To the Limits of our Longing
Communion Reflection for November 19, 2019
Tuesday morning is when it begins. Each week as I sit in silence before the Icon of Sophia in my prayer space,
I am already leaping ahead in my thoughts to that evening’s Reflection for our Communion,
already wondering what theme to choose, or how to proceed with an ongoing topic, such as the Dark Mother…
This morning I drew a blank. Nothing was clear. I read what you had written in emails and on our facebook page, the fruit of your own reflections,
your own experiences… I became aware of a subtle shift in what was being shared in your responses.
You were not reflecting on ideas or thoughts about the Sacred Feminine Presence but on your experience of and with her.
I saw in that moment the new path opening before us, beckoning us on in beauty and joy.
And I knew where I might begin the process by writing of my own experience.
It is Holy Week, April, 2015. The promise of Resurrection is everywhere: in birdsong,
in the first green shoots appearing in the wet earth,
in the budding trees, in the softer air.
A dream comes to me in the night. I am standing in a darkened room where the different aspects of my creative work: my writing,
my ministry with women, the plays I offer, the stories I tell, appear within lighted frames on the walls.
My mentor, Jean Houston is there.
We walk together, looking at each image. Jean tells me she must leave, for it is time for me to travel alone.
I must go further into the darkness of this room where there are no lights.
I sense in the dream that the Sacred Feminine Presence is waiting for me in the darkness.
This is where the dream ends.
Not long afterwards (though at the time I made no connection with the dream), Jean sent an email telling of her intuition
that I should come on the Journey to Greece she was leading in September. I was hesitant to ask my community for this.
Then I recalled the dream. I sensed that the journey to Greece was part of this call to meet the Sacred Feminine.
The weeks in Greece were so rich in insights, experiences, rituals, and healing of archaic wounds that I did not think of the dream again.
On our last morning on the island of Paros in the Aegean, in the time before the ferry departed, I was walking in the town,
disappointed to find that the shops were not yet open… on one narrow street I saw a small building with an open doorway.
I walked inside, found a tiny darkened chapel with lighted red lamps near Icons. On the right wall an Icon of Mary drew me.
I stood spellbound. I felt invited to rededicate my life to the Sacred Feminine as I had done four years earlier.
Words from one of Rilke’s poems rose in my heart, as though spoken by the Sacred Feminine:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Still, I could not go. I kept gazing at the Icon. Then I saw the Child in Mary’s arms.
Icon in chapel on Paros Island, Greece
Suddenly the “Sealskin, Soulskin” story in C.P. Estes' Women Who Run with the Wolves came to me.
I recalled the teaching that when a woman has found her soul, it is her spirit (her son) that she sends to do her work in the world.
I recalled the words that the Sealwoman spoke to her son as she placed him on the shore in the moonlight,
“Only touch what I have touched and I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”
I felt that the Sacred Feminine was promising me the same, as well as inviting me to send my spirit – my work- into the world.
In that small dark chapel on Paros, the circle that had opened with the mysterious dream of the darkened room
where I saw images of my work and was sent in search of the Sacred Feminine, was completed.
I offer this personal experience as an invitation to each of you to revisit moments in your life when you were touched by a Sacred Presence,
one for whom you may have had no name. Until now. May Rilke’s poem speak to your heart.
May each of us “let everything happen to (us): beauty and terror”. May we make “big shadows” where the Sacred One may walk.
May we too embody her, as we “go to the limits of (our) longing.”
Engaging with the Dark Mother
Communion Reflection for November 12, 2019
Each of us began our life on this planet in darkness, within our mother's womb.
The planet herself, our Earth, emerged out of an almost fourteen billion year process that began in primordial darkness.
When we speak of the Sacred feminine Presence, however we name her, we know intuitively that she is part of the fruitful darkness that is needed for every new birthing.
In recent weeks we have been reading and reflecting upon the gift of darkness in our lives,
on our call to "do our work" in the birthing of new life, however it must come, in the darkness of our lives, of our time on this planet.
This week we add the call to deep work given to us by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her name for this Dark Feminine presence is "Wild Woman":
The wild force of our soul-psyches is shadowing us for a reason. There is a saying from medieval times that if you are in a descent and pursued by a great power ---
and if this great power is able to snag your shadow, then you too shall become a power in your own right.
The great wild force of our own psyches means to place its paw on our shadows, and in that manner she claims us as her own.
Once the Wild Woman snags our shadows, we belong to ourselves again, we are in our own right environ and our rightful home.
“Most women are not afraid of this, in fact, they crave the reunion.
If they could this very moment find the lair of the Wild Woman, they would dive right in and jump happily into her lap.
They only need to be set in the right direction, which is always down down into one’s own work, down into one’s own inner life,
down through the tunnel to the lair.
We began our search for the wild, whether as girl-children or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavour
we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near. Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream.
Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards....
and we knew that something blessed had passed our way.
We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground,
and we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.
We could not turn from it, but rather followed, learning more and more how to leap, how to run, how to shadow all things that came across our psychic ground.
We began to shadow the Wild Woman and she lovingly shadowed us in return. She howled and we tried to answer her,
even before we remembered how to speak her language, and even before we exactly knew to whom we were speaking.
And she waited for us, and encouraged us. This is the miracle of the wild and instinctual nature within.
Without full knowing, we knew. Without full sight, we understood that a miraculous and loving force existed beyond the boundaries of ego alone.
The things that have been lost to women for centuries can be found again by following the shadows they cast....
We women are building a motherland; each with her own plot of soil eked from a night of dreams, and a day of work.
We are spreading this soil in larger and larger circles, slowly, slowly.
One day it will be a continuous land, a resurrected land, come back from the dead.
Munda de la Madre, psychic motherworld, coexisting and coequal with all other worlds.
This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.
It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.
(Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, 457-9)
May each of us, graced to live in this time of fecund darkness, know its profound value
and work to build a "world worth living in" a motherland woven
"from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones."
Teilhard and the Cauldron of the Cailleach
Communion Reflection for November 5, 2019
We are moving further into the sacred season that follows the Feast of Samhain, the feminine womb time of darkness.
This is the time of the Cailleach, the Ancient Crone, the dark mother who calls on us to change our ways,
to turn away from destructive behaviours that harm our planet and all that lives within and upon her.
It is the season of the great Cauldron of the Cailleach where the things that are unpalatable, the attitudes and activities that are endangering life, are to be transformed.
Where we ourselves are to be transformed.
“How might Teilhard’s teachings serve as a guiding light for this dark season?” I wonder.
As if in answer, these words leap out at me: “For Teilhard, autumn rather than spring was the happiest time of year.” Intrigued, I read on:
“It is almost as though the shedding of leaves opened his soul to the limitless space of the up-ahead and the not-yet...”
(John Haught, “Teilhard de Chardin: Theology for an Unfinished Universe” Teilhard to Omega Ilia Delio, ed. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2014)
A scientist, a mystic, rather than a theologian, Teilhard deplored the way that theology continued to reflect on God
as though the scientific fact of a still –emerging universe was either unknown or irrelevant.
Sixty years after Teilhard’s death, theologians are still engaged in the work of re-imagining a God
who calls us forward into an as-yet-unknown reality.
And yet, even a limited grasp, a glimpse, of what Teilhard saw of the “up- ahead and the not-yet” is enough to inspire hope.
Neither scientist nor theologian, I am a storyteller. I know how a change in the story has power to alter and illuminate our lives.
Changing the story that once shaped our lives changes everything. If we live in a story of a completed universe where once upon a perfect time
our first parents, ecstatically happy in a garden of unimagined beauty, destroyed everything by sin, what have we to hope for?
The best is already irretrievably lost. Under sentence of their guilt we can only struggle through our lives, seeking forgiveness,
trusting in redemption, saved only at a terrible cost to the One who came to suffer and die for us.
The suffering around us still speaks to us of punishment for that first sin,
and the burden of continuing to pay for it with our lives…. Despair and guilt are constant companions.
Hope in that story rests in release from the suffering of life into death.
But if we live the story as Teilhard saw it, seeing ourselves in an unfinished universe that is still coming into being, everything changes.
In a cosmos that is still a work in progress, we are called to be co-creators, moving with the universe into a future filled with hope.
Our human hearts long for joy, and we love to hear stories where suffering and struggle lead to happiness, to fulfillment, to love.
The possibility that there could be peace, reconciliation, compassion, mercy and justice to an increasing degree on our planet
is a profound incentive for us to work with all our energy for the growth of these values.
The call to co-create in an unfinished universe broadens and deepens our responsibility: Our sense of the creator, the work of the Holy Spirit,
and the redemptive significance of Christ can grow by immense orders of magnitude. The Love that rules the stars
will now have to be seen as embracing two hundred billion galaxies, a cosmic epic of fourteen billion years’ duration,
and perhaps even a multiverse. Our thoughts about Christ and redemption will have to extend over the full breadth of cosmic time and space. (Haught, 13)
Haught believes that “if hope is to have wings and life to have zest,” we need a new theological vision that “opens up a new future for the world.”
For Teilhard that future was convergence into God. His hope was founded in the future for he grasped the evolutionary truth
that the past has been an increasing complexity of life endowed with “spirit”.
At the extreme term of the convergent movement of the universe from past multiplicity toward unity up ahead,
Teilhard locates “God-Omega”. Only by being synthesized into the unifying creativity and love of God does the world become fully intelligible. (18)
Teilhard saw God as creating the world by drawing it from up ahead, so that the really real is to be sought in the not yet.
And this means that: The question of suffering, while still intractable, opens up a new horizon of hope
when viewed in terms of an unfinished and hence still unperfected universe. (p.19)
Haught believes that the concept of an unfinished universe can strengthen hope and love: … the fullest release of human love
is realistically possible only if the created world still has possibilities that have never before been realized….
Only if the beloved still has a future can there be an unreserved commitment to the practice of charity, justice and compassion. (19)
Teilhard’s embrace of an emerging universe is one of the reasons why his writings often lift the hearts of his scientifically educated readers
and make room for a kind of hope…that they had never experienced before when reading and meditating on other theological and spiritual works. (20)
Today, November 5, 2019, a declaration, signed by 11,000 scientists, was released to the media.
It stated that we are experiencing a planetary climate emergency.
Rather than plunging us into despair, into guilt-ridden inaction, this intensifies our call to do what we can.
Working together communally, nationally, and internationally we can face this moment with courage.
The path has been set before us by scientists, by leaders in the ecological movement, by writers and thinkers who have known what is coming.
Even those signing the declaration believe it is still possible to act to meet this challenge.
Teilhard teaches us to see with clarity that even in this crisis we are being drawn forward by the Christic Presence,
by the Love that is up ahead in a future that awaits us.
Knowing we are partnered and empowered for this time, this work, will give us the hope we need to do what we must.
The Womb of This Present Darkness
Communion Reflection for October 29, 2019
The call to awaken to the presence of Sophia comes at a time when much of our planet struggles with darkness.
Live-streaming news gives us an immediate knowing of disasters, disease, wars, weather-related devastation that can be overwhelming.
Yet the greater the darkness, the greater is our awareness of the need for light, the deeper our appreciation for it,
and the more compelling our own call to be co-creators of light.
As these shorter days in autumn prepare us for the yearly plunge into winter’s darkness, we are entering into the sacred time of Sophia.
Our ancient ancestors, who knew almost nothing of events beyond their immediate homes, knew about the rhythms of the earth,
the apparent movements of sun, moon and stars, the cycle of the seasons, with an accuracy of observation that fills us with awe.
The early peoples of Ireland were so deeply attuned to the shifting balance of light and darkness that they could build a monument
to catch the first rays of sunrise on the winter Solstice. The Newgrange mound in Ireland, predating the Egyptian Pyramids,
receives the Solstice light through a tiny aperture above the threshold.
Like the Egyptians and other ancient peoples, the Celts wove their spirituality from the threads of light and darkness
that shaped their lives.
Their spiritual festivals moved through a seasonal cycle in harmony with the earth’s yearly dance,
associating the bright sunlit days with masculine energy, the darker time with contemplative feminine energy.
For the Celts, the days we are entering this week, days we name Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’,
were one festival known as Samhain (Saw’ wane). These three days marked the year’s end with a celebration
that served as a time-out before the new year. The bright masculine season with its intense activity
of planting, growing, harvesting was over. The quieter days of winter were ahead, “the time of darkness,
the realm of the goddess where the feminine energy principle is experienced
and the season of non-doing is initiated.” (Dolores Whelan: Ever Ancient, Ever New, 98-9)
We in the twenty-first century may still draw on this ancient wisdom to live in harmony with the earth
as the Northern Hemisphere of our planet tilts away from the sun. We can welcome this time of darkness
as a season of renewal when earth and humans rest. Our energy can be gathered inwards to support what is happening
deep within the earth and deep within our souls. The energy gathered in this season will be used
when the winter has passed and spring has brought new life to the land and the people.
We too can accept the invitation of Samhain to release whatever is not completed at this time,
letting go of the light and the activity of sun-time, surrendering ourselves to the restful moon-time,
the darkness of holy waiting. Living within the wisdom of the earth’s seasons, we move towards
the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, embracing a journey of deep surrender.
This is Sophia time. Within her sacred cauldron, our lives and our desires for our planet find a place of gestation,
a safe darkness where, as with the caterpillar in a chrysalis, the great work of transformation of our souls
and of all of life can happen. In this sacred season, this womb-time, we curl up near the fireside of our hearts.
From Sophia’s cauldron, we shall emerge in springtime in an interdependent co-arising with the earth,
knowing ourselves renewed in soul, body and spirit.
Image of the Black Madonna, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Wisconsin
The Jungian Writer Sylvia Senensky describes our calling, our task:
We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness
of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain. Through her we know the mystery of existence
and the sacredness of the cycles of life. We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.
When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core,
and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face,
that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.
…. She is calling upon us, each in our way, to do our inner work, to become her allies,
to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow
to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet….
Love attracts love. If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy,
our actions will begin to mirror our feelings. We will come home to ourselves.
(Sylvia Senensky Healing and Empowering the Feminine Chiron Publications, Wilmette Illinois 2003)
Walking with Teilhard de Chardin
Communion Reflection for October 22, 2019
For several weeks, we have been companioned by the presence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
through the inspired and inspiring writings of Kathleen Duffy (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).
This week we will see Teilhard through the eyes of someone who knew him, walked with him for a time,
engaged in conversation with him, encountering his transformative view of reality.
In her autobiography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), Jean Houston gives us a perspective on Teilhard
that is deeply personal and insightful. The great palaeontologist and mystic becomes for us, through Jean’s experience,
a warm, enchanting, human presence.
At the time of their tumultuous first meeting in the early 1950’s, Teilhard was living in a Jesuit Residence in New York City,
having been exiled from his native France, silenced, forbidden to write or to teach his advanced ideas about evolution.
Jean, a high school student, heartbroken over her parents’ impending divorce, had taken to running everywhere. Then, one day…
…on 84th Street and Park Avenue, I ran into an old man and knocked the wind out of him. This was serious.
I was a great big overgrown girl, and he was a rather frail gentleman in his seventies.
But he laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech,
“Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, thinking of my unhappiness. “It sure looks that way.”
“Well, bon voyage!” he said.
“Bon voyage!” I answered and sped on my way. About a week later, I was walking down Park Avenue with my fox terrier, Champ,
and again I met the old gentleman.
“Ah,” he greeted me, “my friend the runner, and with a fox terrier.
I knew one like that many years ago in France. Where are you going?”
“Well, sir,” I replied, “I’m taking Champ to Central Park. I go there most afternoons to … think about things.”
“I will go with you sometimes,” he informed me. “I will take my constitutional.”
And thereafter, for about a year and a half, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together
as often as several times a week in Central Park.
He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which as far as I could make out was Mr. Tayer.
The walks were magical and full of delight. Mr. Tayer seemed to have absolutely no self-consciousness,
and he was always being carried away by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time he suddenly fell on his knees in Central Park,
his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, “Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhhh! ”
I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response.
“How beautiful it is,” he remarked, “this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite!
Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis.”
He then regarded me with interest.
“Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply-faced teenager.
“Then think of your own metamorphosis,” he suggested. “What will you be when you become a butterfly? Un papillon, eh?
What is the butterfly of Jeanne?”
What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl, a question for puberty rites, initiations into adulthood,
and other new ways of being. His comic-tragic face nodded helpfully until I could answer.
“I …don’t really know anymore, Mr. Tayer.”
“Yes, you do know. It is inside of you, like the butterfly is inside of the caterpillar.”
He then used a word that I heard for the first time, a word that became essential to my later work.
“What is the entelechy of Jeanne? A great word, a Greek word, entelechy. It means the dynamic purpose that is coded in you.
It is the entelechy of this acorn on the ground to be an oak tree. It is the entelechy of that baby over there to be grown-up human being.
It is the entelechy of the caterpillar to undergo metamorphosis and become a butterfly. So what is the butterfly, the entelechy, of Jeanne?
"You know, you really do.”
“Well… I think that…” I looked up at the clouds, and it seemed that I could see in them the shapes of many countries.
A fractal of my future emerged in the cumulus nimbus floating overhead.
“I think that I will travel all over the world and … and … help people find their en-tel-echy.”
Mr. Tayer seemed pleased. “Ah, Jeanne, look back at the clouds! God’s calligraphy in the sky!
All that transforming, moving, changing, dissolving, becoming.
"Jeanne, become a cloud and become all the forms that ever were.” (A Mythic Life, 141-3)
Years later, as Jean looked back on Teilhard’s effect on her life, as well as that of a few other such beings, she would write:
To be looked at by these people is to be gifted with the look that engenders.
You feel yourself primed at the depths by such seeing.
Something so tremendous and yet so subtle wakes up inside that you are able to release
the defeats and denigrations of years.
If I were to describe it further, I would have to speak of unconditional love
joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one.
(The Possible Human, 123, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1982)
Teilhard: Guidance for Life on Planet Earth
Communion Reflection for October 15, 2019
We have been travelling with Teilhard for several weeks, spiralling with his writings and wisdom, through the five circles that he visited over and over in his life, seeking wisdom.
From his childhood longing to find a substance that would last through his growing awareness of a mysterious presence within all that exists on earth,
through his explorations as a scientist into the secrets of energy, to his yearning to know the spirit within all of life, within himself,
he spiralled to the deepest level where he encountered the presence of a love that would stay with him all his days.
What have we learned?
Do you, as I do, sense a desire to go back to the beginning? To revisit these explorations of Teilhard’s insights, longings and discoveries
through which we have been expertly guided by Kathleen Duffy? Might we on a second reading begin to grasp the sacred wonder,
the unspeakable gift Teilhard has offered us through his life’s work?
This, of course, we each may do now or at any time in the future by revisiting the Reflection pages on our Creative Fire website…
I would like to propose something different by telling you of an unexpected “Teilhardian” experience I had a few days ago.
Here in the Valley of the Madawaska River, after days of slow emergence from a branch here and there of golden yellow, fiery orange and deep blood red,
suddenly every deciduous tree around me exploded into full vibrant colour.
The day was warm and sunny. It might have been early summer, but for the absence of mosquitoes, black flies and high levels of sun-radiation.
I was walking in the nearby field delighting in the colours, camera at the ready, aimed high to catch the lofty golden crowns where they rested against the sky’s deep blue.
I was about to move on when I sensed something drawing me back. I lowered my gaze from tree tops towards the cluster of birches and lower trees to seek the source of this drawing.l I found I was looking at a slender birch. As clearly as if it had a human voice, it was saying, “Look at me. Take my picture!” So I did.
one birch stands tall
What just happened? I wondered, as I continued on to the lake taking more photos. Now I ask that question again, dimly grasping that to take Teilhard at his word,
we may acknowledge some mysterious presence of spirit in all that exists on our planet and in our universe.
Teilhard himself honoured the questions that arose, rather than demanding answers to every mystery, as Kathleen Duffy tells us in her final chapter:
Each branch of the spiral brought him into contact with new questions, questions that arose from life….Each time his knowledge of the physical world expanded, he found it necessary to reshape his understanding of the transcendent to the shape of the universe that was being revealed to him. He discovered that “truth …can be preserved only by being continually enlarged” (Writings in Time of War, 140). By engaging questions that were so intimate and by remaining faithful to his inner voice, he unearthed hidden mystical treasures as well as insights that have universal appeal. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 126)
As I write this, a different question arises, as it has also arisen for others in my country, over these recent weeks of increasingly divisive,
and at times aggressively hostile, political discourse as we prepare for next Monday’s Federal Election. Where is all this coming from?
“By chance,” (if such a moment ever comes “by chance”) while I was reading this final chapter in Kathleen Duffy’s book, I came upon these words from Teilhard:
Let us look at the earth around us. What is happening under our eyes with the mass of peoples? What is the cause of this disorder in society, this uneasy agitation, these swelling waves, these whirling and mingling currents and these turbulent and formidable new impulses? Mankind is visibly passing through a crisis of growth. Mankind is becoming dimly aware of its shortcoming and its capacities…. It sees the universe growing luminous like the horizon just before sunrise. It has a sense of premonition and of expectation.
(The Divine Milieu, 153)
Teilhard‘s earthly life ended on Easter Sunday, 1955. Where had his questing spirit brought him through a lifetime of seeking?
Kathleen Duffy responds in the closing paragraph of her luminous book: In the end, nothing was lost. Everything of value found a place in his unique synthesis. Everything held together in the light of the Cosmic Christ. Each insight represented a spiritual advance that led finally to a tangible awareness of the Divine Grasp…Teilhard’s inner music sustained him, his love for Earth nurtured him, his interactions with others supported him, and his love for God compelled him to remain faithful. It was fidelity to his questions that made it possible for him, near the end of his life, to say to his fellow Jesuit and good friend, Pierre Leroy, “I really feel that now I’m always living in God’s presence.” (TM, 126)
I wonder what advice Teilhard would give for our lives today on Planet Earth? These words of his might guide our way of experiencing life,
looking deeply at what is, and asking the questions that arise in the depths of our being:
(People) of earth, steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters, for it is the source of your life and your youthfulness.
Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the universe. It is to be found in the love of that unique, boundless Essence which penetrates the inmost depths of all things and there, from within those depths, deeper than the mortal zone where individuals and multitudes struggle, works upon them and moulds them. Purity lies in a chaste contact with that which is "the same in all".
‘Oh, the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth!
‘Bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters.
For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.’
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from The Hymn of the Universe, 1919)
Teilhard de Chardin: Spiralling into the Circle of Person
Communion Reflection for October 8, 2019
The “piece of iron” of my first days has long been forgotten.
In its place it is the Consistence of the Universe, in the form of Omega Point,
that I now hold, concentrated …into one single indestructible centre,
WHICH I CAN LOVE. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter, 39)
Teilhard describes his mystical journey as a spiral through which he moves into a deepening reality, visiting, revisiting, five circles that map his journey into the heart of matter
and the heart of God (“The Mystical Milieu”, Writings in Time of War, 115-49). We have already explored, with Kathleen Duffy as our travel guide (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis
Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014), Teilhard’s Circles of Presence, Consistence, Energy and Spirit. Now at the deepest swirl of the spiral we come to his Circle of Person.
Seeking the elusive force that animates the cosmos, Teilhard stepped into the fifth circle, searching for its source. What image might assist?
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had once allured him but now, as he sought a more universal image, the figure of Christ and the world began to melt
before his eyes into a single vibrant surface (Hymn of the Universe, 42-43). Surrounded by a cosmic tapestry of intricately woven thread,
Christ’s face shone with exquisite beauty.
Trails of phosphorescence gushed forth and radiated outward toward infinity. "The entire universe was vibrant " (HU, 43);
the cosmos had acquired a nervous system, a circulatory system, a heart.
Teilhard was consumed by the fire streaming from this universal center and resolved to go deeper (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110).
Stepping into the fifth circle, Teilhard encountered a shadowy figure, a feminine presence: The figure of Sophia emerged from the mists.
She was radiant; her facial expression comforting. Teilhard recognized her as “the beauty running through the world….” (Writings in Time of War, 192)….
It is through her power, the power of love, that all things come together. Hidden within the very heart of matter,
she ”bestirred the original mass, almost without form…and instilled even into the atoms…
a vague but obstinate yearning to emerge from the solitude of their nothingness.”
She is “the bond that thus held together the foundations of the universe“(W, 192-3),
and she continually draws Earth into “passionate union” with the Divine. (W, 200)….
She is the raiment who is forming as she is being formed, continually creating the mystical milieu in which the forces of love
encourage all things to become one….The radiance from her countenance becomes brighter still when it shines out from the eyes of each human face….
Icon of Sophia on a church wall in Greece
The tenderness of her compassion and her holy charm aroused Teilhard’s passion for the Divine and sensitized his heart.
He was enthralled with “the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth,” as it flows into the heart of the cosmos,
toward its very center. He yearned to take hold of her, yet whenever he tried, he found that she eluded his grasp.
With great alacrity, he followed her lead as she guided him through the “luminous mist hanging over the abyss”
and propelled him toward the heights into freedom. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110-111)
Teilhard brought the heart of a mystic, the eyes and sensibilities of a poet, the rigorous training of a scientist
to his observations, his intuitions, his deep knowing so that his “vague intuition of universal unity became over time
a rational and well-defined awareness of a presence…the presence of a radiant center
that has all along been alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union…”(TM, 112)
Lured by the passionate love that this presence awakened within him, Teilhard experienced the universe
“ablaze with the fire of divine love, suffused with the elements of a presence
which beckons, summons and embraces” all of humanity, so that he was himself living “steeped in its burning layers”(Divine Milieu, 112).
Re- reading the letters of Saint Paul, Teilhard saw more clearly Christ’s evolutionary role: In “an explosion of dazzling flashes” (The Heart of Matter, 50),
Cosmic Convergence coupled with Christic Emergence and became two phases of a single evolutionary movement.
The implosion caused by the coincidence of Christ with the Omega of the Universe releases “a light so intense that it transfigured…
the very depths of the World” (HM, 82-3). All of the knowledge and love that Teilhard had for the universe was suddenly
transformed into knowledge and love for the God who is embedded within every fragment of matter (TM, 113).
Teilhard’s mysticism, now grounded in the Circle of Person, completed his synthesis.
He was convinced that the universe would both continue to complexify, and become more centered in the Body of Christ
until all would be one in Christ.
He now yearned to adore, which for him meant to “lose oneself in the unfathomable…
to give of one’s deepest to that whose depth has no end” ( D, 127-8).
His desire was that all humanity might open their arms “to call down and welcome the Fire” as…” a single body and a single soul in charity” (Divine Milieu, 144).
“Drawn to follow the road of fire” (The Heart of Matter, 74) Teilhard “dedicated himself body and soul
to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and of love” (TM, 116).
Teilhard de Chardin: The Drift Towards Spirit
Communion Reflection for October 1, 2019
“The universe, as a whole, cannot ever be brought to a halt or turn back in the movement
which draws it towards a greater degree of freedom and consciousness”
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Christianity and Evolution, 109).
How did Teilhard move from examining rock layers to exploring the inner dynamics of the universe and of the human spirit?
How did he reach his conviction that matter is moving towards spirit, that everything is “driven, from its beginning,
by an urge toward a little more freedom, a little more power, more truth?” (Writings in Time of War)
Kathleen Duffy writes that Teilhard “began by plumbing the depths of his own being, plunging into the current that was his life
so that he could chart the development of his person from the very beginning.
He wanted to see whether, and if so, how, the principle of Creative Union was operating in his own cosmic story.” (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 83)
Teilhard himself tells us of that inner journey: And so, for the first time in my life…I took the lamp and, leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came -- arising I know not from where – the current that I dare to call my life. (Divine Milieu 76-77)
artwork by Mary Southard, CSJ
On this deep inner journey, Teilhard felt “the distress characteristic to a particle adrift in the universe” (DM, 78).
Kathleen Duffy describes his experience: The immensity and grandeur of the universe overwhelmed him. As he descended back through the eons of time, the landscape became less and less familiar; patterns came and went at random and then disappeared. Finally, near the beginning of time, all cosmic structure dissolved into a sea of elementary particles. Troubled, at first, by the apparent lack of unity, Teilhard reversed his direction, exploring instead the cosmic becoming. As he moved forward through time, he watched elementary particles fuse into fragile streams. Amazed by how these streams continued to coalesce, he focused on those that would eventually form his own current, noting the way they converged. Extending “from the initial starting point of the cosmic processes…to the meeting of my parents” (Writings in Time of War, 228), rivulets were growing in strength and beauty. As time progressed, they came alive – they began cascading in torrents, swirling in eddies, pulsating with life and with spiritual power. Teilhard could feel the energy of life gushing from his core. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 84)
From this mythic/mystical inner journey through his own being Teilhard began to trace the evolution of spirit within matter.
It became clear to him that “a certain mass of elementary consciousness becomes imprisoned in terrestrial matter at the beginning” (Human Phenomenon, 37).
Contemplating the first cells bubbling up from the ocean floor, Teilhard was aware of more than the evolution of matter; he realized that he was also witnessing the evolution of spirit…. The more complex matter becomes, the more capable it is of embodying a more developed consciousness or spirit (TM 87).
We hear an excitement in Teilhard’s words as he sees the implications of this: And here is the lightning flash that illuminates the biosphere to its depth …. Everything is in motion, everything is raising itself, organizing itself in a single direction, which is that of the greatest consciousness (The Vision of the Past, 72).
Seeing the evolutionary process moving in this way, Teilhard is assured that: The universe as a whole, cannot ever be brought to a halt or turn back in the movement which draws it towards a greater degree of freedom and consciousness (Christianity and Evolution, 109).
If we also feel that “lightning flash”, that stirring of excitement and promise, how will our everyday lives change?
For starters, we must free ourselves from that tangle of despair and helpless that ensnares us when we look only at the challenges,
(immense and awe –inspiring as they are), and free up our energies to look at the 14.8 billion years of evolution that have brought us to this threshold.
We may trust that we are made for these times, that we have evolved to face this crisis, that we have all that we require to do what is demanded of us.
For why else was Teilhard sent to us as a guide in this moment in human history?
Teilhard de Chardin: The Circle of Spirit
Communion Reflection for September 24, 2019
The internal face of the world comes to light and reflects upon itself
in the very depths of our human consciousness. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
We continue our spiral journey, guided by Kathleen Duffy, through Teilhard’s Circles of Presence, Consistence and Energy towards his discoveries in the Circle of Spirit. As I begin today’s Reflection, lured by Teilhard’s vision for our planet, his hope for the spiritualization of consciousness, I hear another voice that breaks through: the voice of teenager Greta Thunberg who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a boat without the aid of fossil fuels to address World Leaders at the UN yesterday.
Her words to us: “HOW DARE YOU?” weave themselves through Teilhard’s words as counterpoint, a drumbeat, a call to action, a reminder of how little we have advanced on the path that Teilhard showed us. There was anguish on her face, passion in her words, a tone of despair as she cried out, “This is all wrong. I should not be here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.”
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” Greta Thunberg
Asking why governments have failed to act on thirty years of scientific evidence that show the earth hurtling towards disaster, Greta expressed her inability to believe those who claim they understand the crisis. If you have truly understood, she told the assembly, and yet have not acted, “then you are evil”, and that she refuses to believe.
With Greta’s words still echoing, I begin, not with Teilhard’s own journey through the darkness of feeling himself like “a particle adrift in the universe”, before he became aware of the consiousness within matter, but instead with the ending of Kathleen Duffy’s Chapter, “The Circle of Spirit” (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014). Here I find hope strong enough to support this NOW moment in our planetary story, a moment for which Teilhard intended to prepare us.
Inspired by Kathleen Duffy’s research into Teilhard's thought, I would like to suggest what he might have said to young Greta had they walked together in Central Park (as a teenaged Jean Houston had walked there with Teilhard in the 1950’s).
"Greta," (I hear Teilhard say) "you showed great courage in your words today to the UN. You challenged the pretence of understanding as well as the despair that leads to paralysis by demanding that if the leaders understand the crisis, they must act. You told them they must not look to young people for hope because this is now their own task, their Great Work. You have shown them the face of courage, matched with deeds, by crossing the ocean on a long journey unaided by fossil fuels.
“I believe firmly that nothing is more dangerous for the world than resignation and false realism. Though you are deeply distressed, you have chosen courageous action over despair. Know this, Greta; the Universe is drifting towards spirit in a forward movement that cannot ever be stopped. It is moving towards greater freedom and consciousness.
“The Internet, a technology I glimpsed in my lifetime, has allowed people around the planet to hear your words, even to watch your expression, your eyes, as you spoke yesterday. And yet not only your words, but your deep passion, your challenge, have entered the hearts of those who listened, and have entered the noosphere, a weaving of soul I imagined that gently wraps itself around the planet, its golden threads of spirit, its crimson threads of matter, intricately entwined. You, my dear brave Greta, are a weaver in the noosphere.
"The noosphere is conscious of itself, capable of collaboration, of spiritual relationship, and of sympathy, and thus of counteracting the dissolution brought on by individualization …though it is a fragile envelope, because of its capacity for relationship, it can overcome the tendency to fragmentation. I see it as the sphere of the conscious unity of souls…. I would call it “the Soul of the Earth”. You yourself are living the same vision, a young woman who understands that it is the capacity for relationship, for union, that brings about growth, that must be our greatest source of hope.
"Moving from the individual to the collective is the most crucial challenge facing human energy. For the work can be done only if humanity participates in the forward movement and each person can be saved only by becoming one with the universe.
"My dear Greta, may you keep a zest for life, a passion for the whole and above all a flame of expectation for the awakening of full human potential. Only faith in the future will give us the motivation and the energy to overcome the obstacles to unity. We shall direct our energy to the creativity required to live the dream of the future.
"Keep developing a deep sense of yourself, Greta, the true self that allowed you to speak truth to power before the United Nations, unshaken by applause or criticism or any need for adulation. In your growth, be free to move beyond all boundaries, all structures and strictures that no longer serve the Great Work. Be like the cosmos as you continually develop new forms. I so look forward to what you shall become Greta, and to what you will achieve with your passion as you weave with the noosphere.
"And trust me in this, Greta, for I have passed through great darkness to come into the light that does not grow dim. Earth's story is not ended. The Universe is not yet finished. Earth is moving towards wholeness, her people towards oneness.”
In gratitude to Kathleen Duffy for her own great work in bringing the essence of Teilhard’s spirit to us, I close with her words:
As co-creators in the ongoing evolution of life and spirit, the future of the cosmos depends on the choices that we make, the effort that we exert, the work that we do….The Great Work consists in providing impetus for the transformation into greater consciousness, promoting the cultural transition through which we as a species are slowly moving, fostering the next major phase transition in human history. It calls us to assess our impact, to take responsibility for our actions, and to forward the cosmic project in the direction of spirit. (TM 97, 106)
Teilhard’s Discoveries in The Circle of Energy
Communion Reflection for September 17, 2019
Kathleen Duffy’s exploration of Teilhard’s Circle of Energy (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books Maryknoll, NY 2014) shows the uniqueness of his mystic path.
Rather than fleeing the earth, Teilhard seeks the sacred in the deep heart of life on Earth in all its wonder and terror,
and in the fiery depths of the cosmos, as it cycles through destruction and rebirth.
Touched by the intricate and beautiful structure of the cosmos and yearning to be possessed by the Sacred Presence that fills it…
Teilhard continued his mystical journey, ever searching for the supreme tangible reality. As he stepped into the third circle, he found the cosmos ablaze with activity.
The Divine Presence that had been alluring him had suddenly acquired a new aspect—Energy. (TM 55)
Teilhard was stirred by the evolutionary story, a story whose creativity and energy were shown to him in the layers of rock, in the depths of the earth,
as he worked as a geologist and paleontologist. Enthralled by the emergence of living organic matter from inorganic, Teilhard writes:
See how (Earth’s) shades are changing. From age to age its colors intensify.
Something is going to burst out on the juvenile Earth. Life! See it is life!”
(The Human Phenomenon, 38, translation Sara Appleton-Weber, Portland OR: Sussex Academic Press, 1999)
Teilhard imaged evolution as a tapestry whose threads revealed “the amazing energy at work at the heart of the cosmos” (TM 59).
He describes this tapestry as: endless and untearable, so closely woven in one piece that there is not one single knot in it
that does not depend upon the whole fabric (Science and Christ, 79, trans. Rene Hague New York, Harper and Row, 1968).
Teilhard saw that since the beginning of time complex structures have been emerging from the union of simpler ones:
“a thrust towards union seems to be coded into the very fabric of the cosmos” (TM 60).
As his awareness of the complexity and interconnectedness of the Universe deepened, Teilhard could see that these qualities lead to understanding our global life:
...No elemental thread in the universe is wholly independent…of its neighboring threads (The Future of Man, 87, trans. Norman Denny, New York: Harper and Row, 1964).
For “just as the simplest vibration of a single cosmic tapestry thread affects the whole fabric, so local interactions can be felt on a global scale” (TM, 70).
Teilhard came to know the importance of considering the whole in order to grasp the order that lies under the appearance of disorder.
He intuitively understood that “deep down there is in the substance of the cosmos a primordial disposition …for self-arrangement and self-involution” (Heart of Matter, 33).
Yet Teilhard knew in his life what today’s scientists continue to explore: the “transition region between the two extremes of ordered stability and chaotic instability called
the edge of chaos” (TM 73). In the trenches of World War 1, the horror in which he was immersed still allowed for “feelings of freedom, unanimity, and exhilaration” (TM 75).
Because he understood that “the self-organization of the world progresses only by dint of countless attempts to grope its way”
(Christianity and Evolution, 187, trans Rene Hague, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), Teilhard saw the mystic must also “test every barrier, try every path,
plumb every abyss” (The Divine Milieu, 70, New York, Harper and Row, 1960).
Moving through the Circle of Energy, Teilhard became aware of the universe as “alive, vibrant, filled with Divine Energy and solidly enduring….
undergoing a cosmogenesis…slowly moving it toward greater complexity and deeper union” (TM, 75).
This deep knowing led Teilhard to see his own sufferings as part of the larger story: Putting his personal suffering into a cosmic perspective,
he turned his attention to the pain and suffering that pervades the evolutionary story, a story that is rife with misfortune,
struggle, disease, and death: natural disasters beset Earth on every side; predators prey on more vulnerable species;
changing environmental conditions cause many species to become extinct; within the human community, war and oppression continue to rage.
It is not only humans who suffer. Every part of the cosmos bears the scars of the chaos and tragedy that accompany the evolutionary process (TM, 76-7).
Within the cosmic story, Teilhard’s mystic path would become one of uniting with “the Divine Fire at work at the heart of matter” (TM 78)
Earth’s story had shown Teilhard that the Divine is continuing to shape the universe and therefore human action may
“channel … the whole of the World’s drive towards the Beautiful and the Good” (Heart of Matter, 204).
Seeing the “sacred duty” of working with Divine Energy, Teilhard vowed: “I shall work together with your action…. to your deep inspiration…
I shall respond by taking great care never to stifle nor distort nor waste my power to love and to do” (The Divine Milieu, 79).
In a letter written to a friend during his work as a geologist, Teilhard describes a moment of mystic knowing: … this contact with the real does me good.
And then, amid the complexity and immobility of the rocks, there rise suddenly toward me “gusts of being,”
sudden and brief fits of awareness of the laborious unification of things, and it is no longer myself thinking, but the Earth acting.
It is infinitely better (Letters to Two Friends 1926-1952, 73, translated by Helen Weaver, edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen, New York: New American Library, 1967).
Teilhard’s mystic path led him to the heart of the earth: He was convinced that he must steep himself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery water,
plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, struggle in its currents, and drink of its waters. Earth was the source of his life:
through the world Divine Energy enveloped him, penetrated him, and created him.
Because Earth had cradled him long ago in his preconscious existence, he knew that the Earth would now raise him up to God. (TM 80-1)
”What Holds Everything Together?” Teilhard’s Search for Consistence
Communion Reflection for September 10, 2019
Everywhere there are traces of, and a yearning for,
a unique support, a unique and absolute soul,
a unique reality in which other realities are brought together in synthesis,
as stable and universal as matter, as simple as spirit.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, New York, Harper and Row, 1968)
a unique and absolute soul ... in which other realities are brougnt together in synthesis
Teilhard’s Life Journey spiralled through five circles. We have glimpsed his discoveries in the Circle of Presence where the loveliness of earth lured and enchanted him. Guided by Kathleen Duffy through her book Teilhard’s Mysticism (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2014), we now explore Teilhard’s search in the Circle of Consistence where “he focused not only on the beauty of nature but also on the properties and structure of the cosmos as a whole “(39).
Pierre is four years old, living in a family deeply grieving the loss of a child, his sibling.
His mother is cutting his hair, tossing the shorn locks into the fire.
Before his eyes, the boy sees part of himself vanish.
In such moments a life’s work may begin. For Teilhard, it began with a search for what can last… He began to collect bits of iron, until rust betrayed his trust in metal. Walking with his father over the hills of the Auvergne near his home, he found something that would endure. He fell in love with rocks.
Duffy writes that “his choice to abandon his collection of iron scraps for rock was fortunate since it led him from mere rock collection to the study of the Earth’s crust and eventually expanded his thinking to the planetary scale”(40).
Later in life, Teilhard would reflect: It was precisely through the gateway that the substitution of Quartz for Iron opened for my groping mind into the vast structures of the Planet and of Nature, that I began, without realizing it, truly to make my way into the World—until nothing could satisfy me that was not on the scale of the universal”. (The Heart of Matter)
Teilhard was seeking “an ultimate Element in which all things find their definitive consistence“(Teilhard’s Mysticism, 40). Though field work in geology and palaeontology in China, Africa and North America allowed him to enter Earth’s body, his brief time studying physics opened his wondering eyes to the cosmos. Still asking What holds everything together? Teilhard wondered if the answer was gravity.
Duffy notes that “throughout his journey along the Circle of Consistence, Teilhard focused his attention on matter in all of its intricacy without much consideration of spirit….The Divine Presence in which he felt himself bathed seemed to be not some vague spiritual entity, but rather, a supreme tangible reality”( 41).
Observing unity and interconnectedness within matter, Teilhard wrote: “The further and deeper we penetrate into matter with our increasingly powerful methods, the more dumbfounded we are by the interconnection of its parts”. (The Human Phenomenon)
Over time Teilhard would reconcile his childhood abhorrence for what perishes with his love for the strength and beauty that he found in what cannot last: This crumbling away, which is the mark of the corruptible and the precarious, is to be seen everywhere. And yet everywhere there are traces of, and a yearning for…a unique and absolute soul. (Writings in Time of War)
Teilhard came to “distinguish in the Universe a profound, essential Unity, a unity burdened with imperfections…but a real unity within which every ‘chosen’ substance gains increasing solidity”. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 53)
Spiralling through the Circle of Consistence, experiencing the cosmic structure as “intimate, intricate and profound”, seeing himself as ”part of an interdependent and interconnected reality, sharing the one life that is in everything”, Teilhard realized that a search for consistency in what is visible would ever disappoint him.
Now at last he began to see: the very consistency of the World …welling up …like sap, through every fibre… leaping up like a flame .(The Heart of Matter)
Duffy’s conclusion to her chapter on the Circle of Consistence pulses with life and beauty, drawn in part from Teilhard’s Writings in Time of War (W):
Divine Presence, so powerfully real to him as he traveled along the first circle, had acquired a new power for him. At the very heart of matter, Divine Consistence was, by its very presence, holding all things together. Once he became aware of “the unifying influence of the universal Presence” (W, 124), he was no longer distressed by the mutability of things: “Beneath what is temporal and plural, the mystic can see only the unique Reality which is the support common to all substances, and which clothes and dyes itself in all the universe’s countless shades without sharing their impermanence”. (W, 125) He knew that Divine Consistence is trustworthy (W, 123):
"Having come face to face with a universal and enduring reality to which one can attach those fragmentary moments of happiness that…
excite the heart without satisfying it” (W, 124),”a glorious, unsuspected feeling of joy invaded my soul” (W,126).
He longed to surrender, to drive his roots into matter so that he could become united with Ultimate Reality. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 54)
Teilhard: Pilgrim of the Future
Communion Reflection for September 3, 2019
I managed to climb up to the point where the
Universe became apparent to me as a great rising surge,
in which all the work that goes into serious enquiry,
all the will to create, all the acceptance of suffering,
converge ahead into a single dazzling spear-head –
now, at the end of my life,
I can stand on the peak I have scaled and continue
to look ever more closely into the future,
and there, with ever more assurance,
see the ascent of God.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter, 52
Teilhard’s life journey along the mystic path was not for himself alone. His writings, published only after his death, are a gift to us. They are a travel guide of such depth and wisdom that even in our own complex, sometimes terrifying, often mystifying reality, his footsteps shed a light that we may follow into a future filled with hope. For this exploration of his climb to the peak where he could “look ever more closely into the future”, I rely on the July 2019 retreat experience led by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ , based on her book, Teilhard’s Mysticism (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).
Teilhard left us a road map, a set of five circles, stages of his mystical growth.
These circles, which are more properly imaged as loops of a spiral that he revisits throughout his life, provided him with steeping stones into an ever-deepening reality, a reality informed as much by the science of his time as by his religious tradition. They plot his growth and development as he sinks ever more deeply into the heart of matter and into the heart of God….Stepping with him through each of these circles…we come to understand ….how we too can be drawn more and more deeply into that privileged point where the depths of our hearts and the heart of the cosmos converge with the heart of God. (Kathleen Duffy, Teilhard’s Mysticism 4, 5)
Of the first of these spiralling loops, the Circle of Presence, Teilhard writes: There were moments, indeed, when it seemed to me that a sort of universal being was about to take shape suddenly in Nature before my very eyes. (The Heart of Matter, 26)
Duffy tells us that “something as simple as a song, a sunbeam, a fragrance, or a glance would pierce his heart and heighten his awareness of an unexplained presence.” (23) These encounters with beauty in sensations elicited by encounters with nature, with music, with persons, drew from Teilhard a wonder and a joy that illumined his life. At times they occurred in settings that hardly seem the stuff of poetry. In the midst of a long, arduous voyage to China, he wrote to his beloved cousin Marguerite:
Yesterday I could never tire of looking to the east where the sea was uniformly milky and green, with an opalescence that was still not transparent, lighter than the background of the sky. Suddenly on the horizon a thin diffuse cloud became tinged with pink; and then with the little oily ripples of the ocean still open on one side and turning to lilac on the other, the whole sea looked for a few seconds like watered silk. Then the light was gone and the stars began to be reflected around us as peacefully as in the water of a quiet pool.(Letter cited in Teilhard’s Mysticism, 25-6)
While serving as a stretcher bearer in the First World War, Teilhard "…had occasion to look into the eyes of many a dying soldier. Just before the moment of death, a strange light would often appear in a soldier’s eyes. Teilhard was never sure whether the eyes were filled with “unspeakable agony or…with an excess of triumphant joy” (HM 65). Each time the light went out and the wounded soldier died, Teilhard was overcome with deep sense of sadness. (Teilhard’s Mysticism 34-35)
Teilhard discovered light in other eyes when he came to know his cousin Marguerite as a kindred spirit with whom he could share the depths of his own soul. “A light glows for a moment in the depths of the eyes I love….under the glance that fell upon me, the shell in which my heart slumbered, burst open”. (Writings in Time of War, 117-8)
Of Teilhard’s relationship with Marguerite, Duffy writes: A new energy emerged from within, causing him to feel as vast and as rich as the universe. Marguerite had awakened the feminine aspect of his being. His love for her drew him out of himself, sensitized him, and stimulated his capacity for deeper and more intimate relationships. (Teilhard’s Mysticism 34)
Teilhard tells us that his encounters with beauty in the Circle of Presence, “drew me out of myself, into a wider harmony than that which delights the senses, into an ever richer and more spiritual rhythm" (Writings in Time of War, 117).
Duffy comments: Having invaded his being and penetrated to its core, having pierced through to his depths, Beauty drew him into that single privileged point where Divine Presence exists equally everywhere, and where all diversities and all impurities yearn to melt away.(36)
photo credit: Brenda Peddigrew
Teilhard saw that underlying Earth’s surface charms a vivid Presence lies hidden within and penetrates all things. This was the only source that could give him light and the only air that he could ever breathe (Writings in Time of War, 123). He yearned to sharpen his sensibilities so that he could see ever more deeply into the heart of matter. Along the first circle, the palpable world had truly become for him a holy place, a divine milieu, permeated with a vast, formidable, and charming presence. (Teilhard’s Mysticism 38)
Teilhard understood that the duty of a mystic is to be aware of the inner rhythm of the universe, and to listen with care for the heartbeat of a higher reality…. At this privileged place, he tells us, “the least of our desires and efforts…can…cause the marrow of the universe to vibrate.” (Teilhard’s Mysticism 32)
As Teilhard wrote in Human Energy: Indeed we are called by the music of the universe to reply, each with his own pure and incommunicable harmonic. (HE, 150 in Teilhard’s Mysticism 38)
The Making of a Mystic
Communion Reflection for August 27, 2019
Five sun-soaked, star-speckled days walking, listening, speaking, learning, even dreaming of a sacred- earth centered spirituality, inspired by the writings of Teilhard de Chardin have filled my writer’s quiver with fresh insights into the mystic path for our time. Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, brought her own love for Teilhard, her years of deep pondering on his life and writings, to Jericho House in Ontario’s Niagara Region from July 24-29, 2019, in her Retreat on “Teilhard’s Mysticism”.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Jesuit priest, palaeontologist, France, 1881-1955)
Wondering how I might share this experience with you, I was drawn back to the words of theologian Margaret Brennan, IHM:
Mystics are people who come in touch with the sacred source of who they really are
and are able to realize and experience that in their lives.
Teilhard’s life path led him to the sacred source not only of himself but of the entire Universe. Beginning with his childhood enchantment with rocks, through his work delving into the depths of the earth as a palaeontologist in China, and, while he volunteered as a stretcher bearer in the First World War, while watching the light that briefly illumined the eyes of a dying soldier, Teilhard grew into knowing that a divine presence shines from the heart of all that exists. He wrote:
During my life, as a result of my entire life, the world gradually caught fire for me and burst into flames
until it formed a great luminous mass lit from within....
The Diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing Universe, as I have experienced it
through contact with Earth – the Divine radiating from blazing Matter:
this it is that I shall try to disclose and communicate.
(The Divine Milieu, translated by Bernard Wall, New York, Harper and Row, Publishers, 1960)
The Diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing Universe,
Artwork by Marie Celine Janisse, CSJ, inspired by Teilhard's words
Thinking back to Kathleen Duffy’s unfolding of Teilhard’s story, I understand why Teilhard used the word “gradually”. Mystics are not born that way! And for Teilhard the path was truly a “long and winding road”. I was touched by his struggles as a young Jesuit novice reading the book The Imitation of Christ by the fifteenth-century writer Thomas a Kempis. That spiritual handbook counselled that one must love ONLY Christ. Teilhard feared that his great love for the natural world would draw him away from his love for the Christ.
His life experiences would gradually bring those two loves into a deep harmony so that he could finally write with deep joy:
Now Earth can certainly clasp me in her giant arms. She can swell me with her life or take me back into her dust. She can deck herself out for me with every charm, with every horror, with every mystery. She can intoxicate me with her perfume of tangibility and unity. She can cast me to my knees in expectation of what is maturing in her breast. But her enchantments can no longer do me harm, since she has become for me, over and above herself, the body of him who is and of him who is coming. (The Divine Milieu)
Of all that I learned of Teilhard during Kathleen Duffy’s Retreat, this revelation of his personal struggle and its resolution stirred me most. It reveals Teilhard as a mystic not only OF our time but FOR our time.
He recognized the allurement of the Universe for us:
The great temptation of this century is (and will increasingly be) that we find the World of nature, of life, and of humankind greater, closer, more mysterious, more alive than the God of Scripture. (The Heart of Matter, translated by Rene Hague, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978)
Yet Teilhard saw in that allurement what is most needed for spiritual healing:
Our age seems primarily to need a rejuvenation of supernatural forces, to be effected by driving roots deep into the nutritious energies of the Earth. Because it is not sufficiently moved by a truly human compassion, because it is not exalted by a sufficiently passionate admiration of the Universe, our religion is becoming enfeebled…(Writings in Time of War translated by Rene Hague, New York, Harper and Rowe, Publishers, 1968)
Teilhard looked at the earth with the eyes of a mystic, with the heart of a lover. Lured by the Holy Presence at the deep heart of all that exists, he could echo Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation: Is the one I love everywhere?
Through Teilhard’s eyes, we can learn to see what mystic-poet Catherine de Vinck calls “the fire within the fire of all things”. Once we see that fire, we know the call that Teilhard knew to put our hearts at the service of the evolution towards love that is the call of the Universe, as well as our personal call within the universal call, for the two are inseparable.
Teilhard shows us that our deepest call is to love, that evolution is advanced by union on every imaginable level of being. And, as another poet, Robert Frost observed: Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
Nothing that lives on our planet is outside of us. We can no longer accept lines of division between religions, between cultures, between nations, between species. This Universe is evolving as one. Our place within it, like Teilhard’s, is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union. In co-creative partnership with the Love at its heart, everything that we do contributes towards that great comingled work of the evolution of the Universe, the evolution of ourselves.
Communion Reflection for August 13 and 20, 2019
Sophia: Source of Creative Union (1)
Kathleen Duffy, SSJ
This article was prepared for the Winter 2014 issue of LCWR Occasional Papers, published by The Leadership Conference of Women Religious Silver Spring, MD, USA. It is reprinted with permission from the editor, Annmarie Sanders, IHM, and the author, Kathleen Duffy, SSJ.
Although science continues to astound us with ever more detail about the cosmic story, we often miss its inner spiritual dimension. Cosmic processes happen slowly by our standards, making the emergence of novelty difficult to imagine. Despite the beauty of the story, we are often left wondering how to relate what we are learning about the cosmos to our daily lives, to the mission of our congregations and to the life of the world. Yet mystics who have contemplated Earth processes and spent time in intimate contact with Earth have been able to sense a parallel spiritual energy operating at the heart of matter.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
While searching for fossils, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was often overwhelmed by the spiritual power at work within earth’s rocky layers. Within Earth’s crust, he was able not only to read Earth’s amazing story but also to sense the Divine Presence at the very heart of matter, a personal Presence that kept him aware of the mystery of the world around him and sustained him in his vocation.
Thomas Merton suggests that the art of seeing the inner dimension of things requires a spark of religious imagination: “Our faith ought to be capable of filling our hearts with a wonder and a wisdom which see beyond the surface of things and events, and grasp something of the inner… meaning of the cosmos which, in all its movements and all its aspects, sings the praises of its Creator.” (2) Since metaphor carries with it a raft of nuances and associations and provides connections between entities that otherwise seem paradoxical, mystics often rely on poetic expression to describe experiences that are unspeakable. For Teilhard and Merton, contemplation of Sophia, the wisdom of God so beautifully portrayed in scripture, integrated the beauty and power of the outer world with the beauty and power that reside within. (3) Sophia became a powerful personal image of God, one that suggests ways to co-operate with Divine Energy.
According to scripture, Sophia is the “breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of (God’s) goodness.” (Wisdom 7:25-27) She is the dynamic wisdom and life force that has been infused into every elementary particle from the beginning, the presence of God poured out in self-giving love. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing us to passion for the Divine. From the heart of matter, she gazes at us lovingly, urging us always towards greater union and deeper love
From the very beginning, when she first became immersed in the fiery plasma, she has been catalyzing a process that Teilhard calls Creative Union, a process that encourages union at every level of the cosmos, a process that creates novelty, beauty, and eventually, the ultimate form of union which is love. She begins by instilling into the protons a desire to become more. She urges them to open to the other, to overcome their resistance, to let down their repulsive barriers. And when they do, they are transformed by the process of fusion into something greater than themselves without ever losing their identity. Their courageous response prepares the way for ever more diversity. Because fusion, like so many creative processes, is violent, Sophia remains close at hand to motivate the protons to persist despite inherent difficulties.
Encouraged by the fruitfulness of her initial attempt to foster union, Sophia searches for more ways to carry out her mission. Protons fuse, atoms form, then simple molecules. Sophia thrills to see the amazing variety developing as matter responds to her call for unification. Soon, her creative efforts become pervasive. She gathers in clumps the gas and dust scattered throughout space and whirls them in spirals. Eventually, the newly-formed galaxies are ablaze with the brilliance of star light. Satisfied that stars have learned to produce new elements, she moves on to the newly-forming planets to begin her next project.
After years of Sophia’s urging, life appears on planet Earth. Organisms take advantage of their potential for creativity by adapting to their changing environments and evolving into more and more conscious forms. Earth comes alive in a pattern of constant change. The brilliant greens of plant life, the delicate hues of flowers, and the graceful movements of animals are evidence for Sophia that her mission of Creative Union is being fulfilled. However, like the protons that struggle in their innate repulsion for other protons as they participate in the unification process, new life forms often find survival difficult. Crises such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and the bombardment of Earth by asteroids cause incredible changes in Earth’s environment making it difficult for some of them to adapt. However, under Sophia’s loving guidance, the extinction of some species often allows other species to flourish.
The emergence of human life is a special moment for Sophia. We are able to recognize her face and respond more fully to her impulses and her love. We appreciate her handiwork and delight in her beauty. Through the ages she has been with us as our inspiration and as the driving force of our developing consciousness.
Sophia is “the fullness of participation in the life of God.”(4) To be aware of her presence, to experience her gracious smile, is to know that we are loved. When we are discouraged, she consoles us. When we encounter her, we are energized. She is always there at our fingertips ready to support us. She is at play in the splendour of a sunset, in the gentle breeze, in the rustling leaves, in the songs of the birds. She shines out from the face of every human being, asking for love and mercy. Once we recognize her, we know that we are blessed. We want to be like her, to be with her, to work on her projects.
she shines out from the face of every human being
As we contemplate her loving gaze and feel the pulsations of her creative energy, we realize that we too are called to effect union in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. To ready us for the profound and sometimes difficult work of union, Sophia draws us out of our ego self and into our broken world. She encourages the kind of creativity that will find ways to comfort others. She delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission. Some respond to the needs of the homeless; others lobby for immigration reform; still others research cures for cancer; and many more care for those who live on the fringes of society. Artists and scientists, social workers and nurses, teachers and political leaders – the possibilities are endless.
She continues to draw the human family into freedom.
As women religious, we are not alone in our efforts to transform the world. Sophia’s concern extends to all – from the most exquisite galaxy to the smallest bacterium, and to each and every person on Earth. Guided and urged forward by Sophia, we are impelled to respond by embracing all peoples of the world, by encouraging civil dialogue in the midst of hostility, and by caring for our beloved Earth. Sophia is particularly pleased with our efforts at reconciliation. When, like the protons, we are overwhelmed by resistance toward the other, she remains close to us and urges us forward. She focuses our activity on her next major task in the evolutionary process—to learn how to bear the burden of a greater consciousness, how to harness psychic energy, and how to transform this energy so that all may be one. She continues to draw the human family into freedom.
Sophia will always guide us toward what will bring forth greater life
Coupling the story of our universe with an understanding of Sophia’s work in the world of matter provides “a way to gain our bearings in the inner world.” (5) We begin to sense the spiritual power alive at every level of the cosmos and to trust its guidance. As we continue to critique the present structure of religious life and to seek new ways to live the Gospel message, we find comfort and inspiration in Sophia’s presence in our lives. At this critical time in the history of religious life, Sophia seems to be asking us to look more deeply at the roots of our call, to rediscover the rediscover the purpose of religious life, to refashion our lives so that they respond more clearly to the needs of our world. We can rely on her help as we discern the way. Although some of our congregations may become extinct, others will flourish. In either case, Sophia will always guide us toward what will bring forth greater life. As “the hidden wholeness in all visible things,”(6) she is the constant and loving presence of God at the heart of the world. She is our hope.
we need her inspiration, her support and her energizing presence
For almost 14 billion years, she has been faithfully accompanying the cosmos as it has been responding to the desire to become “the more” that she has instilled into all of creation. She will certainly be with us at this moment, to help us to discern our way, and to challenge us just as she continues to challenge the protons in the core of the stars. Her voice will awaken in us the desire and the creativity to move forward. And she will be by our sides as we struggle to respond to the needs of marginalized persons, to the needs of a church in crisis, and to the needs of a broken world. Now, more than ever, we need her inspiration, her support and her energizing presence.
Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, PhD, is professor emerita of physics at Chestnut Hill College
where she directs the Institute for Religion and Science.
1. Adapted from Kathleen Duffy, “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love,” in Ilia Delio, From Teilhard to Omega (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013). I became interested in this approach after reading Christopher Pramuk, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009), especially Merton’s poem, “Hagai Sophia,” which Pramuk quotes at the end of his book (301-305). See John Dear’s critique of Pramuk’s book at http://teilhard.com/2013/10/20/stages-of-cosmic-consciousness/ (October 5, 2010)
2. Patrick Hart, ed. The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton, New York, New Directions, 1981, p. 345
3. See particularly Teilhard’s essay, “The Eternal Feminine” in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War trans. Rene Hague, New York, Harper & Rowe, Publisher, 1965, pp. 191-202 and Merton’s poem, “Hagai Sophia” in Pramuk, Sophia, pp. 301-305
4. Pramuk, Sophia, xxvi
5. Mary Conrow Coelho, Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe, Lima, OH, Wyndam Hall Press, 2002
6. Pramuk, Sophia, p. 301
Sharing Life with Sophia: Communion Reflection for June 18, 2019
As I wondered what theme would be appropriate for this almost-Solstice Reflection, I wanted to offer something that might be a light, a source of joy for each of us to hold until our Communion postings resume in early August. Aware that, if you wish, you may continue your weekly Sacred Hour over these next weeks, dipping into the Archives for what might call to you, I am choosing for this week a piece on Sophia inspired by Thomas Merton.
On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Merton wakened in his cabin on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. He wrote of the "fierce cold all night, certainly down to zero," yet he expresses deep joy at being in his hermitage, where his life is shared with Sophia.
He quotes from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Wisdom: 8:16:
When I go home, I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company,
when life is shared with her there is no pain, nothing but pleasure and joy.
Reflecting on this text, Merton writes: "But what more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this 'living together with wisdom?' For me, there is nothing else....I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear...." (p. 14 in Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton Christopher Pramuk Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 2009)
When I first found this quote from Merton, I did a double-take. I had read it earlier in a book I have come to cherish: Rabbi Rami Shapiro's The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature (Skylight Paths Publishing 2005).
Shapiro opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Now, I was finding my own way to sharing my life with Sophia.
Because of Shapiro's insight into another passage about Sophia from the Book of Proverbs,
I glimpsed the meaning of Merton's dream of a young girl whose name was "Proverbs".
Here is where Wisdom/Sophia or Chochma, (her Hebrew Name) speaks in Proverbs:
The Lord created Me at the beginning of His work, the first of His ancient acts.
I was established ages ago, at the beginning of the beginning, before the earth…
When He established the heavens, I was already there.
When he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When he established the fountains feeding the seas below…
I was beside Him, the master builder.
I was His daily delight, rejoicing before Him always.
Rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
(Proverbs 8: 22-31)
Shapiro writes that “Chochma ….is the ordering principle of creation”: She embraces one end of the earth to the other,
and She orders all things well. (Wisdom of Solomon 8:11)
To know her, Shapiro adds, is to know the Way of all things and thus to be able to act in harmony with them.
To know the Way of all things and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise.
To know Wisdom is to become wise. To become wise is to find happiness and peace:
Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all Her paths are peace.
She is a Tree of Life to those who lay hold of Her; those who hold Her close are happy. (Proverbs 3: 17-18)
Moreover, writes Shapiro, Wisdom is not to be taken on faith. She is testable. If you follow Her you will find joy,
peace and happiness not at the end of the journey but as the very stuff of which the journey is made.
This is crucial. The reward for following Wisdom is immediate. The Way to is the Way of.
Shapiro teaches that the key to awakening that is Wisdom is having a clear perception of reality.
Wisdom does not lead you to this clarity; She is this clarity….The Way to Wisdom is Wisdom Herself.
You do not work your way toward Her; you take hold of Her from the beginning.
As your relationship deepens, your clarity of seeing improves,
but from the beginning you have Her and She has you.
I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 2:16)
Chochma is not a reluctant guide or a hidden guru, Shapiro writes.
She is not hard to find nor does she require any austere test to prove you are worthy of Her.
She stands on the hilltops, on the sidewalks, at the crossroads, at the gateways (Proverbs 8:1-11)
and calls to you to follow Her. Wisdom’s only desire is to teach you to become wise.
Her only frustration is your refusal to listen to Her.
….To know Wisdom is to be her lover, and by loving Her, you become God’s beloved as well.
As we become partners, co-creating with Wisdom, Shapiro writes: Wisdom will not tell why
things are the way they are, but will show you what they are
and how to live in harmony with them….Working with Wisdom, you learn how…
to make small, subtle changes that effect larger ones.
You learn how to cut with the grain, tack with the wind,
swim with the current, and allow the nature of things to support your efforts.
She will not tell you why things are the way they are, but She will make plain to you
what things are and how you deal with them to your mutual benefit.
And so, dear friends in our Communion of Creative Fire, may Sophia companion our days
until we meet again on Iona on August 6th, the Tuesday following the Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh.
Communion Reflection for June 11, 2019
Teilhard de Chardin and the Incarnation
In recent weeks, through the eyes of 21st Century theologians, we have been gazing into the mind, heart,
and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith,
Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe
and his faith in the Christic presence at the heart of it all.
For Teilhard the concept of original sin, committed by our first parents in a lost garden of paradise,
was incompatible with the reality of an evolving universe where everything is moving
into fullness of being, including God.
So how does Teilhard view the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh that we celebrate each Christmas?
If we are not irretrievably sinful and lost, not in need of someone
“to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray…”
what are the “tidings of comfort and joy”?
Ilia Delio, our guide through the seas of theology on Teilhard’s ship, writes:
Teilhard began with evolution as the understanding of being and hence of God. What he tried to show
is that evolution is not only the universe coming to be but it is God who is coming to be.
By this he means that divine love poured into space-time rises in consciousness
and eventually erupts in the life of Jesus of Nazareth….
Christ...invests himself organically with all of creation
From the Big Bang 13.8 Billion years ago to the present, God has been creating through the word of love
and incarnating creation in a unity of love. The integral relationship between incarnation and creation
is the unfolding of Christ, the Word incarnate, who invests himself organically with all of creation,
immersing himself in things, in the heart of matter and thus unifying the world.
(From Teilhard to Omega Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2014 pp. 46-7)
But how would Teilhard himself speak about the mystery of Incarnation? Let’s bend space-time imaginally
to place ourselves in a small Jesuit Chapel somewhere in France, just after the Second World War.
Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin walks to the pulpit to give the Christmas homily.
At first, his words sound like an overture to the symphony we have come to hear:
I shall allow … (a) picture to emerge — at first in apparent opposition to the dreams of the Earth,
but in reality to complete and correct them — that of the inexpressible Cosmos of matter and of the new life,
the Body of Christ, real and mystical, unity and multiplicity, monad and pleiad.
And, like a man who surrenders himself to a succession of different melodies,
I shall let the song of my life drift now here, now there — sink down to the depths,
rise to the heights above us, turn back to the ether from which all things came,
reach out to the more-than-man, and culminate in the incarnate God-man. (1)
Incarnation is a making new...of all the universe’s forces and powers
He pauses, looks directly at us, continues: The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration,
of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Centre, the End, of the whole of animate
and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified.
This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers),
and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it,
and generations to come will go on repeating it,
without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance,
bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.
the Pearl of the Cosmos...the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter…
With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which
the forces of determinism, obediently and lovingly, lent themselves and directed themselves
in the preparation of a Fruit that exceeded all hope and yet was awaited. The world’s energies and substances
produced the glittering gem of matter, the Pearl of the Cosmos, and the link
with the incarnate personal Absolute—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter…
and when the day of the Virgin came to pass, then the final purpose of the universe,
deep-rooted and gratuitous, was suddenly made clear: since the days when the first breath of individualization passed over the expanse of the Supreme Centre here below so that in it could be seen the ripple of the smile of the original monads, all things were moving towards the Child born of Woman.
the Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth
And since Christ was born and ceased to grow, and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fullness of his form. He has not gathered about him the last folds of the garment of flesh and love woven for him by his faithful. The Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth…and it is in the continuation of this engendering that there lies the ultimate driving force behind all created activity…Christ is the term of even the natural evolution of living beings. (2)
We leave the little chapel, our hearts ablaze. Now we also have a task: co-creating,
and through our own embodied lives bringing divine love more fully into every aspect of life on our planet.
This could take some time. At the very least, it could take the rest of our lives!
(1) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War pp. 15-16
(2) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man translated from “L’Avenir de l’Homme (1959) by Norman Denny;
William Collins Pub. London, Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964
Teilhard and Mystical Knowing
Communion Reflection for June 5, 2019
Everything that is in heaven
on the earth
or under the earth
is penetrated with connectedness….
Hildegard von Bingen, 12th c. abbess/mystic
What Hildegard knew mystically, intuitively, would be proven scientifically
nearly a thousand years after her: the interconnectedness of all life.
Another mystic, the poet Francis Thompson would write in the 19th century:
Thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star
Teilhard de Chardin brought the heart of a mystic, the eyes and sensibilities of a poet,
the rigorous training of a scientist to his observations, his intuitions, his deep knowing.
Kathleen Duffy, in Teilhard’s Mysticism,(Orbis Books, Maryknoll New York, 2014) writes that
Teilhard’s vague intuition of universal unity became over time a rational and well-defined awareness of a presence…the presence of a radiant center that has all along been alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union…(p. 112)
When you and I turn to the sea, a beloved landscape, a mountain, a forest, a tree,
to be nourished by beauty, comforted in loss, assured that we are at home on this planet,
we are experiencing what poets and mystics experience. Jean Houston would say
we are calling on our inner poet, our inner mystic to enter that moment.
The Hildegards, the Teilhards, the great poets and mystics go further.
Through writing of the experience, they offer us the key to the garden of delight
that is our birthright as well as theirs.
Listen to Thomas Merton on a rainy night:
In this wilderness I have learned how to sleep again. I am not alien. The trees I know, the night I know, the rain I know. I close my eyes and instantly sink into the whole rainy world of which I am part, and the world goes on with me in it, for I am not alien to it. (When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton Writings on Nature edited by Kathleen Deignan, Sorin Books, Notre Dame IN 2003)
When we hear ancient stories, like the English folktale of Mother Moon
or the Inuit tale of Bone Woman, we glimpse what Teilhard saw:
the presence of that “radiant center…alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union.”
The ancient tale of the Seal Woman is found in many cultures, wherever there is a cold sea.
A wonderful film version, "The Secret of Roan Inish", is set in Ireland.
The version I know best comes from the Inuit of Northern Canada,told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
in her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves (Ballantine Books, New York, 1992)
Perhaps you know the tale: a lonely man sees a group of beautiful women dancing
on a rock in the moonlight at the edge of the sea. Beside them he sees a pile of sealskins.
He tethers his kayak to the rock, climbs up, stealthily takes and hides one of the sealskins.
When the others have donned their skins to leap joyously back into the sea,
one woman remains alone, weeping. He comes into view, promising that if she will marry him,
he will return her sealskin to her in seven years’ time. She agrees, having no other choice.
They have a boy child. As the years pass, Ooruk sees his mother failing, losing her lustrous colours,
her eyesight dimming, her skin drying. She develops a limp. One night he hears her
beg his father to return her sealskin. “I must have what belongs to me”, she cries.
Though it is now the eighth year, the man refuses.
Following the call of an old seal, Ooruk rushes out into the night, finds his mother’s sealskin
and brings it to her. She puts it on, breathes into his mouth, and takes him with her
as she dives into the deep sea, her homeplace. Ooruk meets his grandfather, the old seal
who had called to him in the night. He watches his mother become whole, lithe,
beautiful once more. Then mother and grandfather return to the boy
to the topside world, leaving him on a rocky ledge in the moonlight.
His mother promises: “I am always with you. I shall breathe into your lungs a wind
for the singing of your songs”. Ooruk becomes a drummer, a singer and a storyteller.
He is the embodiment of his mother’s spirit, her ensouled gift to the earth.
Think about the Seal Woman, about her longing for her sealskin.
She needed it for her return to the homeplace. She knew that if she did not return there,
she would die. It is so with us as well. There is a deep homeplace hidden
in the depths of our soul where all that we are is held in love. We need to return there often,
but most of all when our sight darkens, when we limp rather than dance.
We learn to recognize these signs as calls to home. Then we go.
We find our own true centre and allow ourselves to rest in the embrace of love.
We know that this is a matter of life or death to us.
The child whom the woman returned to the shore was her own spirit,
the part of herself she sends to the outer world as drummer, as dancer, as storyteller,
as poet, as singer, as healer, as soul friend. But to do this, she must keep her own soul
nourished by love in the inner homeplace. It requires of her a balance,
a sacred dance, between the topside and underside worlds of her life.
Where is Sacred Love in this story? that "presence of a radiant centre" that Teilhard recognized?
Not in the fisherman who, within a woman’s psyche, always lurks, waiting for a chance
to steal her Soulskin, driving her to overwork, demanding that she give
until her soul and spirit are raw. But Love is in the Old One who calls her home
when it is time; Love is in the Child within her who hears that call and answers,
giving her what she needs to return home, if she will listen and receive.
Love is within the Woman herself who cries out, “I must have what belongs to me”.
And yes, Love is in the Sea, the homeplace, waiting to receive us, body, soul,
mind and spirit, into a heart of love.
Teilhard and Sophia
Communion Reflection for May 28, 2019
Born in 1881, Teilhard lived, studied, worked and wrote mainly in the first half of the twentieth century. As a scientist, he knew Darwin’s work in Evolution; as a paleontologist, he spent time excavating the story of evolution inscribed within the earth; as a mystic he was captivated with the wonder of an unfinished universe being drawn from within into a radiant future by a sacred presence of love.
Teilhard was convinced that until theology fully embraced the concept of an evolving universe, it would remain inadequate, crippled by its outdated worldview. He wrote: “Who will at last give evolution its own God?”
In the sixty plus years since Teilhard’s death, science has taken massive leaps of understanding, and theology is only beginning to catch up. In From Teilhard to Omega (edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), thirteen scholars take up Teilhard’s challenge.
This week, we look at “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ.
Though a dedicated scientist, Teilhard calls on his mystic and poetic gifts to describe divine love at work in the cosmos. In his book Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968), Teilhard writes of a feminine presence drawn from the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs, (8: 22-31).
Teilhard’s poem opens at the beginning of time, at the moment when Sophia is embedded into the primordial energy that is already expanding into the space-time of the early universe. Only half formed and still elusive, she emerges as from the mist, destined to grow in beauty and grace (WTW, 192). As soon as the first traces of her presence become apparent, she assumes her mandate to nurture creation, to challenge it, to unify it, to beautify it, and ultimately to lead the universe back to God. With this mission as her guide, she attends to her work of transforming the world, a world alive with potential. (Duffy p. 27)
Duffy reweaves Teilhard’s poem, working through its shining threads new insights from science, wisdom literature and the work of many “who have contemplated the divine creativity at work at the heart of matter”. Duffy names the feminine presence in Teilhard’s poem “Sophia”, from the Greek word for Wisdom.
“Who then is Sophia?” Duffy asks. Her magnificent response to this question is worth the price of the whole book.
Here are segments: She is the presence of God poured out in self-giving love, closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing the soul to passion for the Divine. From the very depths of matter, she reveals herself to us as the … very nature of God residing within the core of the cosmic landscape.
Attempting always to capture our attention, Sophia peers out at us from behind the stars, overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze….
Sunset at Stella Maris
Shining through the eyes of the ones we love, she sets our world ablaze.
Sophia is the mercy of God in us….She sits at the crossroads of our lives, ever imploring us to work for peace, to engage in fruitful dialogue, and to find new ways of connecting with the other. She longs to open our eyes to the presence of pain and suffering in the world, to transform our hearts and to move us to action. (pp. 31-32)
Duffy says that Teilhard experienced this presence “with nature, with other persons, and with the Divine”:
He began gradually to recognize her everywhere --- in the rocks that he chiselled, in the seascapes and landscapes that he contemplated, and in the faces of the dying soldiers to whom he ministered during the war….Teilhard came to know Sophia as the cosmic Love that is holding all things together. (p. 33)
Teilhard came to understand that Sophia can be known “only in embodied human actions”.
Duffy concludes her luminous essay with these words:
Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s life…. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and to transformative love. (p. 34)
That final sentence might serve as a mission statement for each of us in our Communion of Creative Fire.
Teilhard's Call to Immerse Ourselves in the Universe
We live in a universe where everything that exists shines, in Teilhard's view, “like a crystal lamp illumined from within”, as we saw in our April 23rd Reflection on “Teilhard and the New Spirituality” (From Teilhard to Omega edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY 2014 Chapter Ten).
This reality calls us to respond with wonder, awe, gratitude. But Teilhard believed that much more is required from us. The same essay goes on to describe the way Teilhard saw our involvement in the evolutionary process:
(Teilhard) envisioned the evolutionary process as one moving toward evolution of consciousness and ultimately toward evolution of spirit, from the birth of mind to the birth of the whole Christ. He urged (us)…to risk, get involved, aim toward union with others, for the entire creation is longing for its fulfillment in God. (p. 174)
Beyond recognizing evolution, we are called to work towards it in ourselves. This is a spirituality that calls for immersion in the world: … plunging our hands into the soil of the earth and touching the roots of life….a “mysticism of action,” involvement in the world compenetrated by God. (Teilhard) held that union with God is not withdrawal or separation from the activity of the world but a dedicated, integrated, and sublimated absorption into it. (p.174)
live from the center of the heart where love grows
Teilhard understood the Gospel call to “leave all and follow me” meant seeing the Christic presence
in the heart of matter, then working to bring that presence into greater fullness.
The world is still being created and it is Christ who is reaching his fulfillment through it….We are to harness the energies of love for the forward movement of evolution toward the fullness of Christ. This means to live from the center of the heart where love grows and to reach out to the world with faith, hope and trust in God’s incarnate presence. (p. 175)
In this new incarnational vision of the relationship between God and the universe,
a relationship that spans the whole evolutionary journey leading towards the future,
Teilhard offers three fresh perspectives. These are described by Delio and Dinges:
First, (Teilhard's) love of matter and spirit is a dual commitment to God and to the world;
second, his inclusion of suffering and evil in the forward movement of evolution
offers a realistic approach to evil as part of unfolding life;
…third, the participation of humans is essential to the process of Christogenesis,
that is, the evolution of Christ in the world and the world in Christ.
If we are to remain faithful to the gospel, we have to adjust its spiritual code to the new shape of the universe….It has become the great work in process of completion which we have to save by saving ourselves. (p. 175)
Teilhard looked at the earth/ the universe with the eyes of a mystic, with the heart of a lover.
In love with Holy Presence at the deep heart of all that exists, he could echo
Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation: “Is the one I love everywhere?”
Through Teilhard’s eyes, we can learn to see what mystic-poet Catherine de Vinck calls
“the fire within the fire of all things”. Once we see that fire, we know the call that Teilhard knew
to put our hearts at the service of the evolution towards love that is
the call of the universe, as well as our personal call within the universal call, for the two are inseparable.
our deepest call is to love
Teilhard shows us that our deepest call is to love, that evolution is advanced by union
on every imaginable level of being. And, as another poet, Robert Frost observed:
“Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
Teilhard wrote: I merge myself through my heart with the very heart of God….God is, in a sense, at the point of my pen, my pick, my paint-brush, my needle—and my heart and my thought. It is by carrying to its completion the stroke, the line, the stitch I am working on that I shall lay hold on that ultimate end towards which my will at its deepest levels tends. (p. 176)
Our place within (the universe)… is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union
Nothing that lives on our planet is outside of us. We can no longer accept lines of division between religions,
between cultures, between nations, between species. This universe is evolving as one. Our place within it,
like Teilhard’s, is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union. Everything that we do
contributes towards that great comingled work of the evolution of the universe, the evolution of ourselves.
How would our lives be different is we devoted time each day to a deeper seeing,
a heartfelt listening to the songs of the universe, its joy-filled melodies,
its grief-laden cries, seeking the “shining of God through creation,
the diaphany of God radiating through a world that becomes transparent.” (p.176)
Teilhard invites us to… establish ourselves in the divine milieu. There we shall find ourselves where the soul is most deep and where matter is most dense. There we shall discover, where all its beauties flow together, the ultra-vital, the ultra-sensitive, the ultra-active point of the universe. And, at the same time, we shall feel the plenitude of our powers of action and adoration effortlessly ordered within our deepest selves.
(Divine Milieu quoted by Delio and Dinges on p.179)
"where all beauties flow together" Carol Ohmart Behan Photo: Glastonbury
A New Sense of God in an Evolving Universe
Communion Reflection for May 14, 2019
The more we learn of the Universe, and its nearly fourteen billion year old story, the more that knowledge changes our understanding of our lives, our freedom, our call to be co-creators with the Sacred. Yet we read the mystics of past centuries and are astounded to see that they came to a similar awareness while knowing nothing of what contemporary physics teaches us about our Universe.
For example, in The Universe Is a Green Dragon , Evolutionary Cosmologist Brian Swimme writes that allurement is one of the great powers of the universe. Swimme says that following our allurements can lead us into the activity of creating new life for ourselves and for others.
Julian of Norwich, in the fourteenth century, learned about allurement directly from her encounters with the Risen Christ who taught her that our deepest desires are sourced in God. Julian writes: "Often our trust is not full. We are not certain that God hears us because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing. This is ridiculous and the cause of our weakness. I have felt this way myself." Then Julian tells us how God spoke to her of this: I am the ground of your prayers. First, it is my will that you have what you desire. Later, I cause you to want it. Later on, I cause you to pray for it and you do so. How then can you not have what you desire?
(Meditations with Julian of Norwich, Brendan Doyle, Bear &Co. Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983, pp.67-68)
Icon of Julian by Patrick Comerford
The change in perspective offered by awareness of an evolving universe in which we have a role as co-creators requires a radical change in our concept of what being a 'good' human means. It requires a radical shift in our concept of God.
Teilhard de Chardin believed that an evolving universe requires a new God. As mystic and scientist, he knew that embracing the reality of a universe that is unfinished, continuously unfolding, expanding, growing in complexity, would require us to alter our idea of God. Teilhard saw the Resurrected Christ as the Omega, the point towards which our universe is evolving, drawing it forward from up ahead rather than pushing it from behind or dangling it from up above. This alters both our concept of how God calls us and how we understand goodness and morality.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In From Teilhard to Omega (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014) editor Ilia Delio writes in her introduction that Teilhard’s vision of science glowing with faith is “a call to wake up from our medieval slumber and to see the core of religion -- love, truth, goodness and beauty – written into the very fabric of the cosmos.”
the path to greater being and goodness is through unions
In Chapter Nine of that book, Jesuit Edward Vacek considers the evolving view of morality that rises from Teilhard’s work: “For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, moral living is to live inspired by a mystical intuition of a grand historical synthesis in love…. as Teilhard reframed the ethical project, he stunningly turned natural law into Christian ethics, autonomous agency into responsive cooperation, the requirement of conformity into creativity, and a focus on self-fulfillment into building both the world and -- most provocatively – God.” He does this, Vacek states, by locating humanity “within a vision of the cosmos”. (p. 151) As with the cosmos, where the union of hydrogen and oxygen creates water, so with the human: the path to greater being and goodness is through unions. This makes the ethical task one of relating, in cooperation with the work of Christ who is building the universe. “The most fundamental ethical norm then becomes fidelity to this … relationship,” Vacek writes.
God has been at work in the universe from its beginnings more than thirteen billion years ago. Now humans are invited to enter into that task. Since God’s creativity includes the whole cosmos, human creative activity is naturally spiritual. “All of our activities are part of God’s grand project that is cosmic history. God’s activity of fostering evolution continues in ourselves. Its movement toward ever-greater being takes place through our free engagement.” (p. 153)
an experience of God acting to lure us
How did Teilhard see God’s involvement in the actual process of evolution? Vacek writes: “He describes God as an attracting cause. He speaks as if God were ahead of us in time.” Using the example of a good possibility that we might see arise in our life, Vacek says that, “when we love God and have an ongoing historical relationship with God, such possibilities may be experienced as a next step to which God invites us. Process theologians sometimes describe this as an experience of God acting to lure us…”
Teilhard’s reflections on human experience showed him that rather than being autonomous agents in our actions, we were engaged in a response. Vacek expands on this to say that “when we reflect within our relation to God, we discover that God’s invitation precedes our human autonomy”.
Further, “the attractive power of future possibility leaves us free to assent. Our freedom consents or dissents to an opportunity that presents itself. Thus, if we are lovers of God, our experience is that God may be inviting us to take the next step. In this way, God’s invitation activates rather than usurps our freedom. In every good decision we make, we are also consenting to God.” (p. 154)
love is central to moral living
Love, then, is central to moral living. For Teilhard, love “is directed to more being.” Love attracts us “to the real or potential good of the beloved”. We experience these attractions “as invitations from God to love creation, that is, to enhance the good. God… is in the future beckoning us.” (pp.154-5)
Teilhard's criterion for human development was whether the new was enhancement of being, “more”, brought about by love.Thus we continue God’s activity of love in evolution. For Vacek, Teilhard’s core insight into Christian ethics is this: “What we human beings do to make a better world coheres with what Christ has been doing and is doing and will do….our ordinary and our extraordinary activities can be ways of cooperating with Christ’s activity”. (pp.156-7)
All ethical living, in Teilhard’s view, is cooperating with God. Moreover, Vacek writes,“God cannot save us without our own activity. Our unwillingness to cooperate with God is the meaning of sin.” (p. 159)
Vacek concludes that “the will of God is not an antecedent plan to be discovered by us, but rather a plan to be cocreated through the exercise of our own minds and hearts. God speaks to us in our own voice. In the best run of things, our thoughts are God’s thoughts and our ways are God’s ways.”
Again, let us listen to Julian, whose understanding of God's whole purpose is this: Love is His meaning.
Julian of Norwich
Communion of Creative Fire Reflection for May 7, 2019
It is the eve of the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich who, with Brigid of Kildare and Hildegard of Bingen, belongs to the Trinity of Wise Women, the "godmothers" of our Communion of Creative Fire. As I wonder which of her teachings, which of her writings, which of her many assurances that we are held in love to share with you, I choose instead to tell the story of my first encounter with "Lady Julian."
Icon of Julian of Norwich by Anna Dimascio
It is the winter of 1992, and I am in England at the University of Sussex, pursuing studies in Post-Modernist Fiction. I experience cold like nothing I have ever encountered in Canada, a piercing, bone-biting cold that hangs visibly in the air as "ice fog." I am grateful for the British custom of heating milk before adding it to coffee. Yet my fellow students seem unaware of the cold as they move about the campus, their long woolen scarves wrapped around their necks, the only addition to their all-weather uniforms of jeans, sweaters, runners.
I am also cold within, enduring exile from a place, a work that I loved.
My writing tutor, watching the story of what brought me here as it unfolds in my writing, suggests:
"You should visit the reconstructed cell of Julian in Norwich."
So on a Friday in February, I am travelling north by train, having left London's Liverpool Street Station at 11 am.
In the fields beside the train tracks, wild daffodils wave, not yet in full bloom.
Two hours later, I emerge from the Norwich Station and, following a map sent from the Julian Guest House,
find Thorpe Road, cross the Wensum River, follow Mountergate Street to King Street, enter the narrow Julian Alley.
Suddenly I am in front of a tiny flintstone church, a re-creation, I would discover later,
of the centuries-old church that was destroyed by a direct hit in the Second World War.
a re-creation of the centuries-old church
On the outer wall of the church, a plaque declares:
Dame Julian of Norwich, Mystic, became an anchoress living in a cell attached
to the south wall of this church soon after 1373, and here she wrote, "Revelations of Divine Love."
I push open the unlocked door, find myself in a small church with seating room for perhaps a hundred people.
I walk up the centre aisle, see a low wooden door to the right, place my thumb on its iron latch, push inwards.
I enter a small room, perhaps only ten feet by fifteen; yet, its high ceiling offers a sense of spaciousness.
inside the reconstructed anchorhold in Norwich
Through the mullioned windows, weak winter sunlight enters the room, muted by the coloured panes to
pale violet and yellow.Beneath the windows, a long wooden bench offers a place to sit while I unpack my camera.
I look towards the small altar to my right, then at the high window that looks into the sanctuary.
On this window is an image of Julian before Christ on the cross.
Beneath it, on the floor beside a marble monument, I see an ancient boulder of grey stone that appears
old enough to have been part of the original anchorhold.
On the marble monument I read these words: "Thou art enough to me."
At once, I am no longer seeing but seen. The Lady Julian is at home.
I am aware of a kindly, wise, loving presence, a presence so real that I am suddenly
pouring forth to her the unspoken grief of my exile.
I feel heard. Then I sense words within me, words I know to be her response to me:
"Let him hold you in the pain."
I know she speaks of Jesus, and this somehow frees me to acknowledge my need to be comforted.
I ask a question. "What of the friend I left, the relationship that I fear may not survive this separation?"
Again, her words are as clear as if she had spoken them aloud:
"Be right glad and merry, for he loves you and wants you to be happy."
And I believe her, know it is still true.
On that February day, I discover Julian as a friend, a presence of wisdom, of kindness, in my life.
I believe she longs to be that also for any who turn to her seeking counsel and loving support.
Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, written over the course of twenty years of reflection to guide us,
her kindred spirits, is available in over a dozen editions, translated in recent decades
from the Middle English of Chaucer's time.
Here is a sample of Julian's advice, garnered from her intimacy with Jesus:
He did not say you would not be tempest-tossed; he did not say you not be work-weary;
he did not say you would not be discomfitted. But he said, "You will not be overcome."
As I reflect on our call in the Communion of Creative Fire,
I see Julian is a model for us,
one who keeps the fire of love alight in her own heart
so that when someone steps from a frigid February day,
she has warmth to offer.
Welcoming the Fire Within the Fire
Communion Reflection for Bealtaine Eve
April 30, 2019
Waken before dawn. Rise quickly, dress, hurry outdoors. You’ll need to climb the hill near your cottage, to reach its top before sunrise. There, joined by friends and neighbours, you must gather dry sedge and sticks to prepare the Bealtaine Fire. It must be ready in time to greet the sun on this first day of May.
For the quiet moon-time months of winter, the contemplative feminine time of nurturing seeds of new life, is ended. The active sunlit masculine time is here.
Once the fire is prepared, ready to be lighted at the first appearance of the rising sun, reach into the green plants around you, and draw forth the predawn dew. Wash your hands, your face in this magical mix of fire and water.
If you know where to find the holy well on the far side of the hill, go there now. Reach deep into its cold spring-fed waters and splash them over your body. Let yourself be soaked in water. Turn to face the rising sun. You are enacting with your body a sacred ritual, uniting the fire of the sun (masculine energy) and water (feminine energy).
These are the ways our Celtic Ancestors celebrated the Feast of Bealtaine on the first day of May. Now in our time, when we have such need of reconnection with the earth, such need of being held, healed, wholed in her embrace, these rituals are being recovered, rediscovered by scholars and spiritual guides, such as Dolores Whelan, author of Ever Ancient, Ever New.
The early Celtic Christians, whose faith was harmoniously united with the earth, chose to honour Mary with a crown of fresh blossoms as Queen of the May. Some of us may remember processions from the days of our childhood when we crowned Mary with flowers as we sang, “Bring flowers of the fairest, Bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale…”
The May 1st celebration of Bealtaine can still inspire our lives. For we, like the earth herself, find ourselves awakening to new possibilities, discovering shoots of green life within us even as we welcome their silent sudden appearance in the rain-soaked earth of our gardens.
Just as the Bealtaine fires were used to purify the cattle that had spent the winter indoors, before they were released into the fields of summer, in our lives the Bealtaine fire can be a ritual cleansing of any negativity left over from winter. The fire can release us from all that would hold us back from a joyous re-entry into the time of blossoming.
The masculine fire energies of Bealtaine bring into the sun the feminine winter-moonlit dreams in which we reimagined the healing and the wholing of the earth and all of life.
As we welcome the sun’s fire, we also welcome the sacred fire that burns within us.
In her magnificent poem, “The Fire Within the Fire of All Things”,
Catherine de Vinck, a mystic of our own time, writes:
To start here in the mud of the rainy season
- the land’s ragged fabric coarse under the probing hand:
brittle sedge, lifeless vine, thorny twig of the vanished rose....
How far to the next road, to the house of many lamps?
How far to the other side, the place beyond history?
This is where it begins in this pattern, this path
corrugated with deep ruts
Where I wander in and out of step
through the zig-zags of idle thoughts
Here I advance, meeting the fox
a quick flame flaring among the reeds
I feel helpless dazed by such beauty
Then I say to myself: If I can shiver with joy
when the wind rises, puffed up, full voiced
to later fall back quietly
folding itself pleat by soft pleat into a fluttering rag of air;
If I dance with happiness
at the sight of the circling hawk
knowing for a moment what it is to float over the swamp
in a robe of dark feathers;
and if I do hear the summons
hidden within the miracle of stones;
then I can name the holy
the Fire within the fire of all things.
Catherine de Vinck, God of a Thousand Names (with the author’s permission)
Teilhard and the New Spirituality
Communion Reflection for April 23, 2019
We are each aware that recent decades have brought about a sea change in spirituality. If you are like me, you have been happily swimming through new oceans, enchanted by the brilliantly coloured coral, the exotic fish, the sunlight that filters down into the water, the buoyant feeling of being held in love.
For Teilhard, this newness was more than an experience: it was a call birthed out of the discovery that we live within a universe that is, and has been, in a state of continuous evolution. For Teilhard, such a universe reveals a God never glimpsed in a world seen as static, unchanging, complete.
And this God is to be found at the very heart-core of the universe itself. A universe with God at its heart, as its principle of evolution, is holy. Sacred. Entirely so. This was Teilhard’s deepest conviction, the source of his understanding that a new spirituality involved a new way of relating to both God and the universe. Such a God in such a universe requires us as co-creators.
As we continue to explore Teilhard’s thought through reflections on his writings by contemporary theologians in From Teilhard to Omega edited by Ilia DeLio (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), we consider this week the essay in Chapter 10 by William D. Dinges and Ilia DeLio. In “Teilhard de Chardin and the New Spirituality”, the authors describe the new spirituality that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century as “diverse, eclectic, multi-cultural, diffused, decentered, and often uncoupled from traditional religious sources, particularly from more hierarchical, orthodox and theistic ones”.
Rather than requiring individuals to turn aside from their own development to conform to an authority that is outside themselves, the new spirituality is “more located within the internal control and consciousness of individuals”. Arising from a “complex array of historical, social, and cultural sources”, some of which are outside Western culture, the new spirituality is part of “a contemporary global religious megasynthesis that includes a colonization of the Western mind by Eastern esoteric psychologies, philosophies, and religious traditions.”
This new pluralistic and holistic spirituality, the authors believe, reflects the subjective turn of modernity and post-modernity; emphasizes feelings, experience and the quest for human authenticity; accentuates human fulfillment in this world; reveres and affirms the cosmos and our belonging to it; finds the sacred in the secular; promotes a recomposed and embodied spirituality; and recognizes the infusion of nature and matter with spirit, consciousness, or life force.
Teilhard, were he to have read these 21st century words, would, I believe, have nodded his head in agreement. But he would have then added such a depth of passion, beauty and spiritual force that we would, in our turn, have been enchanted, enlivened, empowered by his deep conviction that the discovery of evolution changes everything.
This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth- the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame” (Teilhard in The Divine Milieu)
Once we accept evolution as the process of unfolding life, the way that new life emerges over deep time, we see that God is at the heart of the universe. To overcome the old divide between earth and heaven, matter and spirit, secular and sacred, Teilhard saw that we must “rid ourselves of the old God of the starry heavens and embrace the God of evolution.”
Teilhard saw the universe as permeated with love in the person of the Risen Christ, towards whom he saw all of life evolving. “Through his penetrating view of the universe, he found Christ present within the entire cosmos, from the least particle of matter to the convergent human community. The whole cosmos is incarnational.”
Teilhard’s is “an embodied perspective that sees human flourishing as embedded in the flourishing of the Earth community in which both are manifestations of the emergent universe story”. In The Divine Milieu, Teilhard wrote: “there is nothing profane here below for those who know how to see.” (DM, 66)
Of Paul’s words in his letter to the Colossians, “Before anything was created, (Christ) existed, and he holds all things in unity”, Teilhard writes: “it is impossible for me to read St. Paul without seeing the universal and cosmic domination of the Incarnate Word emerging from his words with dazzling clarity.”
For Teilhard Christ is the evolver in the universe, the one who is coming to be in evolution through the process of creative union…
As Omega, Christ is the one who fills all things and who animates and gathers up all the biological and spiritual energies developed by the universe. Since Christ is Omega, the universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter by the influence of his superhuman nature. The material world is holy and sacred.
Through grace, the presence of the incarnate Word penetrates everything as a universal element. Everything -- every leaf, flower, tree, rabbit, fish, star-- is physically “christified”, gathered up by the incarnate Word as nourishment that assimilates, transforms, and divinizes. The world is like a crystal lamp illumined from within by the light of Christ. For those who can see, Christ shines in this diaphanous universe, through the cosmos and in matter.
We immerse ourselves in this glorious sea, seeking the diaphany of God in dolphin, in coral, in squid and shark, each held, like us, in love.
Questions for your Sacred Hour:
In your relationship with the Love at the heart of the Universe,
how important are these aspects of spirituality?
* feelings, experience, the quest for human authenticity
* human fulfillment
* reverence for the cosmos and our belonging to it
* finding the sacred in the everyday world
* an embodied spirituality
- *recognizing nature and matter as infused with spirit, consciousness, or life force.
Teilhard and Easter in an Unfinished Universe
Communion Reflection for April 16, 2019
In the mid-April days leading towards Easter 2019,
two events of startling significance took place on our Earth.
On April 10th a photo was released, one carefully constructed
from images taken by eight radio telescopes around the planet.
The photo shows the outer lip, the "event horizon" of a black hole,
with brilliantly lit matter being drawn into fathomless darkness.
University of Hawaii-Hilo Hawaiian language professor
Larry Kimura had the honour of naming this black hole.
He chose the name "Powehi", a Hawaiian word that means
"the adorned fathomless dark creation" or "embellished dark source
of unending creation". The word comes from the Kumulipo,
an 18th century Hawaiian creation chant.
Po is a profound dark source of unending creation, while wehi,
honoured with embellishments, is one of the chant's descriptions of po…
Gathered with a group of women, I spent Palm Sunday reflecting
on the awakening to the Sacred Feminine in our time.
The image of Powehi and the meaning of its sacred name, struck a chord for us…
How often has the Sacred Feminine been given names
that relate to darkness, to mystery…
"the dark feminine", "the black Madonna", the one hidden in the earth, in the sea...
Then, as Holy Week began, the great Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris
was engulfed in flames.
The grief of Parisians was shared around the planet. Already plans
are being made to rebuild this centuries-old church
that honours the Sacred Feminine in her title of "Our Lady".
Each of these events soars above the mundane preoccupations
of our lives, giving us a sense of the greater story of which we are a part.
They put the Easter Mystery in a larger context,
one that embraces the whole spectrum of what we know and intuit of the Universe…
As I prepared to write our Easter Reflection, I turned to Teilhard de Chardin,
for he understood so wellthat the Story of the Universe is far from complete.
“For Teilhard, autumn rather than spring was the happiest time of year,”
writes John Haught in his essay, “Teilhard de Chardin:
Theology for an Unfinished Universe.”
(Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe, Ilia Delio, ed. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014)
“It is almost as though the shedding of leaves opened his soul
to the limitless space of the up-ahead and the not-yet,
liberating him from the siren charms of terrestrial spring and summer.”
A scientist, a mystic, rather than a theologian, Teilhard deplored
the way that theology continued to reflect on God
as though the scientific fact of a still –emerging universe
was either unknown or irrelevant.
More than sixty years after Teilhard’s death, theologians are still engaged
in the work of re-imagining a God who calls us forward
into an as-yet-unknown reality. And yet, even a limited grasp, a glimpse,
of what Teilhard saw of the “up- ahead and the not-yet”
is enough to inspire hope.
Neither scientist nor theologian, I am a storyteller.
I know how a change in the story has power to alter and illumine.
If we live in a story of a completed universe where once upon a
perfect time our first parents, ecstatically happy in a garden
of unimagined beauty, destroyed everything by sin, what have we to hope for?
The best is already irretrievably lost. Under sentence of their guilt
we can only struggle through our lives, seeking forgiveness,
trusting in redemption, saved only at a terrible cost
to the One who came to suffer and die for us.
The suffering around us still speaks to us of punishment
for that first sin, and the burdenof continuing to pay for it
with our lives…. Despair and guilt are constant companions.
Hope in that story rests in release from the suffering of life into death.
But if we live the story as Teilhard saw it, seeing ourselves
in an unfinished universe that is still coming into being,
everything changes. In a cosmos that is still a work in progress,
we are called to be co-creators,
moving with the universe into a future filled with hope.
Our human hearts long for joy, and we love to hear stories
where suffering and struggle lead to happiness,
to fulfillment, to love. The possibility that there could be peace,
reconciliation, compassion, mercy and justice to an increasing degree
on our planet is a profound incentive
for us to work with all our energy for the growth of these values.
The call to co-create in an unfinished universe
broadens and deepens our Christian vocation:
Our sense of the creator, the work of the Holy Spirit,
and the redemptive significance of Christ can grow
by immense orders of magnitude. The Love that rules the stars
will now have to be seen as embracing two hundred billion galaxies,
a cosmic epic of fourteen billion years’ duration, and perhaps even a multiverse.
Our thoughts about Christ and redemption will have to extend
over the full breadth of cosmic time and space. (p.13)
Haught believes that “if hope is to have wings and life to have zest,”
we need a new theological vision that “opens up a new future for the world.”
For Teilhard that future was convergence into God. His hope was founded
in the future for he grasped the evolutionary truth
that the past has been an increasing complexity of life endowed with “spirit”.
Haught writes: At the extreme term of the convergent movement
of the universe from past multiplicity toward unity up ahead,
Teilhard locates 'God-Omega'. Only by being synthesized
into the unifying creativity and love of God
does the world become fully intelligible. (p.18)
Teilhard saw God as creating the world by drawing it from up ahead,
so that the really real is to be sought in the not yet.
And this means that: The question of suffering, while still intractable,
opens up a new horizon of hope when viewed
in terms of an unfinished and hence still unperfected universe. (p.19)
Haught believes that the concept of an unfinished universe
can strengthen hope and love: …the fullest release of human love is
realistically possible only if the created world still has possibilities
that have never before been realized….Only if the beloved still has a future
can there be an unreserved commitment
to the practice of charity, justice and compassion. (p.19)
Haught suggests that Teilhard’s embrace of an emerging universe
is one of the reasons why his writings often lift the hearts
of his scientifically educated readers and make room
for a kind of hope…that they had never experienced before
when reading and meditating on other theological and spiritual works. (p. 20)
Teilhard's visionary, hopeful heart would resonate with the words
from the film, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel":
Everything will be all right in the end.
If it's not all right, it is not yet the end.
Awaiting the Resurrection of the Earth
Communion Reflection for April 9, 2019
The Sun— just touched the Morning—
The Morning—Happy thing—
Supposed that He had come to dwell—
And Life would all be Spring!
Emily Dickinson's words express the reality of these April days
in mid-eastern Canada.
After one brief sunlit day of warmth, the frozen earth, snug under
her fresh coverlet of snow, seems set to sleep forever.
As the Festival of Easter draws very near, I understand
at a deeper level than before, how the Earth is the primary teacher of hope,
the first manifestation of love, the earliest image of the divine.
In her rising each year from the death of winter,
she restores our joy, our trust in her all-encompassing love.
And so, we wait in hope for the snow to melt,
for the solid ice to become flowing streams, for that first
emergence of green life, of flowering beauty.
Paul, the first Christian mystic, understood this primacy of the earth,
though over the millennia we have misconstrued his words,
as Richard Rohr points out in The Universal Christ (Convergent Books, New York, 2019):
Paul writes, "If there is no resurrection from death, Christ himself
cannot have been raised" (1 Corinthians 15:13).
He presents "resurrection" as a universal principle,
but most of us only remember the following verse:
"If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless,
and your faith is useless." (15, 14)
….the reason we can trust Jesus's resurrection is that we can
already see resurrection happening everywhere else." (169-70)
Seeing the earth as the first Incarnation of God, Rohr writes:
In the mythic imagination…Mary intuitively symbolizes
the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth…
(I am not saying Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became
the natural archetype and symbol for it, particularly in art,
which is perhaps why the Madonna is still the most painted subject in Western art.)
I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery.
This archetype had already shown herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom
(see Proverbs 8:1 ff., Wisdom 7:7 ff.), and again
in the book of Revelation (12:1-17) in the cosmic symbol of
"a Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon."
Neither Sophia nor the Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth,
yet in so many ways, both are – and each broadens
our understanding of the Divine Feminine." (123)
Rohr reflects further upon the images of Madonna and Child in Western art:
The first incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia- Incarnate,
a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary.
She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness.
Raphael: Madonna and Child
Mary became the Symbol of the First Universal Incarnation.
She then hands the Second Incarnation to us,
while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child. (124)
Thomas Berry, the eco-theologian, wrote extensively on this "first incarnation",
seeing the universe as "the supreme manifestation of the sacred."
Here is his invitation to us to open our eyes and hearts to its wonders
as we await earth's spring resurrection:
What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night,
at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens?
What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon?
What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer
as the birds depart on their southward journey,
or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away?
What are your thoughts as you look out over the ocean in the evening?
What do you see?
Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena
a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world,
a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day
and the stars and planets by night,
a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner.
The other world was guardian, teacher, healer,
the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided,
and the destiny to which we returned.
Above all, this world provided the psychic power
we humans needed in our moments of crisis.
Together with the visible world and the cosmic world,
the human world formed a meaningful threefold
community of existence.
This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought,
where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth...
We need to awaken... to the wilderness itself as a source
of new vitality for its own existence. For it is the wild that is creative.
As we are told by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness
is the preservation of the world.”
The communion that comes through these experiences of the wild,
where we sense something present and daunting,
stunning in its beauty, is beyond comprehension in its reality,
but it points to the holy, the sacred.
The universe is the supreme manifestation of the sacred.
This notion is fundamental to establishing a cosmos,
an intelligible manner of understanding the universe
or even any part of the universe.
That is why the story of the origin of things was experienced
as a supremely nourishing principle,
as a primordial maternal principle, or as the Great Mother,
in the earliest phases of human consciousness...
We must remember that it is not only the human world
that is held securely in this sacred enfoldment but the entire planet.
We need this security, this presence throughout our lives.
The sacred is that which evokes the depths of wonder.
We may know some things, but really we know only the shadows of things.
We go to the sea at night and stand along the shore.
We listen to the urgent roll of the waves reaching ever higher
until they reach their limits and can go no farther,
then return to an inward peace until the moon calls again
for their presence on these shores.
So it is with a fulfilling vision that we may attain for a brief moment.
Then it is gone, only to return again
in the deepening awareness of a presence that holds all things together.
(from the writings of Thomas Berry)
Living the Easter Mystery
Communion Reflection for April 2, 2019
Through the cold, quiet nighttime of the grave underground,
The earth concentrated on him with complete longing
Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond
To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.
The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.
He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.
John O’Donohue “Resurrection”
The Easter Mystery of life-death-life is at the heart of the universe,
at the heart of life on our planet,
in the deep heart of our own lives.
From its birth out of the womb of a dying star,
through its daily cycle of day/dusk/ night/dawn,
its yearly cycle of summer/autumn/ winter/spring,
the earth teaches us to live within the paschal mystery.
Ancient peoples understood this mystery.
Through their careful observations they constructed buildings
such as the mound in Newgrange Ireland where a tiny lintel
receives the first rays of dawn only on the winter solstice.
The ancients wove their understanding of life/death/life into their mythologies:
the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose severed body was put together
piece by piece by his wife Isis, then reawakened;
the Sumerians tell of the great queen Inanna who descended
to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal.
There she was stripped of all her royal robes and insignia, and murdered
by her sister who then hung her lifeless body on hook.
Three days later, Inanna was restored to life, all her honour returned to her.
Demeter calls forth her daughter Persephone from the kingdom of the dead;
Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius return to life after being destroyed.
The people of Jesus’ time would have known these and other
great myths of the ancient Near East.
Jean Houston tells us in Godseed (Quest Books, 1992): In the Greco-Roman world,
these acts of resurrection were celebrated in the Mystery Religions.
These ecstatic forms of piety involved dramatic, highly-ritualized
inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, resurrection, redemption, joy and ecstasy.
The Mystery Religions provided alienated individuals lost
in the nameless masses of the Roman Empire
with an intimate environment and community of the saved,
in which they counted as real persons and found a deeper identity.
Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the mystery cult,
the initiate died to the old self and was resurrected
to personal transfiguration and eternal life. (125-6)
What was so stunningly different in the Jesus story was that
the mystery of life-death-life was incarnated in a historical person.
The Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith.
As Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen then our faith is in vain.”
In our lifetime, the explosion of new science shows us
the life/death/mystery at the heart of the universe.
Like exploding stars, our lives are continuously being rebirthed
into a deeper more joyous existence.
By allowing the death within ourselves of old habits,
old mindsets and narrow ideas of who or what we may be,
we open ourselves to the possibility of new life being birthed within us.
As Jesus told his friends, “You will do what I do. You will do even greater things”.
“Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns
appropriate to our new time and place,” Jean Houston writes in Godseed.
For this to happen, we need to open in our deep core
to the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits.
It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender
to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed.
“The need for resurrection has increased in our time,” Jean continues.
We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading
toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion.
Yet the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing
with which God yearns for us….
the strength of that mutual longing can give us
the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone,
the stumbling blocks that keep us sealed away
and dead to the renewal of life. (Godseed 129-130)
The yearly miracle of spring awakens within us the confidence and joy
that this same rebirth is ours to accept and to live.
We know our call to green our lives, our times, our planet:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age (Dylan Thomas)
Where in my life do I most experience the need for a rebirth?
What old habits and beliefs would I have to let die in order for this new life to be born?
How does knowing that the longing with which (I) yearn for God is the same longing
with which God yearns for (me) make my life more joyful?
What would a resurrected life look like, feel like, for me?
for those with whom my life is woven? for our planet?
May Sophia, the feminine presence of Sacred Wisdom,
gently guide us through the death of what no longer serves us
into the joy of the rebirth for which our hearts yearn.