We have been travelling with Teilhard for several weeks, spiralling with his writings and wisdom, through the five circles that he visited over and over in his life, seeking wisdom.
From his childhood longing to find a substance that would last, through his growing awareness of a mysterious presence within all that exists on earth,through his explorations as a scientist into the secrets of energy, to his yearning to know the spirit within all of life, within himself, Teilhard spiralled to the deepest level where he encountered the presence of a love that would stay with him all his days.
What have we learned?
Do you, as I do, sense a desire to go back to the beginning? To revisit these explorations of Teilhard’s insights, longings and discoveries through which we have been expertly guided by Kathleen Duffy?
Might we on a second reading begin to grasp the sacred wonder, the unspeakable gift Teilhard has offered us through his life’s work?
I would like to propose something different by telling you of an unexpected “Teilhardian” experience I had a few days ago.
Here in the Valley of the Madawaska River, after days of slow emergence from a branch here and there of golden yellow, fiery orange and deep blood red, suddenly every deciduous tree around me exploded into full vibrant colour.
The day was warm and sunny. It might have been early summer, but for the absence of mosquitoes, black flies and high levels of sun-radiation.
I was walking in the nearby field delighting in the colours, camera at the ready, aimed high to catch the lofty golden crowns where they rested against the sky’s deep blue.
I was about to move on when I sensed something drawing me back. I lowered my gaze from tree tops towards the cluster of birches and lower trees to seek the source of this drawing. I found I was looking at a slender birch. As clearly as if it had a human voice, it was saying, “Look at me. Take my picture!” So I did.
one birch stands tall
What just happened? I wondered, as I continued on to the lake taking more photos. Now I ask that question again, dimly grasping that to take Teilhard at his word, we may acknowledge some mysterious presence of spirit in all that exists on our planet and in our universe.
Teilhard himself honoured the questions that arose, rather than demanding answers to every mystery, as Kathleen Duffy tells us in her final chapter:
Each branch of the spiral brought him into contact with new questions, questions that arose from life….Each time his knowledge of the physical world expanded, he found it necessary to reshape his understanding of the transcendent to the shape of the universe that was being revealed to him. He discovered that “truth …can be preserved only by being continually enlarged” (Writings in Time of War, 140). By engaging questions that were so intimate and by remaining faithful to his inner voice, he unearthed hidden mystical treasures as well as insights that have universal appeal. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 126)
As I write this, a different question arises, as it has also arisen for others in my country, over these recent weeks of increasingly divisive, and at times aggressively hostile, political discourse as we prepare for next Monday’s Federal Election.
Where is all this coming from?
“By chance,” (if such a moment ever comes “by chance”) while I was reading this final chapter in Kathleen Duffy’s book, I came upon these words from Teilhard:
Let us look at the earth around us. What is happening under our eyes with the mass of peoples? What is the cause of this disorder in society, this uneasy agitation, these swelling waves, these whirling and mingling currents and these turbulent and formidable new impulses? Mankind is visibly passing through a crisis of growth. Mankind is becoming dimly aware of its shortcoming and its capacities…. It sees the universe growing luminous like the horizon just before sunrise. It has a sense of premonition and of expectation. (The Divine Milieu, 153)
Teilhard‘s earthly life ended on Easter Sunday, 1955. Where had his questing spirit brought him through a lifetime of seeking?
Kathleen Duffy responds in the closing paragraph of her luminous book: In the end, nothing was lost. Everything of value found a place in his unique synthesis. Everything held together in the light of the Cosmic Christ. Each insight represented a spiritual advance that led finally to a tangible awareness of the Divine Grasp…Teilhard’s inner music sustained him, his love for Earth nurtured him, his interactions with others supported him, and his love for God compelled him to remain faithful. It was fidelity to his questions that made it possible for him, near the end of his life, to say to his fellow Jesuit and good friend, Pierre Leroy, “I really feel that now I’m always living in God’s presence.” (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 126)
I wonder what advice Teilhard would give for our lives today on Planet Earth? These words of his might guide our way of experiencing life, looking deeply at what is, and asking the questions that arise in the depths of our being:
(People) of earth, steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters, for it is the source of your life and your youthfulness.
Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the universe. It is to be found in the love of that unique, boundless Essence which penetrates the inmost depths of all things and there, from within those depths, deeper than the mortal zone where individuals and multitudes struggle, works upon them and moulds them. Purity lies in a chaste contact with that which is “the same in all”.
‘Oh, the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth!
‘Bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.’
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from The Hymn of the Universe, 1919)