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)