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.