All posts by amclaughlin2014

Member of Community of Grey Sisters of Pembroke; Masters Degree in Religious Communication, Loyola University, Chicago; Author: Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) Planted in the Sky (2006) both published by Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada www.borealipress.com Retreat facilitator: The Wooing of the Soul (2013) The Sophia Salons, beginning in February 2016, offer journeys to one's own inner wisdom for small groups of women. For information: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

Teilhard: Circle of energy

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

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 brought 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

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 and 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 EnergyIndeed 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

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”. 

Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, palaeontologist, mystic, 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, through watching the light that briefly illumined the eyes of a dying soldier, Teilhard grew into knowing a divine presence at 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)

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. (Teilhard de Chardin).

Thinking back to Kathleen Duffy’s unfolding of Teilhard’s story, I see in that quote above the significance of 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 is what 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 the people of our time:

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)

Sun-blessed path through the woods at Jericho House

Yet that allurement was what he saw as 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. Finding 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.

Sophia: Source of creative union

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)

(Sophia) is the dynamic wisdom and life force…infused into every elementary particle…

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.

life appears on planet Earth

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.

(Sophia) is at play in the splendour of a sunset

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.

(Sophia) delights at the way humans participate more consciously and more creatively in her mission

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 

Endnotes

  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

On his fiftieth birthday, January 31, 1965, unaware that he was entering the final decade of his life, Thomas 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.

Thomas Merton

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 had opened my heart to the Sophia Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures, and 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.

In our becoming 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.

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 loveand 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 animateand 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 whichthe 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 substancesproduced 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