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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

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.                                                                

welcoming the Fire Within the Fire

Sophia Blog for the Eve of Bealtaine

April 30, 2019

Waken before dawn. Rise quickly, dress, hurry outdoors. You’ll need to climb the hill near your cottage, to reach its top before sunrise. There, joined by friends and neighbours, you must gather dry sedge and sticks to prepare the Bealtaine Fire. It must be ready in time to greet the sun on this first day of May. For the quiet moon-time months of winter, the contemplative feminine time of nurturing seeds of new life, is ended. The active sunlit masculine time is here.

Once the fire is prepared, ready to be lighted at the first appearance of the rising sun, reach into the green plants around you, and draw forth the predawn dew. Wash your hands, your face in this magical mix of fire and water.

If you know where to find the holy well on the far side of the hill, go there now.

The Holy Well on the far side of the hill

Reach deep into its cold spring-fed waters and splash them over your body. Let yourself be soaked in water. Then turn to face the rising sun. You are enacting a sacred ritual, uniting the fire of the sun (masculine energy) and water (feminine energy).

These are the ways our Celtic Ancestors celebrated the Feast of Bealtaine on the first day of May. Now in our time, when we have such need of reconnection with the earth, such need of being held, healed, wholed in her embrace, these rituals are being recovered, rediscovered by scholars and spiritual guides, such as Dolores Whelan, author of Ever Ancient, Ever New.

The early Celtic Christians, whose faith was harmoniously united with the earth, chose to honour Mary with a crown of fresh blossoms as Queen of the May. Some of us may remember processions from the days of our childhood when we crowned Mary with flowers as we sang, “Bring flowers of the fairest, Bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale…”

The May 1st celebration of Bealtaine can still inspire our lives. For we, like the earth herself, find ourselves awakening to new possibilities, discovering shoots of green life within us even as we welcome their silent sudden appearance in the rain-soaked earth of our gardens.  

Just as the Bealtaine fires were used to purify the cattle that had spent the winter indoors, before they were released into the fields of summer, in our lives the Bealtaine fire can be a ritual cleansing of any negativity left over from winter. The fire can release us from all that would hold us back from a joyous re-entry into the time of blossoming.

The masculine fire energies of Bealtaine bring into the sun the feminine winter-moonlit dreams in which we reimagined the healing and the wholing of the earth and all of life.

As we welcome the sun’s fire, we also welcome the sacred fire that burns within us. In her magnificent poem, “The Fire Within the Fire of All Things”, Catherine de Vinck, a mystic of our own time, writes:

To start here in the mud of the rainy season

– the land’s ragged fabric coarse under the probing hand:

brittle sedge, lifeless vine, thorny twig of the vanished rose….

How far to the next road, to the house of many lamps?

How far to the other side, the place beyond history?

This is where it begins in this pattern, this path

corrugated with deep ruts

Where I wander in and out of step

through the zig-zags of idle thoughts

Here I advance, meeting the fox

a quick flame flaring among the reeds

I feel helpless dazed by such beauty

Then I say to myself: If I can shiver with joy

when the wind rises,  puffed up, full voiced

to later fall back quietly

folding itself pleat by soft pleat into a fluttering rag of air;

If I dance with happiness

at the sight of the circling hawk

knowing for a moment what it is to float over the swamp

in a robe of dark feathers;

and if I do hear the summons

hidden within the miracle of stones;

then I can name the holy

the Fire within the fire of all things.

Catherine de Vinck,  God of a Thousand Names (with the author’s permission)

Teilhard’s spiritual vision

We are each aware that recent decades have brought about a sea change in spirituality. If you are like me, you have been happily swimming through new oceans, enchanted by the brilliantly coloured coral, the exotic fish, the sunlight that filters down into the water, the buoyant feeling of being held in love.

For Teilhard, this newness was more than an experience: it was a call birthed out of the discovery that we live within a universe that is, and has been, in a state of continuous evolution. For Teilhard, such a universe reveals a God never glimpsed in a world seen as static, unchanging, complete.

And this God is to be found at the very heart-core of the universe itself. A universe with God at its heart, as its principle of evolution, is holy. Sacred. Entirely so. This was Teilhard’s deepest conviction, the source of his understanding that a new spirituality involved a new way of relating to both God and the universe. Such a God in such a universe requires us as co-creators.

As we continue to explore Teilhard’s thought through reflections on his writings by contemporary theologians in From Teilhard to Omega edited by Ilia DeLio (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), we consider this week the essay in Chapter 10 by William D. Dinges and Ilia DeLio. In “Teilhard de Chardin and the New Spirituality”, the authors describe the new spirituality that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century as “diverse, eclectic, multi-cultural, diffused, decentered, and often uncoupled from traditional religious sources, particularly from more hierarchical, orthodox and theistic ones”. Rather than requiring individuals to turn aside from their own development to conform to an authority that is outside themselves, the new spirituality is “more located within the internal control and consciousness of individuals”.

Arising from a “complex array of historical, social, and cultural sources”, some of which are outside Western culture, the new spirituality is part of “a contemporary global religious megasynthesis that includes a colonization of the Western mind by Eastern esoteric psychologies, philosophies, and religious traditions.”

This new pluralistic and holistic spirituality, the authors believe, reflects the subjective turn of modernity and post-modernity; emphasizes feelings, experience and the quest for human authenticity; accentuates human fulfillment in this world; reveres and affirms the cosmos and our belonging to it; finds the sacred in the secular; promotes a recomposed and embodied spirituality; and recognizes the infusion of nature and matter with spirit, consciousness, or life force.

Teilhard, were he to have read these 21st century words, would, I believe, have nodded his head in agreement. But he would have then added such a depth of passion, beauty and spiritual force that we would, in our turn, have been enchanted, enlivened, empowered by his deep conviction that the discovery of evolution changes everything.

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” (Teilhard in The Divine Milieu

Once we accept evolution as the process of unfolding life, the way that new life emerges over deep time, we see that God is at the heart of the universe. To overcome the old divide between earth and heaven, matter and spirit, secular and sacred, Teilhard saw that we must “rid ourselves of the old God of the starry heavens and embrace the God of evolution.”

Teilhard saw the universe as permeated with love in the person of the Risen Christ, towards whom he saw all of life evolving. “Through his penetrating view of the universe, he found Christ present within the entire cosmos, from the least particle of matter to the convergent human community. The whole cosmos is incarnational.”

Teilhard’s is “an embodied perspective that sees human flourishing as embedded in the flourishing of the Earth community in which both are manifestations of the emergent universe story”. In the Divine Milieu, Teilhard wrote: “there is nothing profane here below for those who know how to see.” (DM, 66) 

Of Paul’s words in his letter to the Colossians, “Before anything was created, (Christ) existed, and he holds all things in unity”, Teilhard writes:  “it is impossible for me to read St. Paul without seeing the universal and cosmic domination of the Incarnate Word emerging from his words with dazzling clarity.”

For Teilhard Christ is the evolver in the universe, the one who is coming to be in evolution through the process of creative union… As Omega, Christ is the one who fills all things and who animates and gathers up all the biological and spiritual energies developed by the universe. Since Christ is Omega, the universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter by the influence of his superhuman nature. The material world is holy and sacred.

Through grace, the presence of the incarnate Word penetrates everything as a universal element. Everything — every leaf, flower, tree, rabbit, fish, star– is physically “christified”, gathered up by the incarnate Word as nourishment that assimilates, transforms, and divinizes. The world is like a crystal lamp illumined from within by the light of Christ. For those who can see, Christ shines in this diaphanous universe, through the cosmos and in matter. 

We immerse ourselves in this glorious sea, seeking the diaphany of God in dolphin, in coral, in squid and shark, each held, like us, in love.

Mary of Nazareth: archetype for our time

March 19, 2019

These recent weeks of reflecting on Jean Houston’s teachings about Archetypes may have awakened memories for us, shaken free long-forgotten thoughts and experiences in our lives. This morning, as I considered how we might continue our exploration, I suddenly remembered a day when I was perhaps eleven years old.

Each afternoon, walking home from school, I passed our parish church. On this day, I was drawn to go inside, as I sometimes did. I remember glancing at the green-robed marble statue of Mary, standing to the left side of the altar. Her stonewhite face was shuttered, her eyes downcast. The statue radiated coldness. Though I did not understand what her title of “Virgin” signified, I associated the word with an absence of what I longed for most in my life: warmth, caring, love.

 I turned away from the statue, and noticed a small booklet on the bench where I was sitting. It contained the Scripture readings for the Sundays of each month, with reflections. On the inside front cover, someone had written of Mary, creatively presenting ideas in the form of a letter as though it had been written by her. I have now no memory of the letter’s content. Perhaps I did not even read it. I was transfixed by the words at the end, “Your Loving Mother Mary.”

In that instant, my life shifted. A loving presence entered into my existence and has never left me.

As Jean has written, “Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively, archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening.”

Sanctuary of Isis on the island of Philae in Egypt

To grasp the true significance of Mary as Archetype, come with me now to the tiny sanctuary dedicated to Isis on the Island of Philae in the Nile River. Crowded into a space never meant for a group as large as ours, stand here with the other travellers on this spiritual journey to Egypt, led by Jean Houston.

Listen now to the words Jean is reading from the writings of Apuleius, a second century Roman, not a Christian. In the story, a hapless magician named Lucius has cried out to the goddess for help. Isis responds.

 The way the Sacred One identifies herself to Lucius may startle you:

“I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity…. I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names…

 “Behold, I am come to you in your calamity. I am come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow packing. Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise. Hearken therefore with care unto what I bid. Eternal religion has dedicated to me the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”

After the reading, listen as we call out all the names by which we have known the Sacred Feminine. Listen as voice after voice calls out wonderful names. Many of these names are familiar to you, titles you may have learned as a child, referring to Mary: Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory. Gate of Heaven. My own voice calls out: Star of the Sea. Jean’s voice, strong, certain, proclaims: “Mary in all her forms.”

The human heart longs for a divine mothering presence. Ancient cultures honoured a feminine divine who over millennia was called by many names: Isis in Egypt; Inanna in Sumeria; Ishtar in Babylon; Athena, Hera and Demeter in Greece, Anu or Danu among the ancient Celts; Durga, Kali and Lakshmi in India; for the Kabbalists, Shekinah; for the gnostics, Sophia or Divine Wisdom.

In the early centuries of Christianity, Mary of Nazareth became an Archetype of a Loving Mother. Christianity had no “Mother God” to put in the place of the Goddesses whose worship it was determined to eradicate. In his book The Virgin, Geoffrey Ashe writes of his theory that Mary’s gradual ascension in Christianity was not an initiative of Church Leadership, but rather a response to the hunger of the early Christians for a sacred feminine presence.

Mary became for Christianity a portal for that sacred presence. Or, put another way, a sacred presence responded to the cries of her people when they called her “Mary”, just as that presence had responded over the millennia to other names cried out in love or sorrow or desperate need.

And yet, before any of that happened, Mary, a young woman living in Nazareth, a town despised in Israel, was already a luminous presence who made a choice to say “yes” to a call that held mystery, uncertainty, unimaginable risk, a call to mother a child with a love that would ask of her everything.

When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered that invitation. The Christian calendar assigns a day to honour her acceptance: March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation.

Here is how John O’Donohue imagines the scene:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask of our hearts. Will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy? The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness.

Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead. It is enough to know that certainly our own life will become, like Mary’s, “wild inside”. Mary comes as Archetype to each one of us who carries the Holy within us, seeking a place of birth. We walk the dark road, with Mary, in trust. We walk companioned by one who knows our struggles to maintain our trust in the face of inner doubts and outer calamity. We walk with one who loves us and encourages us, prepares us, to welcome “the day which will be born from the womb of this present darkness.”