Michael Lipson, PhD, Reviews: She Was Always There: Sophia as a Story for Our Time by Signe Schaefer

Just in time for this year of focus on Rudolf Steiner’s Foundation Stone Meditation, Signe Eklund Schaefer has written a most unusual book with at least one unique contribution in regard to that enigmatic and comprehensive meditation. To foreground, or perhaps background, this contribution, Schaefer includes a full reprinting of the Foundation Stone as an appendix. But more on that at the end of the review. The main effect of the book is to welcome us all into Schaefer’s lifelong experience of Sophia, the primordial being of wisdom, a current presence and future promise for humanity. This being has undergone changes and held different names in many cultures–Isis, Sophia, Mary, Gaia, Guan Yin, and others.

The deep investigation of Sophia participates in an essential gift of anthroposophy: to awaken us to the world, this very world, as a world of beings and meanings rather than a world of things. The whole purpose of Rudolf Steiner’s early epistemological work was to deconstruct our thing-oriented, othering, physicalist, and determinist mental structures and to ready the stage for a lifelong exploration of the beings that make up human and universal history, from angelic orders to undines and sylphs. Sophia, in Schaefer’s treatment, has a special place in this world of beings since she participates in all our meetings and knowings.

She Was Always There isn’t the normal spiritual book that rationally builds a case, speculates based on received information, gives a history of a concept, or tells an autobiographical story. Actually, Schaefer’s book does all these things, but with such life that you lose and regain your footing many times while reading. She demonstrates vast learning, but above all, the book manages to convey a living sense of Sophia–the female being of wisdom before wisdom was separate from love, or matter from spirit, or male from female, or, we might say, anthroposophy from theosophy and all other threads in Sophia’s robe.

Many books on spiritual themes make the reader feel they should do or think this or that; Schaefer writes in such a way that instead of “shoulds,” we are given a sense of permission to think, feel, and go our own way, inventing our own prayerful or meditative or sensing approaches to the being of wisdom. She does this by going her own way in the writing. We move with her through exposition, memory (she includes a few of her own journal entries over the decades), myth, and exegesis, shifting with her into different registers of experience.

All this in a book of 114 pages that you can read in a single sitting! Ah, but you’ll underline many passages, dog-ear many pages, and return to it often. Here’s one that struck me (it comes after she recommends the Rückschau exercise):

“And what does any of this have to do with Sophia? She offers a name that works for me for the sense of an enveloping presence in my life that I see as deeper wisdom trying to enlighten my days, calling me to acknowledge the possibility, depth and responsibility implicit in my everyday life. Without pretension, it feels as if both She and I have need of each other...”

When she turns to the Foundation Stone at the end of the book, Schafer unveils one of her boldest intuitions. She asks the simple but shattering question: Who actually speaks the Foundation Stone Meditation? Whose voice is calling to the human soul over and over, exhorting it and wishing humanity well? Who makes these assertions, challenges, and blessings? Who but Sophia herself?

Read this book. Find yourself newly informed, marveling, and convinced.

She Was Always There: Sophia as a Story for Our Time by Signe Schaefer
Steiner Books, 2023

Michael Lipson, PhD, is a psychologist living in Great Barrington, MA. His own latest book is Be: An Alphabet of Astonishment.