Love at the heart of life: Teilhard’s insight

Sophia Awakens for June 5, 2019

Everything that is in heaven

on the earth

or under the earth

is penetrated with connectedness….

with relatedness

Hildegard von Bingen, 12th c. abbess/mystic

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

Another mystic, the poet Francis Thompson,

would write in the 19th century:

Thou canst not stir a flower

Without troubling of a star

stir a flower…trouble a star

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

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

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

Listen to Thomas Merton on a rainy night:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teilhard and Sophia

Sophiawakens May 29, 2019

Born in 1881, Teilhard lived, studied, worked and wrote mainly in the first half of the twentieth century. As a scientist, he knew Darwin’s work in Evolution; as a paleontologist, he spent time excavating the story of evolution inscribed within the earth; as a mystic he was captivated with the wonder of an unfinished universe being drawn from within into a radiant future by a sacred presence of love.

Teilhard was convinced that until theology fully embraced the concept of an evolving universe, it would remain inadequate, crippled by its outdated worldview. He wrote: “Who will at last give evolution its own God?”   

In the sixty plus years since Teilhard’s death, science has taken massive leaps of understanding, and theology is only beginning to catch up. In From Teilhard to Omega (edited by Ilia Delio, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014), thirteen scholars take up Teilhard’s challenge.

This week, we look at “Sophia: Catalyst for Creative Union and Divine Love” by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ. 

Though a dedicated scientist, Teilhard calls on his mystic and poetic gifts to describe divine love at work in the cosmos. In his book Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968), Teilhard writes of a feminine presence drawn from the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly the Book of Proverbs, (8: 22-31).

Teilhard’s poem opens at the beginning of time, at the moment when Sophia is embedded into the primordial energy that is already expanding into the space-time of the early universe. Only half formed and still elusive, she emerges as from the mist, destined to grow in beauty and grace (WTW, 192). As soon as the first traces of her presence become apparent, she assumes her mandate to nurture creation, to challenge it, to unify it, to beautify it, and ultimately to lead the universe back to God. With this mission as her guide, she attends to her work of transforming the world, a world alive with potential. (Duffy p. 27)

 Duffy reweaves Teilhard’s poem, working through its shining threads new insights from science, wisdom literature and the work of many “who have contemplated the divine creativity at work at the heart of matter”.  Duffy names the feminine presence in Teilhard’s poem “Sophia”, from the Greek word for Wisdom.

“Who then is Sophia?” Duffy asks. Her magnificent response to this question is worth the price of the whole book. Here are segments:

She is the presence of God poured out in self-giving love, closer to us than we are to ourselves, ever arousing the soul to passion for the Divine. From the very depths of matter, she reveals herself to us as the … very nature of God residing within the core of the cosmic landscape.

Attempting always to capture our attention, Sophia peers out at us from behind the stars, overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze….Shining through the eyes of the ones we love, she sets our world ablaze.

Sophia…overwhelms us with the radiance of a glorious sunset

Sophia is the mercy of God in us….She sits at the crossroads of our lives, ever imploring us to work for peace, to engage in fruitful dialogue, and to find new ways of connecting with the other. She longs to open our eyes to the presence of pain and suffering in the world, to transform our hearts and to move us to action. (pp. 31-32)  

Duffy says that Teilhard experienced this presence “with nature, with other persons, and with the Divine”:

He began gradually to recognize her everywhere — in the rocks that he chiselled, in the seascapes and landscapes that he contemplated, and in the faces of the dying soldiers to whom he ministered during the war….Teilhard came to know Sophia as the cosmic Love that is holding all things together. (p. 33)  

Teilhard came to understand that Sophia can be known “only in embodied human actions”.

Duffy concludes her illuminative essay with these words:

Sophia was the source of Teilhard’s life…. Her constant care for creation during so many billions of years gave him confidence she would continue to be faithful… Teilhard vowed to steep himself in the sea of matter, to bathe in its fiery water, to plunge into Earth where it is deepest and most violent, to struggle in its currents, and to drink of its waters. Filled with impassioned love for Sophia, he dedicated himself body and soul to the ongoing work needed to transform the cosmos to a new level of consciousness and to transformative love. (p. 34)   

teilhard’s call to immerse ourselves in the universe

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

“like a crystal lamp illumined from within”

This reality calls us to respond with wonder, awe, gratitude. But Teilhard believed that much more is required from us. The same essay goes on to describe the way Teilhard saw our involvement in the evolutionary process:

(Teilhard) envisioned the evolutionary process as one moving toward evolution of consciousness and ultimately toward evolution of spirit, from the birth of mind to the birth of the whole Christ. He urged (us)…to risk, get involved, aim toward union with others, for the entire creation is longing for its fulfillment in God. (Delio and Dinges p. 174) 

Beyond recognizing evolution, we are called to work towards it in ourselves. This is a spirituality that calls for immersion in the world:

… plunging our hands into the soil of the earth and touching the roots of life….a “mysticism of action,” involvement in the world compenetrated by God. (Teilhard) held that union with God is not withdrawal or separation from the activity of the world but a dedicated, integrated, and sublimated absorption into it. (p.174)

live from the center of the heart where love grows

Teilhard understood the Gospel call to “leave all and follow me” meant seeing the Christic presence in the heart of matter, then working to bring that presence into greater fullness.

The world is still being created and it is Christ who is reaching his fulfillment through it….We are to harness the energies of love for the forward movement of evolution toward the fullness of Christ. This means to live from the center of the heart where love grows and to reach out to the world with faith, hope and trust in God’s incarnate presence. (p. 175)

In this new incarnational vision of the relationship between God and the universe, a relationship that spans the whole evolutionary journey leading towards the future, Teilhard offers three fresh perspectives. These are described by Delio and Dinges:

First, (Teilhard’s) love of matter and spirit is a dual commitment to God and to the world;

second, his inclusion of suffering and evil in the forward movement of evolution offers a realistic approach to evil as part of unfolding life;

…third, the participation of humans is essential to the process of Christogenesis, that is, the evolution of Christ in the world and the world in Christ.

“If we are to remain faithful to the gospel,” he says “we have to adjust its spiritual code to the new shape of the universe….It has become the great work in process of completion which we have to save by saving ourselves”. (p. 175)

Teilhard looked at the earth/ the universe with the eyes of a mystic, with the heart of a lover.

In love with Holy Presence at the deep heart of all that exists, he could echo Rumi’s wonder-filled exclamation: “Is the one I love everywhere?” Through Teilhard’s eyes, we can learn to see what mystic-poet Catherine de Vinck calls “the fire within the fire of all things”. Once we see that fire, we know the call that Teilhard knew to put our hearts at the service of the evolution towards love that is the call of the universe, as well as our personal call within the universal call, for the two are inseparable.

our deepest call is to love

Teilhard shows us that our deepest call is to love, that evolution is advanced by union on every imaginable level of being. And, as another poet, Robert Frost observed: “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

Teilhard wrote: I merge myself through my heart with the very heart of God….God is, in a sense, at the point of my pen, my pick, my paint-brush, my needle—and my heart and my thought. It is by carrying to its completion the stroke, the line, the stitch I am working on that I shall lay hold on that ultimate end towards which my will at its deepest levels tends. (p. 176)

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

Nothing that lives on our planet is outside of us. We can no longer accept lines of division between religions, between cultures, between nations, between species. This universe is evolving as one. Our place within it, like Teilhard’s, is to be its eyes of wonder, its heart of love, its allurement toward union. Everything that we do contributes towards that great comingled work of the evolution of the universe, the evolution of ourselves.

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

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

Teilhard invites us to:… establish ourselves in the divine milieu. There we shall find ourselves where the soul is most deep and where matter is most dense. There we shall discover, where all its beauties flow together, the ultra-vital, the ultra-sensitive, the ultra-active point of the universe. And, at the same time, we shall feel the plenitude of our powers of action and adoration effortlessly ordered within our deepest selves. (“Divine Milieu” quoted by Delio and Dinges on p.179)

Lured By our longing

Sophia Blog May 15, 2019

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

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

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

Icon of Julian of Norwich by Patrick Comerford

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

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

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

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

As mystic and scientist, Teilhard knew that embracing the reality of a universe that is unfinished, continuously unfolding, expanding, growing in complexity, would require us to alter our idea of God. Teilhard saw the Resurrected Christ as the Omega, the point towards which our universe is evolving, drawing it forward from up ahead rather than pushing it from behind or dangling it from up above. This alters both our concept of how God calls us and how we understand goodness and morality. 

In “From Teilhard to Omega” (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2014) editor Ilia Delio writes that Teilhard’s vision of science glowing with faith is “a call to wake up from our medieval slumber and to see the core of religion — love, truth, goodness and beauty – written into the very fabric of the cosmos.”  In Chapter Nine of that book, Edward Vacek considers the evolving view of morality that rises from Teilhard’s work: “For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, moral living is to live inspired by a mystical intuition of a grand historical synthesis in love…. as Teilhard reframed the ethical project, he stunningly turned natural law into Christian ethics, autonomous agency into responsive cooperation, the requirement of conformity into creativity, and a focus on self-fulfillment into building both the world and — most provocatively – God.”

Teilhard does this, Vacek states, by locating humanity “within a vision of the cosmos” and as with the cosmos, where the union of hydrogen and oxygen creates water, so with the human: the path to greater being and goodness is through unions. This makes the ethical task one of relating, in cooperation with the work of Christ who is building the universe.   “The most fundamental ethical norm then becomes fidelity to this … relationship,” Vacek writes.

God has been at work in the universe from its beginnings more than thirteen billion years ago. Now humans are invited to enter into that task. Since God’s creativity includes the whole cosmos, human creative activity is naturally spiritual.  “All of our activities are part of God’s grand project that is cosmic history. God’s activity of fostering evolution continues in ourselves. Its movement toward ever-greater being takes place through our free engagement.”

How did Teilhard see God’s involvement in the actual process of evolution? Vacek writes: “He describes God as an attracting cause. He speaks as if God were ahead of us in time.” Using the example of a good possibility that we might see arise in our life, Vacek says that, “when we love God and have an ongoing historical relationship with God, such possibilities may be experienced as a next step to which God invites us. Process theologians sometimes describe this as an experience of God acting to lure us…”

Teilhard’s reflections on human experience showed him that rather than being autonomous agents in our actions, we are engaged in a response. Vacek writes that “the attractive power of future possibility leaves us free to assent. Our freedom consents or dissents to an opportunity that presents itself. Thus, if we are lovers of God, our experience is that God may be inviting us to take the next step. In this way, God’s invitation activates rather than usurps our freedom. In every good decision we make, we are also consenting to God.”  

Love, then, is central to moral living.  For Teilhard, love “is directed to more being.” Love attracts us “to the real or potential good of the beloved”. We experience these attractions “as invitations from God to love creation, that is, to enhance the good.  God… is in the future beckoning us.”   

For Teilhard, the new ethics was one of love focused on evolution through a process of love of others.  His criterion for human development was whether the new was enhancement of being, “more”, brought about by love.  Thus we continue God’s activity of love in evolution.  For Vacek, Teilhard’s core insight into Christian ethics is this: “What we human beings do to make a better world coheres with what Christ has been doing and is doing and will do….our ordinary and our extraordinary activities can be ways of cooperating with Christ’s activity”.

All ethical living, in Teilhard’s view, is cooperating with God. Vacek concludes that “the will of God is not an antecedent plan to be discovered by us, but rather a plan to be cocreated through the exercise of our own minds and hearts. God speaks to us in our own voice. In the best run of things, our thoughts are God’s thoughts and our ways are God’s ways.”

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

Julian of Norwich

Sophia Blog May 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconstructed Church where Julian’s anchorhold was situated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives