Teilhard de Chardin
Have Yourself a Teilhard Kind of Christmas
For several 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.
We have already seen that 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 Christmas celebrates? 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….
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. (pp. 46-7)
(From Teilhard to Omega Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2014)
Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.
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)
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.
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 – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they 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.
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 truly have something to celebrate at Christmas. 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)– 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 p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964
Teilhard on a Participatory World
We live in a universe where everything that exists shines “like a crystal lamp illumined from within”, as we saw in our earlier reflections on “Teilhard and the New Spirituality” (From Teilhard to Omega edited by Ilia DeLio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY 2014 Chapter Ten). This calls us to wonder, awe, gratitude. But Teilhard believed that much more is required of us.
In the same essay, DeLio and Dinges 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 Christians…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)
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 this way:
First, his 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; and 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,” he says “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, 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.”
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)
Nothing that lives on our planet is truly separate from 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 toward that great comingled work of the evolution of the universe, the evolution of ourselves.
As we approach the Feast of Christmas, we may choose as our preparation a deeper seeing, a heartfelt listening to the songs of the universe, its joy-filled melodies, its grief-laden cries. This is not a time to look for a new coming of the Holy, but rather a time to seek 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)
Teilhard and the New Spirituality
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 inFrom 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
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 words of 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. 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.”
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.
(Christ is) 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.
So let us 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.
Being God, Being Good in an Evolving Universe
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 God 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.
In her introduction to From Teilhard to Omega (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014) editor Ilia DeLio writes 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.”
As we continue to explore the essays in this collection, we will see something of the reflection being done by contemporary theologians to bring Teilhard’s vision forward. They are expanding it, deepening it, in the light of the advances in science and cosmology since his death in 1955, and the insights of the Second Vatican Council that followed in the 1960’s. Teilhard’s vision is a brilliant gift that just keeps on giving!
In Chapter Nine of From Teilhard to Omega, 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 religious 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)
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”.
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, 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)
An invitation is quite different from something that is perceived as a divine command. For Teilhard, “morality took the form of much more open-ended daring than would have been possible if morality were for him a matter of obeying commandments or conforming to pregiven nature. Instead, moral living involves consenting to attractive possibilities in the hope of creating something new and better.” (p. 155)
For Teilhard, the new ethics was one of love focused on evolution through a process of synthesis or love of others. His 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. Vacek draws four implications from this: “First, we enact our love for God by cooperating with God in the building up of the world around us, including especially the lives of other human beings. Second, we cooperate by developing ourselves. Third, we contribute by our actions to God’s own development. Fourth, since our actions are related to God, whatever is good in them belongs to eternity.” (p. 157)
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.”
Moreover, “God cannot save us without our own activity. Our unwillingness to cooperate with God is the meaning of sin.” (p. 159)
Walking with Teilhard
by Jean Houston
part three (conclusion)
The last time I saw Mr. Tayer was the Thursday before Easter Sunday, 1955. I brought him the shell of a snail. "Ah, escargot," he exclaimed and then proceeded to wax ecstatic for the better part of an hour on the presence of spirals in nature and art. Snail shells and galaxies and the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral and the great rose window there, as well as the convolutions in the brain, the whorl of flowers, the meanderings of rivers, and the circulation of the heart's blood were taken up into a great hymn to the spiralling evolution of spirit and matter.
"It is all a spiral of becoming, Jeanne." He looked away, his wan face seeming to see into futures that I could not.
Minutes passed. Finally he spoke, "Jeanne, the people of your time toward the end of this century will be taking the tiller of the world. But they cannot go directly” -- he used the French word directement —“but must go in spirals, touching upon every people, every culture, every kind of consciousness. It is then that the noosphere, the field of mind, will awaken, and we will rebuild the Earth.”
He took my hands and looked at me intently. "Jeanne, remain always true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourself united with all those who, from every direction, every culture, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge. Ah, so much I wish I could live to see it."
"See what, Mr. Tayer?"
He didn't hear my question. Instead, he seemed already to be seeing something else, in ecstasy. He began to speak in faltering but eloquent spasms. "All around us, to the right and left, in front and behind, above and below, we have only to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances in order to see the divine welling up and showing through.
"See, over there, in that cherry tree, in that rock, in that child. By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers."
Mr. Tayer continued to speak about everything -- war, pain, beauty, death, rebirth. He told me the present chaos was not the end of the world but the labor pains of a new Earth and a new humanity coming into finished form.
At the end, his voice dropped, and he whispered almost in prayer, "Omega . . . Omega . . . Omega . . ." Finally he looked up and said to me quietly, "Au revoir, Jeanne."
"Au revoir, Mr. Tayer," I replied, "I'll meet you at the same time next Tuesday." For some reason, Champ, my fox terrier, didn't want to budge, and when I pulled him along, he whimpered, tail down between his legs, looking back at Mr. Tayer.
The following Tuesday I was waiting where we always met at the corner of Park Avenue and 84th Street, but he didn't come. The following Thursday I waited again. Still he didn't come. The dog looked up at me sadly. For the next eight weeks I continued to wait, but he never came again.
It turned out that he had died suddenly that Easter Sunday, but I didn't find that out for a long time.
Years later, when I was in graduate school, someone handed me a book without a cover called The Phenomenon of Man. As I read the book, I found its concepts strangely familiar. Occasional words and expressions loomed up as echoes from my past -- metamorphosis, noosphere. When, later in the book, I came across the concept of the Omega Point, I was certain. I asked to see the jacket of the book and looked at the author's picture.
I recognized him immediately. There was no forgetting or mistaking that face. Mr. Tayer was Teilhard de Chardin, the great priest-scientist, poet, paleontologist and mystic. During that lovely and luminous year, I had been meeting him outside the Jesuit rectory of St. Ignatius, where he was sometimes living.
I like to think that just as I partially replaced my father in my companionship with Teilhard, perhaps he saw in me the daughter he never had, the one he could talk to, even though he was being crucified by his church. For those were the years when he was forbidden to publish anything of his giant spiritual and scientific vision, could not teach, mentor other priests, or discuss his larger work.
About twenty years ago, as one of the founders and vice president of the American Teilhard de Chardin Society, I told the story of my walking the dog with Mr. Tayer to a group of elderly Jesuit priests. One old man came up to me and said, "I know all about you!"
"You do, Father?" I responded. "How does that happen?"
"I was Father Teilhard's housemate at the Jesuit rectory in those years, and I used to ask him where he was going on those afternoons when he came back from working at the Wenner Gren Foundation and immediately went out again. He told me he was meeting with this jolly large young girl, and now I see that she was you."
Thus I met my earlier fractal self.
(from Jean Houston: A Mythic Life : Learning to Live Our Greater Story HarperSanFrancisco 1996 pp 146-7)
Walking with Teilhard
by Jean Houston
Mr. Tayer … was fully present to every moment; being with him was attending God's own party, a continuous celebration of life and its mysteries. He was so full of vital juice that he seemed to flow with everything. He saw the interconnections between things, the way that everything in the universe, from fox terriers to tree bark to somebody's red hat to the mind of God, was related to everything else and how all of it fitted into one great story.
He wasn't merely a great appreciator, engaged by all his senses; he was truly penetrated by the reality that was yearning for him as much as he was yearning for it. He talked to the trees, to the wind, to the rocks as dear friends, even beloveds. "Ah, my friend, the mica schist layer, do you remember when . . . ?" I would swear that the mica schist would begin to glitter back. Mica schist will do that, but on a cloudy day?
He treated everything as personal, as sentient, addressed asthou. And everything that was thou was ensouled with being and thou-ed back to him. When I walked with him, I felt as though a spotlight was following us, bringing radiance and light everywhere. Even the poem that he inspired, "Rolling River," became golden. My English teacher, Miss Jones, submitted it to National Scholastic Magazine where it won the gold medal for the best poem by a high school student in 1954.
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Mr. Tayer was the way that he would suddenly stop and look at you with wonder and astonishment--a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the Holy One. I felt myself primed to the depths by such seeing. Evolutionary forces were called awake in me by such seeing, every cell and thought and potential palpably changed. I felt greened, awakened, and the defeats and denigrations of adolescence and even the departure of my father seemed partly redeemed.
I would go home and tell my mother, who was still a little skeptical about my walking with an old man in the park, "Mother, I was with my old man again, and when I am with him, I leave my littleness behind." One simply could not be stuck in littleness when held in the lustrous and loving field of Mr. Tayer.
One day Mr. Tayer stopped suddenly in our walk down the street toward the park. He turned to me and asked, "Jeanne, what to you is the most fascinating question?"
A long moment passed, and then I knew the answer. "It's about history, Mr. Tayer. . . and destiny, too, I think. I just finished reading that book you told me about, Human Destiny by Lecomte de Nouy." In fact, I'd been reading many of the books that Mr. Tayer had casually mentioned, Alfred North Whitehead's Adventures in Ideas, Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution, Plato's Republic.
"How can we take the right path in history so that we even have a destiny? My friends at school all talk about the H-bomb, and I wonder whether I'll ever get to be twenty-one years old. And yet, Mr. Tayer, you always talk about the human future, as if we had a future. I want to know what we have to do to keep that future coming."
"We need to have more specialists in spirit who will lead people into self-discovery. Perhaps, Jeanne, you will be one of them. "
"What do you mean, Mr. Tayer?"
"We are being called into metamorphosis into a far higher order, and yet we often act only from a tiny portion of ourselves. It is necessary that we increase that portion, but do not think for one minute, Jeanne, that we are alone in making that possible. We are part of a cosmic evolutionary movement that inspires us to unite with God. This is the lightning flash for all our potentialities. This is the great originating cause of all our shifts and changes. Without it, there is nothing but struggle and decline."
"What do you call it?" I asked. "I've never heard of it. Could it even have a name, something so great as that?"
"You are right. It is impossible to name."
"Try to name it, Mr. Tayer," I challenged. "I have heard that once things are named, you can begin to work with them."
The old man seemed amused. "All right, I'll try," he said. "It is the demand of the universe for the birth of the ultra- human. It is the rising of a new form of psychic energy in which the very depth of love within you is combined with what is most essential in the flowing of the cosmic stream. It is Love."
I did not really understand what he was saying, but I nodded sagely and said I would ponder these things. He said he would also.
One day, toward the end of our time together, Mr. Tayer began talking to me about the "lure of becoming" and how we humans are part of an evolutionary process in which we are being drawn toward something which he called the Omega Point, the goal of evolution.
He told me that he believed physical and spiritual energy was always flowing out from the Omega and empowering us as well as leading us forward through love and illumination.
It was then that I asked him my ultimate question, the one that haunted and continues to haunt me all the days of my life: "What do you believe it's all about, Mr. Tayer?"
His answer has remained enshrined in my heart. "Je crois. . . I believe that the universe is an evolution. I believe that the evolution is toward Spirit. I believe that Spirit fulfills itself in a personal God. I believe that the supreme personality is the Universal Christ."
"And what do you believe about yourself, Mr. Tayer?"
"I believe that I am a pilgrim of the future."
( from A Mythic Life pp 144-146 Harper San Francisco 1996)
(to be continued....)
Walking with Teilhard de Chardin
For the past two weeks, our Reflections on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin have been inspired, enhanced by the writing of 21st Century theologians who have been exploring his ideas in the light of the further advances in science in the sixty years since Teilhard’s death.
Today we will see Teilhard personally 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 auto-biography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), Jean Houston gives us a perspective on Teilhard that is deeply personal and insightful. The great paleontologist 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’ 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. 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 pp. 141-143)
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.
(in The Possible Human Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1982 p.123)
(to be continued....)
Teilhard and Sophia
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 depths of matter a-flame. Teilhard de Chardin
On this late October day, rain blesses barren branches, their leaves clustered below parent trees or tossed further away by winds. Today my heart journeys back to a day in mid-January of 2013, when a telephone conversation with Jean Houston gave birth to a dream that would become our Communion of Creative Fire. Revisiting a sketch I made then of what the communion might become, I see that our three godmothers, Julian, Brigid and Hildegard, were there from the beginning (upper right). Front and centre was Teilhard’s vision: the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe.
Now, having spent a full year with the spiritual genius of Hildegard, Brigid and Julian, we have begun our exploration of Teilhard, who, of the four mystics whose words and lives would bless our communion, is closest to our own time.
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 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. Last week, we explored the book’s first essay by John F. Haught, “Teilhard de Chardin: Theology for an Unfinished Universe”. (see Archives)
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….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 illuminative 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 and Hope in an Unfinished Universe
“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. 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. Even a limited grasp, a glimpse, of what Teilhard saw of the “up- ahead and the not-yet” is enough to inspire hope. For the next several weeks, I shall offer that glimpse with Reflections on Teilhard’s thoughts about our “unfinished universe” drawn from Ilia Delio’s collection of essays.
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, 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.
Haught sees the call to co-create in an unfinished universe as a broadening and deepening of the 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)
For Haught, Teilhard's 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)
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)
As we, members of the Communion of Creative Fire, walk the autumn woods in this season of uncertainty, planetary suffering, sickness and war, may we look ahead, as Teilhard did, through the barren branches to the hope into which we are called by the love that pervades all of life and every cell of our being. The Sufi poet and mystic Hafiz knew that:
Everything has its music.
Everything has genes of God inside.
Hope in an Unfinished Universe
For Teilhard de Chardin, God is the loving centre of convergence towards which our unfinished universe is being drawn. Sixty years after his death, Teilhard’s vision, coupled with ever-deepening awareness of the unfolding mysteries of the universe, is seeding new hope in spiritual writers and theologians, as well as in our Communion of Creative Fire. Over the next several weeks, I will be offering Reflections inspired by a new collection of essays edited by ilia DeLio: From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).
In today’s Reflection, Communion member Shirley Favotponders reasons for hope in these days of multiple global crises.
God is at the heart of our challenges. We are not alone. If our hearts can be turned forward we can help co-create a new human species, a new consciousness.
There are powerful voices building encouraging momentum.
We can change minds and hearts by increasing the awareness of the sacredness of all creation and the interconnection of all things. I recognize that it is important for me to always try to be aware/conscious and trust that goodness is emerging.It is important to remain hope-filled.
“Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”(Matthew 18:19)
Where two or more are gathered in love, I am what happens between them.
May we ponder this and in a joint venture meditate collectively, sending light and love to an emerging new human community to embrace the whole of the Earth Community.
This is part of the dying and resurrection. We work it through and that’s the power of the resurrection. This is a new universe being born and it’s messy.
In Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, he states that: “The primary purpose of your life cannot be found on the outer level. It does not concern what you do but what you are – that is to say, Your State of Consciousness. Inner purpose is to awaken.”
In Journey of the Universe (Yale University Press, 2011) Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker write:
The challenge of conscious self-awareness is unlike anything that has occurred for millions of years…. Our human destiny is to become the heart of the universe that embraces the whole of the Earth community. We are just a speck in the universe, but we are beings with the capacity to feel comprehensive compassion in the midst of an ocean of intimacy. This is the direction of our becoming fully human.
Judy Cannato’s book Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual Life is a remarkable resource for me where she confirms the power of meditation, the power of compassion and the power of intention. If we allow ourselves to connect deeply with our feelings, we tap into the energy that can give us courage, strength and determination to practise compassion to create a better world.
Barbara Marx Hubbard is another resource that has been a huge help for me to raise my consciousness. Her bookEmergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence states:
From the context of billions of years of evolutionary transformation, we see recurring patterns. For example, we learn that crises precede transformation. Problems are evolutionary drivers. Nature has been taking jumps through greater synergy, making new whole systems out of separate parts. As systems become more complex, they rise in consciousness and freedom.
When a system reaches a chaos point, “it is launched irreversibly on a new trajectory that leads either to breakdown or to breakthrough to a new structure and a new mode of operation,” as described by Ervin Laszlo in The Chaos Point. From this perspective, we can view the terrible crises that could destroy human civilization and much of Earth life as potentially generating the dangerous, painful, yet necessary birth of ourselves as a more mature, loving, creative species.
Why would the process of evolution stop here? With us?
It’s clearly not stopping. We see many signs of the rise of empathy, spirituality, and creativity.
There are social innovations and new solutions arising in every field of endeavor. Perhaps the most fundamental and world-changing capacity of all is the maturation our “noosphere,” the mind sphere, the “thinking layer of Earth.”
Gail Worcelo, sgm, from the Green Mountain Monastery has powerful writings on her website:
The way the Heart of Christ draws the universe forward, according to Teilhard, is through creative unions. In his view, all of evolution has progressed through a series of creative unions – sub atomic particles unite to form atoms, which unite to form molecules, cells, organisms and so on. This the pattern by which the universe creates something new, more complex and conscious. Because we can look back and see the pattern recurring, Teilhard believed we could extrapolate and project the pattern into the future, looking forward to another creative union in which we would be the uniting elements.
Each time a new creative union emerges, there is an exchange of characteristic energy among the uniting elements. The characteristic energy, for example, of atoms is electrical energy. But for us humans to unite with each other, to form the next creative union, we need to share with each other our characteristic energy, which is the energy of Love.
The new Christic Being, according to Teilhard, will come about only if we freely consent to form it by redirecting our old egocentric energy currents into new patterns of linking and sharing.
Thomas Berry has said: We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.
St. Brigid had to keep the fire burning, to bless the water, and her spirit is still with us today. Now we are part of the community that has to bring about change.