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.

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