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

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

Love at the heart of life: Teilhard’s insight

Sophia Awakens for June 5, 2019

Everything that is in heaven

on the earth

or under the earth

is penetrated with connectedness….

with relatedness

Hildegard von Bingen, 12th c. abbess/mystic

What Hildegard knew mystically, intuitively, would be proven scientifically nearly a thousand years after her: the interconnectedness of all life. 

Another mystic, the poet Francis Thompson,

would write in the 19th century:

Thou canst not stir a flower

Without troubling of a star

stir a flower…trouble a star

Teilhard de Chardin brought the heart of a mystic, the eyes and sensibilities of a poet, the rigorous training of a scientist to his observations, his intuitions, his deep knowing.  Kathleen Duffy, in “Teilhard’s Mysticism”  (Orbis Books, Maryknoll New York, 2014) writes that Teilhard’s vague intuition of universal unity became over time a rational and well-defined awareness of a presence…the presence of a radiant center that has all along been alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union…(p. 112)

When you and I turn to the sea, a beloved landscape, a mountain, a forest, a tree, to be nourished by beauty, comforted in loss, assured that we are at home on this planet, we are experiencing what poets and mystics experience.  Jean Houston would say we are calling on our inner poet, our inner mystic to enter that moment.

The Hildegards, the Teilhards, the great poets and mystics go further. Through writing of the experience, they offer us the key to the garden of delight that is our birthright as well as theirs.

Listen to Thomas Merton on a rainy night:

In this wilderness I have learned how to sleep again. I am not alien. The trees I know, the night I know, the rain I know. I close my eyes and instantly sink into the whole rainy world of which I am part, and the world goes on with me in it, for I am not alien to it.  (“When the Trees Say Nothing”: Thomas Merton Writings on Nature edited by Kathleen Deignan, Sorin Books, Notre Dame IN 2003)

When we hear the ancient stories, like the English folktale of Mother Moon or the Inuit tale of Bone Woman, we glimpse what Teilhard saw: the presence of that “radiant center…alluring the cosmos into deeper and deeper union”.

The ancient tale of the Seal Woman is found in many cultures, wherever there is a cold sea.  A wonderful film version, “The Secret of Roan Inish”, is set in Ireland. The version I know best comes from the Inuit of Northern Canada and is told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book, “Women Who Run with the Wolves” (Ballantine Books, New York, 1992)

Perhaps you know the tale: a lonely man sees a group of beautiful women dancing on a rock in the moonlight at the edge of the sea. Beside them he sees a pile of sealskins. He tethers his kayak to the rock, climbs up, stealthily takes and hides one of the sealskins. When the others have donned their skins to leap joyously back into the sea, one woman remains alone, weeping. He comes into view, promising that if she will marry him, he will return her sealskin to her in seven years’ time. She agrees, having no other choice.

They have a boy child. As the years pass, Ooruk sees his mother failing, losing her lustrous colours, her eyesight dimming, her skin drying. She develops a limp. One night he hears her beg his father to return her sealskin. “I must have what belongs to me”, she cries. Though it is now the eighth year, the man refuses.

 Following the call of an old seal, Ooruk rushes out into the night, finds his mother’s sealskin and brings it to her. She puts it on, breathes into his mouth, and takes him with her as she dives into the deep sea, her homeplace. Ooruk meets his grandfather, the old seal who had called to him in the night. He watches his mother become whole, lithe, beautiful once more. Then mother and grandfather return to the boy to the topside world, leaving him on a rocky ledge in the moonlight. His mother promises: “I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs”. Ooruk becomes a drummer, a singer and a storyteller. He is the embodiment of his mother’s spirit, her ensouled gift to the earth.†

Think about the Seal Woman, about her longing for her sealskin. She needed it for her return to the homeplace. She knew that if she did not return there, she would die. It is so with us as well.

There is a deep homeplace hidden in the depths of our soul where all that we are is held in love. We need to return there often, but most of all when our sight darkens, when we limp rather than dance. We learn to recognize these signs as calls to home. Then we go. We find our own true centre and allow ourselves to rest in the embrace of love. We know that this is a matter of life or death to us.

The child whom the woman returned to the shore was her own spirit, the part of herself she sends to the outer world as drummer, as dancer, as storyteller, as poet, as singer, as healer, as soul friend. But to do this, she must keep her own soul nourished by love in the inner homeplace. It requires of her a balance, a sacred dance, between the topside and underside worlds of her life.   

Where in this story is that radiant presence Teilhard knew ? Not in the fisherman who, within a woman’s psyche, always lurks, waiting for a chance to steal her Soulskin, driving her to overwork, demanding that she give until her soul and spirit are raw. The radiant presence of Love is in the Old One who calls her home when it is time; Love is in the Child within her who hears that call and answers, giving her what she needs to return home, if she will listen and receive. Love is within the Woman herself who cries out, “I must have what belongs to me”.

And yes, the radiant presence of Love is in the Sea, the homeplace, waiting to receive us, body, soul, mind and spirit, into the heart of love.

Teilhard and Sophia

Sophiawakens May 29, 2019

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 plus 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.

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…overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset

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)   

teilhard’s call to immerse ourselves in the universe

We live in a universe where everything that exists shines, in Teilhard’s view, “like a crystal lamp illumined from within”, as we saw in our April 24th Reflection on “Teilhard’s Spiritual Vision” (From Teilhard to Omega edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY 2014 Chapter Ten).

“like a crystal lamp illumined from within”

This reality calls us to respond with wonder, awe, gratitude. But Teilhard believed that much more is required from us. The same essay goes on to 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 (us)…to risk, get involved, aim toward union with others, for the entire creation is longing for its fulfillment in God. (Delio and Dinges 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)

live from the center of the heart where love grows

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:

First, (Teilhard’s) 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;

…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 within the universal call, for the two are inseparable.

our deepest call is to love

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)

Our place within (the universe)… is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union

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. Everything that we do contributes towards that great comingled work of the evolution of the universe, the evolution of ourselves.

How would our lives be different is we devoted time each day to a deeper seeing, a heartfelt listening to the songs of the universe, its joy-filled melodies, its grief-laden cries, seeking the “shining of God through creation, the diaphany of God radiating through a world that becomes transparent.” (p.176) 

“shining of God through creation, the diaphany of God radiating through a world that becomes transparent.”

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)

Lured By our longing

Sophia Blog May 15, 2019

The more we learn of the Universe, of its nearly fourteen billion year story, the more that knowledge changes our understanding of our lives, our freedom, and our call to be co-creators with the Sacred.

We read the mystics from many faith paths of past centuries and are astounded to see that they came to a similar awareness while knowing nothing of what contemporary physics teaches us about our Universe. In “The Universe Is a Green Dragon” (Bear &Company, Santa Fe New Mexico, 1984) Brian Swimme writes that allurement is one of the great powers of the universe. Swimme says that following our allurements can lead us into the activity of creating new life for ourselves and for others.

Julian of Norwich, in the fourteenth century, learned directly from her encounters with the Risen Christ that our deepest desires are sourced in God.

Icon of Julian of Norwich by Patrick Comerford

Julian writes: “Often our trust is not full. We are not certain that God hears us because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing. This is ridiculous and the cause of our weakness. I have felt this way myself.” Julian tells us how God spoke to her of this: “I am the ground of your prayers. First, it is my will that you have what you desire. Later, I cause you to want it. Later on, I cause you to pray for it and you do so. How then can you not have what you desire?”  (“Meditations with Julian of Norwich”, Brendan Doyle, Bear &Co. Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983)

The change in perspective offered by awareness of an evolving universe in which we have a role as co-creators requires a radical change in our concept of what being a ‘good’ human means. It requires a radical shift in our concept of God.

Teilhard de Chardin believed that an evolving universe requires a new God.  

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

As mystic and scientist, Teilhard 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 the Resurrected Christ 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 “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.”  In Chapter Nine of that book, 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.”

Teilhard does this, Vacek states, by locating humanity “within a vision of the cosmos” and 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 … 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.”

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. Process theologians sometimes describe this as an experience of God acting to lure us…”

Teilhard’s reflections on human experience showed him that rather than being autonomous agents in our actions, we are engaged in a response. Vacek writes that “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.”  

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.”   

For Teilhard, the new ethics was one of love focused on evolution through a process of 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”.

All ethical living, in Teilhard’s view, is cooperating with God. 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.”

Here is what Julian of Norwich understood of God’s whole purpose: Love is His meaning.

Julian of Norwich

Sophia Blog May 8, 2019

It is the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English Mystic who is perhaps best known for her words: “All Shall Be Well”. Wondering which of her teachings, which of her many assurances that we are held in love, I might share with you, I decided instead to tell the story of my first encounter with “Lady Julian.”

It is the winter of 1992, and I am in England at the University of Sussex, pursuing studies in Post-Modernist Fiction. I experience cold like nothing I have ever encountered in Canada, a piercing, bone-biting cold that hangs visibly in the air as “ice fog.” I am grateful for the British custom of heating milk before adding it to coffee. Yet my fellow students seem unaware of the cold as they move about the campus, their long woolen scarves wrapped around their necks, the only addition to their all-weather uniforms of jeans, sweaters, runners.

I am cold inside as well, enduring exile from a place, a work that I loved. My writing tutor, watching the story of what brought me here unfold, suggests: “You should visit the reconstructed cell of Julian in Norwich.”

So on the first Friday in February I am travelling north by train, having left London’s Liverpool Street Station at 11 am. In the fields beside the train tracks, wild daffodils wave, not yet in full bloom.

Two hours later, I emerge from the Norwich Station and, following a map sent from the Julian Guest House, find Thorpe Road, cross the Wensum River, follow Mountergate Street to King Street and enter the narrow Julian Alley.

Suddenly I am in front of a tiny flintstone church, a re-creation, I would discover later, of the centuries-old church that was destroyed by a direct hit in the Second World War.

Reconstructed Church where Julian’s anchorhold was situated

On the outer wall of the church a plaque declares that Dame Julian of Norwich, Mystic, became an anchoress living in a cell attached to the south wall of this church soon after 1373, and here she wrote, “Revelations of Divine Love.”  

I push open the unlocked door, find myself in a small church with seating room for perhaps a hundred people. I walk up the centre aisle, see a low wooden door to the right of the sanctuary, place my thumb on its iron latch, push inwards.

I enter a small room, perhaps only ten feet by fifteen; yet, its high ceiling offers a sense of spaciousness. Through the mullioned windows, weak winter sunlight enters the room, muted by the coloured panes to pale violet and yellow. Beneath the windows, a long wooden bench offers a place to sit while I unpack my camera.

I look towards the small altar to my right, then at the high window that looks into the sanctuary of the church. Beneath this window I see an ancient boulder, a clump of stone that appears old enough to have been part of the original anchorhold. Just above this stone there is a marble monument on which are carved these words: “Thou art enough to me.”

At once, I am no longer seeing but seen. The Lady Julian is at home. I am aware of a kindly, wise, loving presence, a presence so real that I am suddenly pouring forth to her the grief of my exile. I feel heard. Then I sense words within me, words I know to be her response to me: “Let him hold you in the pain.” I know she speaks of Jesus, and this somehow frees me to acknowledge my need to be comforted.

I ask a question. “What of the friend I left, the relationship that I fear may not survive this separation?” Again, her words are as clear as if she had spoken them aloud: “Be right glad and merry, for he loves you and wants you to be happy.”

On that February day, I discover Julian as a friend, an enduring presence of wisdom, of kindness in my life. I believe she longs to be that also for any who turn to her seeking counsel and loving support. Her book, “Revelations of Divine Love”, written over the course of twenty years of reflection to guide us, her kindred spirits, is available in over a dozen editions, translated in recent decades from the Middle English of Chaucer’s time. 

Here is a sample of Julian’s homely advice, garnered from her intimacy with Jesus:

He did not say you would not be tempest-tossed; he did not say you would not be work-weary; he did not say you would not be discomfitted. But he said, “You will not be overcome.”

Julian is a model for us, one who keeps the fire of love alight in her own heart so that when someone steps in from a frigid February day, she has warmth to offer.