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Dusting off Teilhard

November 3, 2017

DUSTING OFF TEILHARD
Boyd Wilson
I was moved to turn back half a century to Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) by a rash of writers declaring that the life of this planet has quite recently jumped irrecoverably from the Holocene epoch (beginning with early human moves from nomadic hunting-gathering to settled tilling and trading thousands of years before Abraham and Sarah enter the narrative of faith, trekking from early civilization in search of space, simplicity) to the Anthropocene (meaning one species, ours, is saddled as never before with near-absolute power over and responsibility for the future of the entire web of life on Earth through the millennia ahead). Jesuit palaeontologist Teilhard, whose writing in the first half of the 20th Century was suppressed by the timid Church until after his death, was a key figure for me, helping blow away the distorting screens of both religiosity and blinkered science early in my earthed quest for the really real.
I’m excited afresh by the prescient depth, breadth and relevance to today’s pressing issues of the man’s insights – scientific, poetic, philosophic and spiritual. Well worth revisiting! I’ll tack on below a few brief quotes, most from “The Phenomenon of Man.” I’m deliberately downplaying Teilhard’s profound theology and inner life because I believe it important that scientific thinkers – physicists, ecologists, cosmologists and the legion of other seekers of truth, all encountering mystery but too-seldom seeing relevance in religious faith traditions – should engage him with open minds.
Teilhard, writing in the 1940s, would, I think, be amazed and disturbed (as well as feeling the justification of a true prophet) if he were to learn of what’s been happening in the accelerating story of Planet Earth in the mere flicker (in the context of his worldview spanning tens of thousands of years) of the last seven decades:
• The trebling of the human population.
• The exponential growth of scientific and technological knowledge, global media and so on.
• The neoliberal market economy’s rise as object of faith, arrogant in insistence that the creation exists primarily to serve our species, mining the biosphere as a right, blind to a future beyond the next couple or so human generations.
• The individualism and yawing inequality-gap, in stark contrast with Teilhard’s vision of homogenization.
• The serious possibility of biosphere collapse in the next few short centuries, with our species not only culprit but also among those to be disempowered if not rendered extinct.
• The dismal news (given that the key human trait in Teilhard’s somewhat optimistic plotting of the evolution of Homo sapiens was THOUGHT) of the shallow depth and short vision of recent democratic mandates in the US, UK and many other countries including New Zealand.
• The fragmentation, inward-looking self-justifications and apparent loss of confidence (in the view of most of humankind outside it) of what Christians claimed for many centuries as one Church: united, holy, inclusive and sent out as sower of the seeds of good news for all.
• … and more.

Teilhard is still occasionally said to sail a bit too close to pantheism – belief that every earthed thing is God and God is everything. Not at all! Teilhard the Jesuit was, of course, imbued in his formation with the Ignatian imperative to “Seek and find God in all things.” Along with a host of the wonderful contemplatives in each of the 20+ centuries of the story of Christ-centred faith, he held the intimate presence in tension with the infinite, thus, “God is further than everything and deeper than everything, and present in everything.”

He toys in passing with eugenics as (a bit too optimistically in my opinion) he looks to the fullness of what he claims to be the ascendency of the human involvement in creation in the final consummation of his Christic Omega Point. I think can let that go as a brief conjecture.

Teilhard reignites in me a yearning for a great surge of ecumenism in the world. The need is far deeper and wider than polite conversations between leaders of Christian denominations. The word “ecumenical” is rooted in the Greek oukumene, meaning the whole inhabited Earth. Thus, I suggest, respectful listening to one another in conversations involving not only all spiritual traditions but also the true sciences from quantum to ecology, sociology and cosmology, technologies, education. The surge must first be generated not from the top down but from the grassroots up, in neighbourhoods, pubs, school rooms, breaking through barriers with social media. The starting point, I think, is as simple as the common feeling that, for all the great progressions in these times, something just seems to be wrong when we share in trying to look with hope for sustainable justice for all the planet’s life including all humankind beyond the next few human generations.

Teilhard’s Christology is deeply centred, but broad and robust enough to engage folk of other faiths, even agnostics and self-proclaimed atheists. He and his ilk have certainly challenged, deepened, broadened and energised my stumbling contemplative centring through the decades. I’ve resolved to leave it at that in hope that readers may not, assuming mere religiosity, decline to engage the mind and heart of this prophet for our times. To Christians and other seekers wishing to pursue Teilhard’s specific Christology after reading “The Phenomenon of Man” I commend other work of his including “Le Milieu Divin” (English translation 1960) and “The Mass on the World” in “Hymn of the Universe” (1965).

Brief quotes to encourage others to read Teilhard
(In choosing them I am not necessarily agreeing.)

“The biological change of state terminating in the awakening of thought does not represent merely a critical point that the individual or even the species must pass through. Vaster than that, it affects life itself in its organic totality, and consequently it marks a transformation affecting the state of the entire planet.” (p.181)

“What has made us in four or five generations so different from our forebears … so ambitious, and so worried, is not merely that we have discovered and mastered the other forces of nature. … it is … that we have become conscious of the movement which is carrying us along, and have thereby realised the formidable problems set us …” (p.215)

“Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.” (p.219)

“Man is not the centre of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful – the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. … we see that the further advance of the vital wave beyond us depends on how industrially we use those powers.” (P.224f)

“Zoologically speaking, mankind offers us the unique spectacle of achieving something in which all previous species had failed … stretching a single organized membrane over the earth without breaking it … , a completely new mode of phylogenesis.” (P.241ff)

“Of old, the forerunners of our chemists strove to find the philosophers’ stone. Our ambition …. Is no longer to find gold but life. … We are faced with a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness.” (p.249ff)

“…. The great human machine is designed to work, and must work, by producing a super-abundance of mind. … if it produces only matter, this means that it has gone into reverse.” (p.257)

“The goal of ourselves, the acme of our originality, is not our originality but our person; … we can only find our person by uniting together.” (p.263)

“Considered in its full biological reality, love – that is to say the affinity of being with being – is not peculiar to man. … Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being. … Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as complete and fulfil them …” (p.264f)

“ … science … was born of the curiosity of dreamers and idlers. … living in a world which it can justly be said to have revolutionized, it has acquired a social status; sometimes it is even worshipped. … Less is provided annually for all the pure research all over the world than for one capital ship. Surely our great-grandsons will not be wrong if they think of us as barbarians.” (p.279).

“Neither in in its impetus nor its achievements can science go to its limits without being tinged with mysticism and charged with faith.” (p.284)

“Is the Kingdom of God a big family? Yes, in a sense it is. But in another sense it is a prodigious biological operating – that of the Redeeming Incarnation.” (p.293)

“To be able to say literally to God that one loves him, not only with all one’s body, all one’s heart and all one’s soul, but with every fibre of the unifying universe – that is a prayer that can only be made in space-time.” (p.297)

And finally, from Pensee 76 in “Hymn of the Universe”, “The world can no more have two summits of fulfilment than a circumference can have two centres.”

(Page numbers from the 1959 English translation of “The Phenomenon of Man” with introduction by Julian Huxley).

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Sacramental Connection with Everything

June 21, 2017

Sacramental Connection with Everything

Instutions, individuals, land, community

April 25, 2017

Institutions, individuals, communication

Creed

December 20, 2016

Challenged to clarify the bottom line of my Christian belief rather than sit on the fence critically listing what I don’t believe, I came up with this.

creed

When is prayer real?

May 9, 2013

“If you want to pray,” wrote Evagrius of Pontus more than 16 centuries ago, “you need God, who gives prayer.”
Prayer is understood as the inner content of a real, mutual relationship between a person or group and the Infinite Other. So merely labeling a text or activity as prayer does not mean it is any such thing. It may be as removed from true communion as masturbation from lovemaking; perhaps harmless and pleasant but not engaged in any movement toward ultimate truth and wholeness.
(From “With our feet on the ground,” by Boyd Wilson, 2012)

Easter learning from cats

April 14, 2013

Just when we think we’ve got you sussed
as we wander our garden in sedate self-comfort
you jump out at us from
behind the least likely bushes
yelling “Yo! Get a life!”

I’ve lived with cats like that all my life,
with mutual enjoyment
both comfort and disruption,
and never owned one.

Another thing about cats:
they purr and rub
on laps I wouldn’t
be seen dead on.

From “With our Feet on the Ground,” meditations, poems, Psalm reflections and essay, by Boyd Wilson (paperback from the author and on-line stores e.g. Amazon.com).

February 13, 2010

"With our feet on the ground" (click on page at right)

memoir

Hello world!

February 12, 2010

ReconciliationHi. I’m Boyd Wilson, former agricultural journalist and rural (Anglican) parish priest, now exploring detached spirituality in Auckland after the wonderful space and light of Central Otago, New Zealand. This is a static site, not a blog. To download from a wide selection of my writing click from the pages menu.
Email: boydles@xtra.co.nz

Boyd Wilson

In old age