The “Ground of Being” as a Journey into the Dark Feminine

To speak of the “ground of being” is a feminist way of naming our encounter with the divine.  It is about journeying down into Mother Earth and interacting there; down into the place of roots nourishing and being nourished in the dark theredown into our lower chakras which connect most immediately with Mother Earth. 

Life springing from the roots. Photo by Devesh 09 on Wikimedia Commons.

It is honoring the darkness, as Rilke does:

Yet no matter how deeply I go down into myself
my God is dark, and like a webbing made
of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.* 

Eckhart also honors darkness when he tells us that “the ground of the soul is dark.”

Thomas Merton speaks of the darkness of “Holy Wisdom” or Hagia Sofia.  In a long prose poem by that name, Merton reminds us of the “feminine principle” in the universe that is often honored within the wisdom tradition of the Bible and the mystical tradition. 

“Wisdom/Poetry in Motion” Opening film piece for the 13th annual meeting of the International Thomas Merton Society. Uploaded to YouTube by Jimmy Locust

Wisdom is feminine in the Bible and in the tradition, in both Latin and in Hebrew, and as current scholarship has reminded us, the historical Jesus himself comes from the Wisdom tradition. 

Merton finished the poem at Pentecost, 1961, and tells us how it evolved:  

Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is God Himself.  God is not only a Father but a Mother.  He is both at the same time, and it is this ‘feminine principle’ in the divinity that is the Hagia Sophia….The Three Divine Persons each at the same time are Sophia and Manifest her.  

He compares Sophia, the wisdom of God, to “the Tao, the nameless pivot of all being and nature.”  The Tao is feminine and the Great Mother in the Chinese tradition. 

Merton also incorporates the Black Madonna and the darkness that the Divine Feminine represents when he writes:

Hagia Sofia is the dark, nameless Ousia [being] of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the incomprehensible, ‘primordial’ darkness which is infinite light….Hence, Sophia is the feminine, dark, yielding, tender part of the power, justice, creative dynamism of the Father.  

Honoring the earth and the ground is honoring the Black Madonna and vice versa. 

The Black Madonna is an archetype returning today with much power and multiple meanings.  She calls us to honor the ground, the depths, whether of soul or soil or sea or sky—depths are always dark. 

One commentary on the Black Madonna tells us this: She is

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, Vilna, Lithuania. Image courtesy of Albertus Teolog, GNU, on Wikimedia Commons

the embodiment of the Divine feminine, our Earth Goddess and the Mother of all humanity.  She represents the fertile womb, black and sacred and stands as a symbol of transformation and change….[She] symbolizes majesty and power, a love of great strength, powerful, enduring and unbroken…..

She is an important symbol in the present-day, redefining darkness as a positive image in contemporary culture.  Darkness or blackness is too often associated with the negative.  That kind of association is one of the cornerstones of racism….Darkness represents the internal being and includes pride in one’s history and culture, as well as struggle survival, and achievements. 

*See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, p. 133.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 160-162;

Also see Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, p. 232.

Banner Image: “The Wave in the Moonlight” Photo by Pavel Soro London on Wikimedia Commons

Can you say with Rilke that your God is dark?  Has the Black Madonna spoken to you in dreams or images or otherwise?

Recommended Reading

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

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16 thoughts on “The “Ground of Being” as a Journey into the Dark Feminine”

  1. Avatar

    I,ve found these meditations of late so powerful and resonant.
    For me it’s a sinking into god , a total letting go of images of myself,others and God.
    who am I to know what God is , as God is unfathomable, how easy we have labelled God as masculine, as white, as comfortable. It totally narrows and limits the unlimitable.
    God is both Father,mother,child,lover,creator, sustainer, compassionate, ad infinitum x ad adinfinitum.
    Maybe this is how God lures us, seduces us into herself… teasing us anew with an infinite experience thatcannot be defined, but can be tasted and enjoyed.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Steve, first of all, thank you for your comment. And like you, rather than worshiping the white God in the sky, I worship the God who is both Father and mother, child and lover, creator and sustainer, among other things. And I love your words: “Maybe this is how God lures us, seduces us into herself… teasing us anew with an infinite experience that cannot be defined, but can be tasted and enjoyed.” Thanks again Steve !!!

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The Black Madonna started to reveal herself to me during meditations, contemplation and dreams a couple of years ago. As I was chanting the words …Oh my dove, in the cleft of the rock, in the secret place of the mountain, let me see your face, let me hear your voice for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely… an image suddenly appeared in my minds eye…so real it was as if she was there in the room with me. It was as if she had resurrected out of the earth itself, as the gown she wore was covered in black earthy soil, and yet she looked so beautiful to me. At first I didn’t understand all of this, so I started researching everything that I could about her, which was rather limited. My sense was and is around these and other experiences I have had, especially as a woman, was that of an invitation to awaken and reclaim so much that has been oppressed and suppressed by patriarchal rule within my faith tradition and spirituality. This led me to discover the lineages and sacred writings of the mystics and the beguines, of which in a mysterious way I sense a deep connection to. What I am discovering is what some call a feminist theology and spirituality within the mystic traditions that is rising to the surface within the collective consciousness of humanity, which is liberating to me as a woman. These experiences I find encouraging in helping me to trust in my own spiritual journey and what I am intuiting within this relationship with the Divine Feminine,… She Who Is, Was and ever shall be…known by names such as the Black Madonna, Lady Wisdom, the Divine Mother, the Holy Spirit, and Hagia Sophia, just to mention a few of them, that reflect her eternal nature, essence and presence. Some voices will not be silenced … as they call forth a listening audience, so existence can begin again.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, once again you have shared a stunning comment of the Divine Feminine in her many guises. Your description was so vivid to me that I too could picture it !!!

  3. Avatar

    The problem with conversations or reflections about feminine or masculine, or gender and sexuality in general, is that we begin to see and think dualistically rather than embracing both/and.

    We must hold all things as they are in unity, lest we lose their essence and goodness. Perennial Truth and Wisdom tells us this ultimate reality, but we must surrender and submit to the Great Mystery that is Divine LOVE (God) to know it in our hearts and experience it in our bodies.

    I am not (yet) a wise theologian, but as a journeying mystic I know this is true. The unity of all things is ultimate reality. Yin and Yang ☯️ remind us this truth as well.

    }:- a.m. “en Christo”

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Patrick, Do you know why the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is so important? Rather than “All lives matter?” Its because in reality all lives do matter, BUT we have not treated black people as if they mattered. The same goes for the treatment of women. I don’t believe we need to be afraid of disparaging patriarchy by emphasizing the feminine. I believe it is only right that the pendulum swings in the direction of women for now, for they have been the ones who have been beat and held down. Think of how long it was till women could vote, or own property, and even to this day the Equal Rights Amendment has still not been made into law. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven a time for oneness and a time for duality–if that’s the only way it can get done…

      1. Avatar

        Quite an AWESOME comment/response!!! It is right that the pendulum swings in a particular direction regarding numerous matters and issues……after all, God is not dead no matter feminine or masculine and change is an inevitable part of nature and creation. Some are sleeping. Some are waking. Thank God not all are sleeping. It is the season for some to wake up and stay woke through this transformative transition.
        The Goddess/God of infinite names and labels requires that it be so……..Thank God! Which ones of US are in the collective that support & look for The Black Madonna with her vast & expansive offerings???

  4. Avatar

    I wonder if the obsession with “enlightenment” has actually been a significant contributor to why the inner journey has been avoided. Always trying to chase away the dark eliminates the discovery of our depths which contain birthing power. Without going there, we are eliminating contact with the great dark cosmic mother that lives within each human since we are a fractal representation of the creative loving womb of the universe.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Martha, I hear what you are saying about our obsession with “enlightenment.” But if we believe, as in Creation Spirituality we do, that life moves along four paths, we may experience enlightenment in the Via Positiva or the Via Creativa but we also experience sometimes of “endarkenment” during our times in the Via Negativa, as well as when we are involved in justice making which is a part of the Via Transformativa. There is definitely truth to be learned and known in the darkness…

  5. Avatar

    Thank you, Matthew, for continually reminding us in so many ways of the downsides of what our civilization has revered for so long: The Enlightenment. In my opinion, there was much good; but in over-emphasizing enlightenment, over-emphasizing the availability of the written word, over-emphasizing scientific facts, we moved away from connection with the earth and mystical knowledge. Over the past couple of years, you have given me insight into the ills of the period we call The Enlightenment (again, not all was ill) and I appreciate your perspective–that we can enter a less dualistic period, a “post-modern period.” One where we cease dividing our world into scientific/rational and mystical/spiritual dimensions–where like the mystics who lived prior to the Black Death we can begin to recover a holistic view of the universe. Thank you.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, You write “Over the past couple of years, you [Matthew Fox] have given me insight into the ills of the period we call The Enlightenment (again, not all was ill) and I appreciate your perspective…” And so do I and thousands others whose lives Matthew has touched. Let us thank God for his voice now and as we read these meditations.

  6. Avatar

    I join others with thanking you for these rich meditations. I also agree with Patrick that we need to be careful about stopping with duality and instead live in unity and both/and. That being said, I would flip Merton’s comments on Hagia Sophia to the power, justice and creative dynamism of the Father coming out of Sophia, rather than vice versa. Of course, it is all of a oneness. But as an elderly feminist, I think that many men are kind of trapped in the masculine viewpoint. I also point out once again the striking similarities between Proverbs 8 and John 1–and note that Sophia seems like a lot more fun!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, thank you for your comment. If you get a chance to see my response to Patrick and thus to you, read my response to Patrick. But I must thank you as “an elderly feminist” for going easy on us men. For the most part, I don’t think we deserve it.

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