Category Archives: Teilhard de Chardin

Powers of the Universe: Radiance

All the powers of the universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another, present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance.

In his concluding talk in the DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe” Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.

The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light. The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light. The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth, pulling the earth to the sun.

We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.

The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does. The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon. The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.

It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT. Radiance is the primary language of the universe.We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance.

The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it, and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!

Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another, a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception, Swimme says, is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depth perception of beauty.

When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth?

Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.

When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates) we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.

We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe. The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance, as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!

We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond with us.

The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire. We feel what reverberates out, Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there. We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer. Reverberation is the primary sacrament. We become the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough, it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other.

The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another.

There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.

The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest-paleontologist who died in 1955, wrote:  “Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within…

The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe…

This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth – the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame”. (The Divine Milieu)

“the Divine radiating from the depth of matter aflame”

Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote: “From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age, my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air….

The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun …. I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”….

Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me. When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”

Transmutation

Powers of the Universe: Part Seven: Transmutation

Returning home a few years ago from a short holiday, I was appalled to see my front porch liberally splashed with bird droppings.

Then I looked up. My heart did a small dance of joy! Above the porch light sat a nest with small feathered heads… the phoebes had returned!

The previous year, the nest sat empty and I grieved the loss. Now in a brief moment of rejoicing, I was thinking like a planet, rather than a dismayed human. I glimpsed something of the transmutations in our perceptions, our behaviours, we humans are called on to make in this time of immense change.

In his DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme recalls Teilhard’s saying that we are the universe reflecting on itself. Swimme invites us to see ourselves as the Power of Transmutation reflecting on itself in conscious self–awareness.

He asks, “How can this lead to a more vibrant earth community?”

Natural selection, Transmutation, is the way form changes through time… in the universe, the birth of radiant energy in atoms changes everything; clouds change into galaxies; primal stars transmute into stellar systems with planets; the earth herself changes from molten rock into a living planet.

The universe forces itself out of one era into another. If you are a particle you have nowhere to go but into an atom…

So, what do we do when we discover ourselves in the midst of the end of one era, moving into another? How do we participate in this Transmutation? Swimme says we need to look at the way life moves from one form to another. The earth uses a form of restraint, of judgement. At the moment when the earth begins to cool from its molten state to form a crust, there is a constraint into the form of continents. When two continents collide, there is further restraint on formerly free activity, enabling restriction and opposition that create mountain ranges.

To insist that things remain the same is to insist on the end of the planet’s growth.

Another form of resistance happens when the desires of different beings are in opposition. At the heart of transmutation is the question of how to deal with obstacles and opposites. The grasshopper is constrained by the bird who eats it; the bird has to follow the grasshopper.

But to remove the constraints is to upset the beauty of form. A slower grasshopper leads to a less fleet bird; a slower bird means that the grasshopper decreases its speed. The destiny of the bird is tied to the grasshopper.

Creativity is spread out over the whole community. The system has constraints, demands, judgements. The natural selection dynamic is based on judgement that leads to excellence of form and beauty. The beak of the bird developed so it might retrieve bugs from a tree. The relationship between the bird and the tree is a form of intimacy. Every bioregion has this spectacular beauty, with the integrity of the whole maintained by this power of judgement, restraint, struggle….

…until humans arise, taking the whole system into collapse through our ability to get around the constraints, the judgements, using all the powers to our own advantage. No longer does natural selection take care of the whole.

Our challenge is to become the Power of Transmutation in conscious self-awareness. We are called upon to bring restraint to human activity so that the natural selection dynamics can proceed. The powers of the universe need the human to proceed through this change.

Though our laws, customs and disciplines impose restraint on human activity, they have until now taken for granted that the human is the focus. Now we need to ask for laws that enable the whole community of life to flourish. We need to say clearly, “Some things are going to lead to ruin”.

We need a law to protect species for themselves.

The feeling mode of the person experiencing the Power of Transmutation is that one does not fit in. There is a sense of being cut off, set aside, rejected, even wounded. Yet those who feel most cut off are the ones how feel most deeply that the universe has made a judgement that this era is over. This is an invitation from the universe to look at what life does, to see in the opposition, the wound, one’s destiny.

Swimme says: You are feeling the universe is rejecting part of you. Embrace the rejection, embrace that which is attempting to eliminate those aspects of yourself that are maladaptive, the elements that are part of the era that is over: a society based on consumerism, based on destroying opposition.

The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations.

We are the universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.Who are the models to inspire us? We co-evolve with all other beings. The great moments of beauty in the universe become our guides, and our criteria by which to judge.

We look to the future, to beings who will learn to live in harmony to enable the whole to flourish. Thus we learn to live in the context of the whole universe: past, present and future, with the energies of the planet.

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that future: when a windstorm knocked out electricity in our community’s holiday place a few years ago, some of us decided to stay on. Small changes, transmutations… an evening swim rather than a morning shower…. food cooked on a barbecue…water for washing dishes heated on the barbecue…. perishables such as milk and yogurt packed in an ice chest….wading into the lake in tall boots to scoop up buckets of water to keep the toilets working…

On the second night, sitting in darkness illumined by golden candles, we watched the rose madder sunset splash across the sky,

and soon after Venus become clearly visible. For a little while she was a silvery presence but as the earth rolled away to the east, Venus slowly sank below the horizon… This beauty we would have missed had there been electric light.

I remembered a snatch of poetry: “After my house burned down, I had a better view of the moon.”

 

Nativity

 Reflection for December 24, 2019

 On this Christmas eve, only a mystic or a poet might find words to offer us. Tonight we have such a gift from both John O’donohue and from Teilhard de Chardin

John O’donohue opens to our imagination Mary’s experience on this sacred night:  “Nativity”

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue, Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000

 Gazing into the mind, heart, and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder how he would mark the celebration of Christmas. As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith, Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. His faith in the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.

images

Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.

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)

 

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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 animate and 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.

 

With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which the 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 substances – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they produced 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.

 

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 truly have something to celebrate at Christmas.  Now too we 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)– 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 p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964

Walking With Teilhard

For several weeks, we have been companioned by the presence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin through the inspired and inspiring writings of Kathleen Duffy (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014).

This week we will see Teilhard through the eyes of someone who knew him, walked with him for a time, engaged in conversation with him, encountering his transformative view of reality. In her autobiography, A Mythic Life (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), Jean Houston gives us a perspective on Teilhard that is deeply personal and insightful. The great palaeontologist and mystic becomes for us, through Jean’s experience, a warm, enchanting, human presence.

At the time of their tumultuous first meeting in the early 1950’s, Teilhard was living in a Jesuit Residence in New York City, having been exiled from his native France, silenced, forbidden to write or to teach his advanced ideas about evolution.

Jean, a high school student, heartbroken over her parents’ impending divorce, had taken to running everywhere. Then, one day…

…on 84th Street and Park Avenue, I ran into an old man and knocked the wind out of him. This was serious. I was a great big overgrown girl, and he was a rather frail gentleman in his seventies. But he laughed as I helped him to his feet and asked me in French-accented speech,

“Are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, thinking of my unhappiness. “It sure looks that way.”

“Well, bon voyage!” he said.

“Bon voyage!” I answered and sped on my way. About a week later, I was walking down Park Avenue with my fox terrier, Champ, and again I met the old gentleman.

“Ah,” he greeted me, “my friend the runner, and with a fox terrier.I knew one like that many years ago in France. Where are you going?”

Well, sir,” I replied, “I’m taking Champ to Central Park. I go there most afternoons to … think about things.”

“I will go with you sometimes,” he informed me. “I will take my constitutional.”

And thereafter, for about a year and a half, the old gentleman and I would meet and walk together as often as several times a week in Central Park.

He had a long French name but asked me to call him by the first part of it, which as far as I could make out was Mr. Tayer. The walks were magical and full of delight. Mr. Tayer seemed to have absolutely no self-consciousness, and he was always being carried away by wonder and astonishment over the simplest things.

He was constantly and literally falling into love. I remember one time he suddenly fell on his knees in Central Park, his long Gallic nose raking the ground, and exclaimed to me, “Jeanne, look at the caterpillar. Ahhhhh! ”

I joined him on the ground to see what had evoked so profound a response.

“How beautiful it is,” he remarked, “this little green being with its wonderful funny little feet. Exquisite! Little furry body, little green feet on the road to metamorphosis.”

He then regarded me with interest. “Jeanne, can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied with the baleful knowing of a gangly, pimply-faced teenager.

“Then think of your own metamorphosis,” he suggested. “What will you be when you become a butterfly? Un papillon, eh? What is the butterfly of Jeanne?”

What a great question for a fourteen-year-old girl, a question for puberty rites, initiations into adulthood,and other new ways of being. His comic-tragic face nodded helpfully until I could answer.“I …don’t really know anymore, Mr. Tayer.”

 “Yes, you do know. It is inside of you, like the butterfly is inside of the caterpillar.”

He then used a word that I heard for the first time, a word that became essential to my later work. “What is the entelechy of Jeanne? A great word, a Greek word, entelechy. It means the dynamic purpose that is coded in you.It is the entelechy of this acorn on the ground to be an oak tree. It is the entelechy of that baby over there to be grown-up human being.It is the entelechy of the caterpillar to undergo metamorphosis and become a butterfly. So what is the butterfly, the entelechy, of Jeanne? “You know, you really do.”

“Well… I think that…” I looked up at the clouds, and it seemed that I could see in them the shapes of many countries.

A fractal of my future emerged in the cumulus nimbus floating overhead.

“I think that I will travel all over the world and … and … help people find their en-tel-echy.”

Mr. Tayer seemed pleased. “Ah, Jeanne, look back at the clouds! God’s calligraphy in the sky! All that transforming, moving, changing, dissolving, becoming. “Jeanne, become a cloud and become all the forms that ever were.” (A Mythic Life, 141-3)

Years later, as Jean looked back on Teilhard’s effect on her life, as well as that of a few other such beings, she would write:

To be looked at by these people is to be gifted with the look that engenders.You feel yourself primed at the depths by such seeing. Something so tremendous and yet so subtle wakes up inside that you are able to release the defeats and denigrations of years.

If I were to describe it further, I would have to speak of unconditional love joined to a whimsical regarding of you as the cluttered house that hides the holy one.

(The Possible Human, 123, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1982)

TEILHARD: gUIDING OUR LIFE ON pLANET eARTH

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)

Teilhard: spiralling into the circle of person

The “piece of iron” of my first days has long been forgotten. In its place it is the Consistence of the Universe, in the form of Omega Point, that I now hold, concentrated …into one single indestructible centre, WHICH I CAN LOVE.  (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter, 39)

Teilhard describes his mystical journey as a spiral through which he moves into a deepening reality, visiting, revisiting, five circles that map his journey into the heart of matter and the heart of God (“The Mystical Milieu”, Writings in Time of War, 115-49).

We have already explored, with Kathleen Duffy as our travel guide (Teilhard’s Mysticism, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2014), Teilhard’s Circles of Presence, Consistence, Energy and Spirit. Now at the deepest swirl of the spiral we come to his Circle of Person.

Seeking the elusive force that animates the cosmos, Teilhard stepped into the fifth circle, searching for its source. What image might assist?

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had once allured him but now, as he sought a more universal image, the figure of Christ and the world began to melt before his eyes into a single vibrant surface (Hymn of the Universe, 42-43). Surrounded by a cosmic tapestry of intricately woven thread, Christ’s face shone with exquisite beauty. Trails of phosphorescence gushed forth and radiated outward toward infinity. “The entire universe was vibrant ” (HU, 43); the cosmos had acquired a nervous system, a circulatory system, a heart. Teilhard was consumed by the fire streaming from this universal center and resolved to go deeper (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110).

Stepping into the fifth circle, Teilhard encountered a shadowy figure, a feminine presence: The figure of Sophia emerged from the mists.

Icon of Sophia on a Church wall in Greece

She was radiant; her facial expression comforting. Teilhard recognized her as “the beauty running through the world….” (Writings in Time of War, 192)….

It is through her power, the power of love, that all things come together. Hidden within the very heart of matter,she ”bestirred the original mass, almost without form…and instilled even into the atoms…a vague but obstinate yearning to emerge from the solitude of their nothingness.”

She is “the bond that thus held together the foundations of the universe“ (W, 192-3),and she continually draws Earth into “passionate union” with the Divine. (W, 200)….

She is the raiment who is forming as she is being formed, continually creating the mystical milieu in which the forces of loveencourage all things to become one….The radiance from her countenance becomes  brighter still when it shines out from the eyes of each human face….

The tenderness of her compassion and her holy charm aroused Teilhard’s passion for the Divine and sensitized his heart. He was enthralled with “the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth,” as it flows into the heart of the cosmos, toward its very center. He yearned to take hold of her, yet whenever he tried, he found that she eluded his grasp.

With great alacrity, he followed her lead as she guided him through the “luminous mist hanging over the abyss” and propelled him toward the heights into freedom. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 110-111)

Teilhard 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 so that his “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…”(TM, 112)

Lured by the passionate love that this presence awakened within him, Teilhard experienced the universe “ablaze with the fire of divine love, suffused with the elements of a presence which beckons, summons and embraces” all of humanity, so that he was himself living “steeped in its burning layers” (Divine Milieu, 112).

Re- reading the letters of Saint Paul, Teilhard saw more clearly Christ’s evolutionary role: In “an explosion of dazzling flashes” (The Heart of Matter, 50), Cosmic Convergence coupled with Christic Emergence and became two phases of a single evolutionary movement.

The implosion caused by the coincidence of Christ with the Omega of the Universe releases “a light so intense that it transfigured…the very depths of the World” (HM, 82-3). All of the knowledge and love that Teilhard had for the universe was suddenly transformed into knowledge and love for the God who is embedded within every fragment of matter (TM, 113).

Teilhard’s mysticism, now grounded in the Circle of Person, completed his synthesis. He was convinced that the universe would both continue to complexify, and become more centered in the Body of Christ until all would be one in Christ.

He now yearned to adore, which for him meant to “lose oneself in the unfathomable…to give of one’s deepest to that whose depth has no end” ( D, 127-8).

His desire was that all humanity might open their arms “to call down and welcome the Fire” as…” a single body and a single soul in charity” (Divine Milieu, 144).

“Drawn to follow the road of fire” (The Heart of Matter, 74) Teilhard “dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and of love” (TM, 116).

Teilhard: delving for consciousness

“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?

”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.