29 June 2016

traveling with Teilhard



In November 1926, during his time in China doing paleontological work, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin speaks of a decision that appears in Letters from a Traveller (published posthumously).

“I have finally decided to write my book on the spiritual life.  I mean to put down as simply as possible the sort of ascetical or mystical teaching that I have been living and preaching so long.  I call it Le Milieu divin [The Divine Milieu], but I am being careful to include nothing esoteric and the minimum of explicit philosophy.  What I intend to do is to confine myself to the realm of a moral attitude, vigorously presented but still incontestably Christian.  I really mean to ‘get across’ and have the book read.  I think that if I could manage to get it printed, it would do good in two ways: it would spread ideas which I believe might open new frontiers for many minds, and at the same time my efforts might be rewarded by some sort of approval from the Church.

“I have settled down to my little book.  I want to write it slowly, quietly—living it and meditating on it like a prayer.” (133-4)

I recently re-read The Divine Milieu, already having done so several years ago.  It truly is a fascinating work.  Unfortunately, contrary to Teilhard’s wishes that he does nothing “esoteric,” I, like so many others, found his sometimes innovative terminology rather inscrutable.  Over time, the deep meaning within has opened up like a flower—or like a flame which gradually illuminates dark recesses.

His expressed dual hope yielded fruit in unexpected ways.  His book (and other works) did indeed “open new frontiers for many minds.”  However, it was that very fact that prevented being “rewarded by some sort of approval from the Church.”  There was serious doubt that his thinking was “incontestably Christian.”  The Vatican denied permission for him to teach theology, instead, limiting him to his scientific work.  In some way, he seemed to welcome that decision.  At least he had the freedom to devote more of his life to his research.

Perhaps it had to be that way.  It was only in the years after his death on Easter in 1955 that those frontiers for many minds began to engage, not with fear and suspicion, but with joy and admiration.

I want to close with an excerpt from a prayer in The Divine Milieu: (146)

“…No, you do not ask anything false or unattainable of me.  You merely, through your revelation and your grace, force what is most human in me to become conscious of itself at last.  Humanity was sleeping—it is still sleeping—imprisoned in the narrow joys of its little closed loves…

“Jesus, Saviour of human activity to which you have given meaning, Saviour of human suffering to which you have given living value, be also the Saviour of human unity; compel us to discard our pettinesses, and to venture forth, resting upon you, into the uncharted ocean of charity.” 

May we all venture into that uncharted ocean.

12 June 2016

book bind



I know Kindle is convenient.  I have a decent number of books on my device.  It takes up less room and can even be used for underlining and annotations (sort of).

But there is no substitute for holding a book.  There is no substitute for feeling the pages, for actually underlining, highlighting, and truly writing notes.  Even if we never do that to books, there is no substitute for the smell—the aroma—of the pages.  I appreciate the mild chemical smell of freshly-minted volumes and journals, but…ah…what a joy is the parchment-y musty scent of ancient tomes!


When we hold a used book, isn’t it a wondrous adventure to think of who else has read these same pages?  The older the book, the more anonymous the previous owners, the better. 

My wife and I are about to return to Tennessee, where we recently spent a year living with my aging mother.  Upon returning to New York, we were forced to leave behind our treasure trove of books.  We have other belongings in her house, but those lovely critters will have top priority on the return trip!

19 May 2016

trumping oneself



The reporting on Megyn Kelly’s interview with Donald Trump on Tuesday has largely focused on Trump’s abusive remarks about women and Kelly herself.  His referring to her as a “bimbo” has made the headlines.  The Trump vs. Kelly narrative was completely overblown and ridiculous.  That overemphasis missed the most revealing parts of the interview.

For example, when Kelly asked Trump if anyone has ever hurt him emotionally, he started talking about his alcoholic brother who died.  When he tried to turn the subject to a discussion about alcoholism, Kelly brought him back to her point.  He was reticent to answer, saying that he would have to think about it.  But he did come up with this: “When I’m wounded, I go after people hard, okay?  And I try and ‘un-wound’ myself.”  That’s the definition of a bully.  He said that he responds based on “what they did to me.” 

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”  Some words of wisdom from Richard Rohr.  I’m hardly a fan of Trump’s, but I can see how his bullying attitude comes from a deep sense of lack of self-worth. (Perhaps self-hatred?)  He brags because he feels unworthy inside.  I’m not seeking to justify, just seeking to explain.  That acting out of fear and pain is common to us allThose who dont admit that and dont seek to address it make for poor leaders, be they president, pastor, or parent. 

Okay, now I will remove my therapist hat!