which I made a commitment to stay connected to my child like inner light. I called it The Sophia Project.

The Sophia Project

Throughout my young adulthood this title was both personal and very private. I had little reference to the name other than that she was a female figurehead, a Goddess of Wisdom, who served as a sort of obscure deity of encouragement for me. This name identified an endeavor, a vague map of sorts, a project that would guide me as I stepped into this new stage of young adulthood.

Neil Douglas-Klotz once asked students in a class of his, how many of us had a personal religion when we were young. More than half of us raised our hands.

Though this wasn’t a “religion”, this Sophia Project served as a personal contract to never forget or abandon this inner child spark and I took it very seriously. Through my tumultuous twenties, I would periodically remember, The Sophia Project! Ah, I almost forgot! And then I would make little or even big changes in my life so as to steer myself back on course. Am I falling into a slumber of routine? Am I going down a path that will lead me further away from this inner spark? If the answer was yes, then it was time for a course correction. 

This led to a certain instability as I stepped into the hard reality of trying to be self determined in a world where income and cash flow were often an unforgiving bottom line. Like the Tarot’s Fool, I followed my bliss, hitchhiking around the country to hippie gatherings, diving into a spiritual search and a deep quest for meaning. I was at times on the edge between having my feet in the world of stable sanity to being far out on a psychological limb of exploration. Over time, this ultimately led me to step into a new paradigm of sorts, away from the 1950’s-esque world view of my parents and into a post 60’s reach towards some vague notion of “liberation”. 

During my first semester at Hampshire College in 1979, I wrote a paper which was for me at the time a sort of magnum opus, called “Youth Oppression and Liberation” (unpublished). The whole idea of retaining the child-like spark as I had committed myself to in the Sophia Project was becoming more strained as this idea of the child self seemed less and less apparent. So this paper was one way that I sought to bring more of a theoretical foundation to this personal contract, as I struggled to keep that inner fire alive.

I engaged in youth rights organizing after moving to Berkeley a few years later. But, as time went on, working primarily within the political sphere became too limited to encompass what I understood more and more was a psycho-spiritual process.

Indeed, the preservation of child-like wonder has a whole biological imperative, called Neoteny. Ashley Montague’s book, Growing Young (11) helped me to see that the retention of child-like traits actually carry a profound evolutionary significance. My chapter in that college paper titled “Youth Liberation and the Maturation of Consciousness” looked at how the retention of these inherent qualities of childhood played into the broader trajectory of humanity’s developmental potential.

A theory of “age dialectics” posits that the basic reality of a child spark (thesis, positiva) is countered by the demands of adulthood (antithesis, negativa), where the urge, the intention, the spark of the inner creative soul self is tasked with pushing up against this limitation (creativa), that can result in a new outcome (synthesis, transformativa), where the mature adult is not staid, but rather carries with him a mature but still child-like aliveness. Youth liberation is not about being free from parents or school. Rather it is about freeing the inner exuberance from the layers of mal-attuned socialization and psycho-emotional contortions that arise in order to survive the effects of trauma. In this way, maintaining the child-like spark is an on going process, much like Sophia’s ongoing efforts for her light to be free from an enforced lockdown into materiality.

This four fold model of the journey of the soul, as illustrated in the Hymn of the Pearl is also a template for the initiatory rites of passage of adolescence whether it is intentional or not, just as I experienced in my own youth transition. Having worked with rites of passage processes with youth as an adult, I found that the literature on this subject refers primarily to a three fold model of separation, threshold and return. What I found was that this model was missing the primary and essential first step of Via Positiva, the anchoring of the youth within a secure home matrix from which they can then separate from. My original thesis proposal at the University of Creation Spirituality was to work with Matthew Fox and Malidoma Some to look at how important it is for the youth to stay connected to the child wonder as they step away, separate. Rites of passage rituals can sometimes involve cutting the cord with the youth’s innate inner-sense completely to where it is no longer accessible or welcomed.

My work on this thesis was cut short with the birth of my first child and it remained incomplete. Years went by and it became my fascination with the motif of Sophia that finally led me to getting a masters degree in spirituality from that school.

In a journal entry I wrote when in the full throws of not only adulthood but also fatherhood, I recalled my fascination with the name Sophia. “I established a very personal endeavor called The Sophia Project that I desired would embody the magic I so longed to maintain, the inherent grace that I knew I had, but that struggled to hold up against the eroding force of acculturation.”

Little did I know that just a year prior to my starting this Project, this name Sophia had broken onto the world stage in a much more dramatic fashion with the publication of a vast stash of strange 1700 year old texts called the Nag Hammadi library.

The Gnostic Sophia Project

Years later the Gnostic Sophia finally caught up to me. I dug up a book from one of my old storage boxes, called The Gnostic Religion, by Hans Jonas (12), the copy that my father had read for a Unitarian book study group decades earlier. This was the book that cracked my own strangely naive relationship with Sophia into a vastly more cosmological story of the luminous epinoia.

Here Sophia was no longer a vague Goddess of Wisdom. Instead, she sprang out from ancient texts as a key figure in a complex story of creation. Not only that, she had qualities that exemplified those of youth, where she irresponsibly left her post in the Pleroma to fly to the source of Light, with youthful awe and folly drawing her towards it. In time, I would learn that Sophia carried with her sparks of light that made their way into humanity that lie there now with vast though largely latent potential, if I am reading the texts correctly.

As I became increasingly familiar with this ancient esoteric tradition, I saw that my highly personal Sophia Project had a similar orientation as the much larger cosmic drama, with significance that went far beyond myself and my scope of comprehension. This gnostic Christ Sophia Project involved an epic tale of a fall, entrapment and a plan for liberation.

It was my personal affinity with the simple name of Sophia, with all of her significance regarding my will to stay fresh that fueled my voracious appetite for investigating the mysteries of the gnostic Sophia. 

As the years went on, it was my child-like curiosity that led me to playing with this larger Sophia creation story. I began to see that my struggle was also Sophia’s struggle, and indeed, humanity’s struggle as well. In 1997, I developed largely from the Secret Gospel of John a “Bardic Recalling of the Myth of Sophia” for a Master’s Project at the University of Creation Spirituality (13). This became the first of a few similar presentations featuring this Creation Story that included live music with the hope of bringing this old forgotten tale to life. (14)

I dove into to Jung’s incredible investigation into the gnostic wisdom tradition during my master’s counseling degree at the Pacifica Graduate Institute. In their library I found an old first edition copy of Marie-Louise von Franz’s Aurora Consurgens that magnificently interprets a rare ancient manuscript as being the last testament of Thomas Aquinas. According to von Franz, this document is a transcript of a man whose psyche became cracked open by the appearance of a Sophianic Queen of the South, after which all of his writings “were like straw.”

I studied and wrote and played music that was fueled by my child-like curiosity for this grand story of the process of the reclamation of the divine spark within.

Now, decades went by and on the brink of turning 60 in 2019, I could feel the lure of retirement drawing me seductively towards itself. This was strange as I had never even considered this before. Was I loosing energy? Was my spark falling into a new found darkness? What was happening with my Sophia Project and my spark?

I had the good fortune to run into Michael Meade at a festival in Oregon that summer. I was overjoyed to cross paths with him for the first time since he invited me to participate in a coming of age ritual three decades earlier, an experience that had a huge impact on me. He put on a big smile when he recognized me as that once young man with boyish hair.  Not wasting time in the few minutes I figured I had with him, I told him that I was at a significant crossroads at this time in my life, facing a distinct choice on my life path. I explained that I felt tired and emotionally worn from the stressors of life and could easily see myself slipping into retirement, letting the shallow crests of my meager life achievements gradually fade. The thought of mustering the motivation to look to start up a new chapter in my life’s project was not coming easily.

Michael took this in and looked at me with his fierce Irish eyes. It almost felt like he was challenging me to a fight, standing there in his full power as a wise elder. Without skipping a beat, he said, “It’s The Third Act. This is the part of the story that all prior Acts lead up to. This is no time to close the curtain on creative endeavors, it’s actually the most important phase of it.”

Well into his 70’s, Michael spoke of his own fully engaged Third Act, with his untiring pulse of books, lectures and podcasts. Here, an old mentor of mine was looking into my tired soul, saying, don’t fall back. Rather, take it to the next level!

It was pretty much at that moment that I decided to seriously embark on this current writing project. This was such a powerful and motivating encounter, with this simple idea of a Third Act that pushed me from a retreat (a victim-like falling back into negativa) to a forward movement (creativa). The decision was made, I can, indeed I must do this, even at this age, and that this writing project is connected to that time back in my adolescence when I committed to not letting this inner light fade. I am not wanting to be in the audience of some worn out Christmas play. Rather I want to be in the living mystery play and help bring it into the present time as agent of remembering, a flint upon which more sparks might fly.

And so I sit here on the stage of my third act. Strewn on the floor around me are piles of books, notebooks, oversized three ring binders stuffed with writings, articles, and exhaustive analyses of this great sweeping myth of Sophia. Beside me is the cow headed djembe drum I restrung after breaking through the goat skin in a fit of man expression.  With zither, dulcimer, guitar, trumpet and looper, I am embarking on the next phase of this journey, working to keep a steady pulse of the unyielding positivity of this story’s message, with an ear leaning towards the music of the Deep.

As the saying goes, “Youth is a gift of nature, adulthood is a work of art.” Like many of us perhaps, this is a work in progress. My personal psychological and spiritual journey has been enormously rich and I hold unfathomable gratitude to all who I have interfaced with along the way.

The Divine Spark Here and Now

This entire web series on Sophia, The Deep Christ and The Divine Spark Within ultimately boils down to this: what significance does this have to both the individual and to humanity beyond either my own story or the bigger story of the mysteries of Christ Sophia? What does this mean in real time, beyond just some vague and largely forgotten creation mythos?

This is the question that will bring more focus on in the culminating chapter, via Transformativa. Please stay tuned.

Footnotes

  1. Meade, Michael. Awakening the Soul, A deep response to a troubled world. Housatonic, MA. Green Fire Press. 2018. P. 123-124
  2. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Jung-Buddhism-and-the-Incarnation-of-Sophia/Henry-Corbin/9781620557396
  3. For six years I contracted as a Military Family Life Consultant and was stationed at numerous military bases around the country and in Europe. One of my roles was to provide emotional and behavioral support to children in the Child Development Centers and also to work with parents and the child worker staff on various children’s emotional and behavior challenges.
  4. Pearce, Joseph, Chilton. Magical Child, Rediscovering natures plan for our children. NY: Penguin Books. 1977.
  5. https://www.animas.org/about-us/our-founder/
  6. Ulanov, Ann, Belord. The Psychoid, soul and psyche; piercing time space barriers. Einsiedeln: Daimon Verlag. 2017. pg. 25 quoting Monick 1987.
  7. From a pamphlet published by Youth Liberation in Ann Arbor, MI in the 1970’s.
  8. I took the basic template of a Hegelian dialectic theory and applied it to a general theory of change where there is a “thesis”, or a given condition, that is then countered, “anti-thesis”. The thesis then works in response to this anti-thesis and vise versa, whereupon a third, “synthesis”, can result with a new outcome from the old duality. Jung’s concept of the Transcendent Function also can be used as a resource to understanding this. The main point is that, like Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is the consciousness of the one who is oppressed that becomes the force whereupon an abuse of power can be challenged, shifted and transformed.
  9. Clark, Ted. The Oppression of Youth. NY: Harper and Row. 1975.
  10. Pearce, 1977, p. xiii
  11. Montegue, Ashley. Growing Young. Granby MA. Bergen and Garvey Publishers.1981
  12. Jonas, Hans, The Gnostic Religion. Boston: Beacon Press. 1963
  13. Craig-Morse, Dan. (unpublished). The Myth of Sophia, Recalling an ancient gnostic creation story. Masters Thesis to fulfill graduation requirement at the University of Creation Spirituality. 1998.
  14. Ironically, it was the same church in Santa Rosa where my gnostic intrigues were curtly shot down from the pulpit that, years earlier, an Episcopal priest with a strong Jungian orientation, played the magnificent organ as part of a musical accompaniment to one of these bardic presentations.