“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?