From Naïveté to Wisdom

Growing in Christ: Week 2

From Naïveté to Wisdom
Sunday, March 24, 2019

To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment (I use the words almost interchangeably), we must be moved from Order to Disorder and finally to Reorder.

ORDER: At this stage—our “first naïveté,” if we are granted it (and not all are)—we feel innocent and safe. Everything is basically good and has meaning. We have a seemingly God-given, unshakable, and satisfying explanation of how things are and should be. Those who try to stay here tend to refuse and avoid confusion, conflict, inconsistencies, suffering, or darkness. They do not like disorder or change. Even many Christians do not like anything that looks like “carrying the cross.” (This is the huge price we have paid for just thanking Jesus for what he did on the cross, instead of actually imitating him.) The ego compels each one of us to hunker down and pretend that my status quo is entirely good, should be good for everybody, and is always “true” and even the only truth. Permanent residence in this stage tends to create naïve people and control freaks. “Conservatives” tend to get trapped here.

DISORDER: Eventually our ideally ordered universe—our “private salvation project,” as Thomas Merton (1915–1968) called it—will disappoint us, if we are honest. As Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) put it, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” [1] Your loved one dies, you lose a job, your children leave the church, or you finally realize that many people are excluded from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the disorder stage, like the “fall” Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). It is necessary in some form if real growth is to occur; but some of us find this stage so uncomfortable we try to flee back to our contrived order. Others today seem to have given up and decided that “there is no universal order,” or at least no order we will submit to. Permanent residence in this stage tends to make people rather negative, cynical, angry, opinionated and dogmatic about one form of political correctness or another. “Liberals” tend to get trapped here.

REORDER: Every religion, each in its own way, is trying to move us to enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, salvation, or resurrection. Mature spirituality points to life on the other side of death, the victory on the other side of failure, the joy on the other side of the pains of childbirth. It insists on going throughnot under, over, or around. There is no nonstop flight to reorder. To arrive there, we must endure, learn from, and include the disorder stage, including the first naïve orderbut also transcending it! That is the hard won secret. Hold on to what was good about the first order but also offer needed correctives. People who have reached this stage, like the Jewish prophets, might be called “radical traditionalists.” They love their truth and their group enough to critique it. And they critique it enough to maintain their own integrity and intelligence. These wise ones have stopped over-reacting and over-defending. This is the real goal.

References:
[1] Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future (Columbia: 1992).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 243-246.

Image credit: Krishna and Radna Looking into A Mirror (detail), artist unknown, 1800, National Museum, New Delhi, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, and one love. —Meister Eckhart

Growing in Christ: Week 1 Summary

Growing in Christ: Week 1

Summary: Sunday, March 17—Friday, March 22, 2019

Religion and various models of human development seem to suggest there are two major tasks for each human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. (Sunday)

I am convinced that much of our pastoral and practical confusion has emerged because we need to clarify the real differences, the needs, and the somewhat conflicting challenges of the two halves of our own lives. (Monday)

In the second half of life, we start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. (Tuesday)

If the agenda of the first half of life is social, meeting the demands and expectations our milieu asks of us, then the questions of the second half of life are spiritual, addressing the larger issue of meaning. —James Hollis (Wednesday)

The ego’s highest task is to go beyond itself into service, service to what is really desired by the soul. —James Hollis (Thursday)

Religion in the second half of life is finally not a moral matter; it’s a mystical matter. (Friday)

 

Practice: Discharging Our Loyal Soldier
A story from Japan at the close of World War II illustrates how we might support ourselves and others in transition to the second half of life. If you have ever been to Japan, you will know that its culture is rich in ritual, with a strong sense of the importance of symbol, aesthetics, and ceremony.

At the end of the war, some Japanese communities had the wisdom to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not prepared to reenter civil, peaceful society. The veterans’ only identity for their formative years had been as a “loyal soldier” to their country, but now they needed a broader identity.

So the communities created a ceremony whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised for their service to the people. After the soldier had been profusely honored, an elder would stand and announce with authority: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and us well up to now. We now need you to return as a parent, a partner, a friend, a mentor—something beyond a soldier.”

I call this process “discharging your loyal soldier.” As Ken Wilber suggests, we need to “transcend and include” as we grow, recognizing the value of what has come before while shedding old skins and identities that no longer fit us.

With tenderness, notice how at various times in your life you’ve fixated on different priorities, different measures of right and wrong, different sources of meaning and belonging. Give thanks for the lessons you learned at each phase that helped you survive, succeed, and become who you are today. Ask yourself what beliefs you may be ready to lay to rest, ways of thinking and acting that no longer serve your maturing awareness of reality.

You might wish to explore your journey in one or more of these ways:

  • Journal or write a poem.
  • Draw, paint, sculpt, or create a collage.
  • Find a piece of music that illustrates changing moods and move to it.
  • Talk to a friend, spiritual director, or therapist.
  • Design a simple ceremony to discharge your “loyal soldier.”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 43-44.

For Further Study:
James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up (Gotham Books: 2005)

Richard Rohr, Adult Christianity and How to Get There, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011)

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

The Performance Principle

Growing in Christ: Week 1

The Performance Principle
Friday, March 22, 2019

Religion in the second half of life is finally not a moral matter; it’s a mystical matter. While most of us begin focused on moral proficiency and perfection, we can’t spend our whole lives this way. Paul calls the first-half-of-life approach “the Law”; I call it the performance principle: “I’m good because I obey this commandment, because I do this kind of work, or because I belong to this group.” That’s the calculus the ego understands. The human psyche, all organizations, and governments need this kind of common sense structure at some level.

But that game has to fall apart or it will kill you. Paul says the law leads to death (e.g., Romans 7:5, Galatians 3:10). Yet many Catholics I meet—religious, laity, and clergy—are still trapped inside the law, believing that by doing good things or going to church, they’re going to somehow attain worthiness or acceptance from God. This was Luther’s authentic critique of much of the Catholic church as he knew it.

One of the only ways God can get us to let go of our private salvation project is some kind of suffering. This is why Christians hang the cross at the center of our churches, why we kiss the cross, and why we say we’re “saved” by the cross. Yet for all this ritualization, it seems we don’t really believe what the cross teaches us—that the pattern of death and resurrection is true for us, too, that we must die in a foundational way or any talk of “rebirth” makes no sense. I don’t know anything else that’s strong enough to force you and me to let go of our ego. However we’ve defined ourselves as successful, moral, better than, right, good, on top of it, number one . . . has to fail us!

This is the point when we don’t feel holy or worthy. We feel like a failure. When this experience of the “noonday devil” shows itself, the ego’s normal temptation is to be even stricter about following the first half of life’s rules. We think more is better, when in fact, less is more. We go back to laws and rituals instead of the always-risky fall into the ocean of mercy.

Yet that is the only path toward our larger and True Self, where we don’t need to prove ourselves to God anymore; where we know, as Thomas Merton (1915–1968) put it, it’s all “mercy within mercy within mercy.” [1] It’s not what we do for God; it’s what God has done for us. We switch from trying to love God to just letting God love us. And it’s at that point we fall in love with God. Up to now, we haven’t really loved God; we’ve largely been afraid of God. Finally, perfect love casts out all fear. As John says, “In love there can be no fear. Fear is driven out by perfect love. To fear is to still expect punishment. Anyone who is still afraid is still imperfect in the ways of love” (see 1 John 4:18).

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (Harvest Books: 2002), 362.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adult Christianity and How to Get There, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

Relinquishing Ego

Growing in Christ: Week 1

Relinquishing Ego
Thursday, March 21, 2019

God’s seed is in us. If it were tended by a good, wise and industrious laborer, it would then flourish all the better, and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and its fruits would be like God’s own nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into

a pear tree, the seed of a nut tree grows to be a nut tree, the seed of God grows to be God. —Meister Eckhart (1260–1328) [1]

James Hollis reflects on what it means to “die before we die” like the seed falling into the ground:

In the second half of life the ego is periodically summoned to relinquish its identifications with the values of others, the values received and reinforced by the world around it. It will have to face potential loneliness in living the life that comes from within rather than acceding to the noisy clamor of the world, or the insistency of the old complexes. [2] It will have to submit itself to that which is truly larger, sometimes intimidating, and always summoning us to grow up. . . . And how scary is that, to each of us? . . . No wonder so few ever feel connected to the soul. No wonder we are so isolated and afraid of being who we are.

Yet, paradoxically, the very achievement of ego strength is the source for our hope for something better. We need to be strong enough to examine our lives and make risky changes. A person strong enough to face the futilities of most desires, the distractions of most cultural values, who can give up trying to be well adjusted to a neurotic culture, will find growth and greater purpose after all. The ego’s highest task is to go beyond itself into service, service to what is really desired by the soul. . . .

During the second half of life, the ego will be asked to accept the absurdities of existence, that death and extinction mock all expectations of aggrandizement, that vanity and self-delusion are the most seductive of comforts. . . . How counterproductive our popular culture [in the United States]—with its fantasies of prolonged youthful appearance, continuous acquisition of objects with their planned obsolescence, and the incessant, restless search for magic: fads, rapid cures, quick fixes, new diversions from the task of soul.

The relinquishment of ego ambition, as fueled and defined by first-half-of-life complexes, will in the end be experienced as a newfound and hitherto unknown abundance. One will be freed from having to do whatever supposedly reinforced one’s shaky identity, and then will be granted the liberty to do things because they are inherently worth doing. . . . One can experience the quiet joy of living in relationship to the soul simply because it works better than the alternative. The revisioned life feels better in the end, for such a person experiences his or her life as rich with meaning, and opening to a larger and larger mystery.

Vocation, even in the most humble of circumstances, is a summons to what is divine. Perhaps it is the divinity in us that wishes to be in accord with a larger divinity. Ultimately, our vocation is to become ourselves, in the thousand, thousand variants we are. . . . As all of the great world religions have long recognized, becoming ourselves actually requires repeated submissions of the ego.

References:
[1] Meister Eckhart, “Of the Nobleman,” Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, trans. Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn (Paulist Press: 1981), 241.

[2] Hollis notes: “A complex is a cluster of energy in the unconscious, charged by historic events, reinforced through repetition, embodying a fragment of our personality, and generating a programmed response and an implicit set of expectations.”

James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up (Gotham Books: 2005), 91, 153-154.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

Individuation

Growing in Christ: Week 1

Individuation
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I first learned about the two halves of life from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (18751961). Today we’ll hear from a Jungian analyst, James Hollis, who is saying the same thing I am trying to say, but better. Hollis writes:

The second half of life presents a rich possibility for spiritual enlargement, for we are never going to have greater powers of choice, never have more lessons of history from which to learn, and never possess more emotional resilience, more insight into what works for us and what does not, or a deeper, sometimes more desperate, conviction of the importance of getting our life back. . . .

Just what are those inner imperatives that rise to support us and challenge us in the journey of the second half of life? Perhaps Jung’s most compelling contribution is the idea of individuation, that is, the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be—what [God] intended, not the parents, or the tribe, or, especially, the easily intimidated or inflated ego.

While revering the mystery of others, our individuation summons each of us to stand in the presence of our own mystery, and become more fully responsible for who we are in this journey we call our life. So often the idea of individuation has been confused with self-indulgence or mere individualism, but what individuation more often asks of us is the surrender of the ego’s agenda of security and emotional reinforcement, in favor of humbling service to the soul’s intent. . . .

The agenda of the first half of life is predominantly . . . framed as “How can I enter this world, separate from my parents, create relationships, career, social identity?” Or put another way: “What does the world ask of me, and what resources can I muster to meet its demands?” But in the second half of life . . . the agenda shifts to reframing our personal experience in the larger order of things, and the questions change. “What does the soul ask of me?” “What does it mean that I am here?” “Who am I apart from my roles, apart from my history?” . . . If the agenda of the first half of life is social, meeting the demands and expectations our milieu asks of us, then the questions of the second half of life are spiritual, addressing the larger issue of meaning.

The psychology of the first half of life is driven by the fantasy of acquisition: gaining ego strength to deal with separation, separating from the overt domination of parents, acquiring a standing in the world. . . . But then the second half of life asks of us, and ultimately demands, relinquishment—relinquishment of identification with property, roles, status, provisional identities—and the embrace of other, inwardly confirmed values.

Reference:
James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up (Gotham Books: 2005), 9-10, 86.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

In Need of Guidance

Growing in Christ: Week 1

In Need of Guidance
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

There’s a somewhat overlooked passage in the middle of Romans where Paul says, “The only thing that counts is not what human beings want or try to do [that’s the first half of life], but the mercy of God [that’s the second half of life]” (9:16). But we only realize this is true in the second half of life. We had to do the wanting and the trying and the achieving and the self-promoting and the accomplishing. The first half of life is all about some kind of performance principle. And it seems that it must be this way. We have to do it wrong before we know what right might be.

In the second half of life, we start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. I remember going home to Kansas after my father had just retired at age sixty-five. For thirty-six years, he had painted trains for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Daddy grew up very poor during the Depression and the dust storms of western Kansas. In his generation, of course, a job was something you valued deeply; and once you got it, you weren’t going to lose it. He never missed a day of work in all those years. He turned on the lights every morning, they told us.

After he retired, my father cried in my arms and said, “I don’t know who I am now. I don’t know who I am. . . . Pray with me, pray with me.” Here I was a grown-up man, a priest, supposed to be strong for my father. I didn’t know how to do it. I guess I said the appropriate priestly words. But I didn’t know how to guide him into the second half of life, and he was begging for a guide.

The church wasn’t much of a guide in such things. The common sermon was on the evil of abortion. My mom in her 70s would come home and say, “Why does the priest keep telling us the same thing? I can’t have babies anymore!” That’s what happens when the Church doesn’t grow up or support its growing members. We focus on something that’s quantifiable and seemingly clear and has no subtlety to it. It’s mostly black and white thinking, usually about individual body-based sins. We know who the sinners are, and we know who the saints are, and we don’t have to struggle with the mixed blessing that every human being is. We’re all mixed blessings and partly sinners, and we always will be. But this wisdom only comes later, when we’ve learned to listen to the different voices that guide us in the second half of life.

These deeper voices will sound like risk, trust, surrender, uncommon sense, destiny, love. They will be the voices of an intimate stranger, a voice that’s from somewhere else, and yet it’s my deepest self at the same time. It’s the still, small voice that the prophet Elijah slowly but surely learned to hear (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, disc 2 (Franciscan Media: 2004), CD, no longer available; and

Adult Christianity and How to Get There, disc 5 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

The Container and the Contents

Growing in Christ: Week 1

The Container and the Contents
Monday, March 18, 2019

Theologically and objectively speaking, we are created in union with God from the beginning (e.g., Ephesians 1:3-9). But it is hard for us to believe or experience this without a healthy ego and boundaries. Thus, the first part of the spiritual journey is about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for an authentic spiritual experience (see Matthew 23:13-32). Yes, it is largely style and sentiment instead of real substance, but it is probably necessary—as long as we don’t devote our entire life to it. This familiar motto, which Pope John XXIII commended, is apt: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” [1] That is second-half-of-life, hard-won wisdom.

In the first half of our lives, we have no container for such content as true love or charity, no wineskins that are prepared to hold such utterly intoxicating wine. Authentic God experience always “burns” you, yet does not destroy you, just as the burning bush revealed to Moses (see Exodus 3:2-3). Most of us are not prepared for such burning, nor even told to expect it. By definition, authentic God experience is always “too much”! It consoles our True Self only after it has devastated our false self.

Early-stage religion is primarily preparing you for the immense gift of this burning, the inner experience of God, as though creating a proper stable into which the Christ can be born. Unfortunately, most people get so preoccupied with their stable, and whether their stable is better than other stables, or whether their stable is the only “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” stable, that they never get to the birth of God in the soul.

As a priest for over four decades, I find that much of the spiritual and pastoral work of churches is often ineffective at real transformation of consciousness. As a spiritual director, I find that people facing important issues of social injustice, divorce, failure, gender identity, an inner life of prayer, or a radical reading of the Gospel are usually bored and limited by the typical Sunday church agenda. And these are good people! But they keep on doing what Bill Plotkin calls their survival dance because no one has told them about their sacred dance. [2] In short, Christianity has not helped many people do the age-appropriate tasks of both halves of life.

Most churches just keep doing the first half of life over and over again. Young people are made to think that the container is all there is and all they should expect, that believing a few doctrines or performing some rituals is all religion is about. The would-be maturing believer is not challenged to adult faith or service to the world, much less mystical union. Everyone ends up in a muddled middle, where “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” as poet William Butler Yeats put it. [3] I am convinced that much of our pastoral and practical confusion has emerged because we need to clarify the real differences, the needs, and the somewhat conflicting challenges of the two halves of our own lives.

References:
[1] See Pope John Paul XXIII, Ad Petri Cathedram (To the Chair of Peter), Encyclical on Truth, Unity and Peace, In a Spirit of Charity (June 29, 1959), paragraph 72. See https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-xxiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_29061959_ad-petri.html.

[2] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (New World Library: 2003), 84-85.

[3] William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. Richard Finneran (Scribner: 1996), 187.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 12-15.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

The Task within the Task

Growing in Christ: Week 1

The Task within the Task
Sunday, March 17, 2019

Religion and various models of human development seem to suggest there are two major tasks for each human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life. This does not mean we do it well, but because we’re so focused on it we may not even attempt the second task.

Western society is a “first-half-of-life” culture, largely concerned about surviving successfully. Most cultures and individuals across history were likely situated in the first half of their own development until recent times; it may have been all they had time for because of shorter life expectancy. The first task life hands us has to do with establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.

But it takes much longer to discover “the task within the task,” as I like to call it: what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing. Two people can have the same job description, and one is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle life energy (eros) in doing his or her job, while another is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle negative energy (thanatos) while doing the exact same job.

We respond to one another’s energy more than to people’s exact words or actions. In any situation, the taking or giving of energy is what we are actually doing. What we all desire and need from one another, of course, is that life energy called eros! It always draws, creates, and connects things.

It is when we begin to pay attention, and to seek integrity in the task within the task, that we begin to move from the first to the second half of our own lives. Integrity largely has to do with purifying our intentions and being honest about our motives. It is hard work. Most often we don’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks.

During the first half of life we invest so much of our blood and sweat, eggs and sperm, tears and years that we often cannot imagine there is a second task, or that anything more could be expected of us. “The old wineskins are good enough” (Luke 5:39), we say, even though according to Jesus they often cannot hold the new wine. If we do not get some new wineskins, “the wine and the wineskin will both be lost” (Luke 5:37). The second half of life can hold some new wine because by then there should be some tested ways of holding our lives together. But that usually means the container itself must stretch or die in its present form and be replaced with something better.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), xiii-xv, 2.

Image credit: The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (detail), by Camille Pissarro, 1898, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the second half of life, you start to understand that life is not only about doing; it’s about being. —Richard Rohr

Christ in Evolution: Weekly Summary

Christ in Evolution

Summary: Sunday, March 10—Friday, March 15, 2019

God keeps creation both good and new—which means always going somewhere even better or, in a word, evolving. God keeps creating things from the inside out. (Sunday)

With greater differentiation and complexity there will also be pushback, fear, and confusion. What can we do in the face of resistance? I believe contemplation or nondual consciousness can help us approach change with creativity, openness, and courage. (Monday)

God’s Christ Project encompasses the entire evolving universe, and its aim is to bring creation (along with all of us) back to God, fully conscious of our divine origin and divine destiny. —Louis Savary (Tuesday)

The success of God’s plan for creation depends on [our] conscious and creative activity to keep the divine plan evolving and developing in the direction God wants for creation. —Louis Savary (Wednesday)

We must fix our eyes on the future, on forging new relationships of love that include the earth, all peoples, all religions, all planets and all galaxies. —Ilia Delio (Thursday)

We must consciously evolve; we must orient our being toward new life and growth because the unity that we really are, the deep connective tissue of oneness, will not let us rest with separateness. —Ilia Delio (Friday)

 

Practice: Seeing a Luminous World
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; . . .
—Gerard Manley Hopkins [1]

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin often used the image of fire for God. As with Moses’ experience of the burning bush, the fire invites our reverent attention; it burns without consuming. Teilhard wrote:

. . . the World gradually caught fire for me, burst into flames; how this happened all during my life, and as a result of my whole life, until it formed a great luminous mass, lit from within, that surrounded me. . . . Christ. His Heart. A Fire: a fire with the power to penetrate all things—and which was now gradually spreading unchecked. [2]

Louis Savary suggests a simple practice to help us see the luminous divine everywhere:

Teilhard encourages us to learn this new way of seeing and promises that as we deeply explore our world with it, we will begin to see how God has “invaded” and “ignited” the universe with a consuming, loving fire. He wants us to be able to see, ultimately, the entire universe as the shining Body of Christ.

God is waiting for you, Teilhard says, to discover the diaphanous divine beauty, not only in the spectacular loveliness of creation on earth or in its ever-expanding vastness in outer space, but also in your daily personal and interpersonal experience.

We learn to develop these new eyes, the same way we learn any art, by ongoing practice. Here is a basic spiritual practice of Teilhardian spirituality. . . .

In order to discover and frequently exercise your new eyes to discern the fire or luminosity within things, start small. Choose one living thing, such as a flower, a bug, a pet, or a baby, and with your imagination picture a kind of glow or luminousness surrounding and penetrating the object of your contemplation. Stay with it for a few minutes, focusing not on the external beauty or complexity of the object but upon the glow surrounding and penetrating it, as if that were its source of life and existence.

Once you learn to do this, the glow or luminosity will develop a life of its own. Then you can move on to another object of contemplation to witness its glowing luminosity.

From time to time, say a word of thanks to this benevolent God who is constantly revealing God’s self to you everywhere in creation.

References:
[1] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th edition, eds. W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (Oxford University Press: 1967), 66.

[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter, trans. René Hague (Harcourt Brace & Company: 1980, ©1978), 15, 47

Louis M. Savary, Teilhard de Chardin—The Divine Milieu Explained: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Paulist Press: 2007), 14-15.

 

For Further Study:
Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008)

Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Louis M. Savary, Teilhard de Chardin—The Divine Milieu Explained: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Paulist Press: 2007)

Louis M. Savary, The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Paulist Press: 2010)

Image credit: Gua Tewet Tree of Life (detail), cave painting, Borneo, Indonesia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. —Thomas Berry (1914-2009)

Collective Evolution

Christ in Evolution

Collective Evolution
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Today we continue gleaning insights Louis Savary has drawn from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

The success of God’s plan for creation depends on [our] conscious and creative activity to keep the divine plan evolving and developing in the direction God wants for creation.

In the past, no one even imagined that there was some great divine evolutionary plan for creation in which humans were meant to participate as co-creators during their lives on Earth. For centuries, many Christians saw their earthly days as merely a behavioral test for entry into heaven; Earth served merely as their classroom where they prepared for their final exam and hoped to graduate into heaven. . . .

For Teilhard, in contrast, the Christ Project is why God created the evolving universe in the first place. . . . It took the revelations of Jesus Christ plus twenty centuries of theological reflection and centuries of scientific discoveries to tie things all together to begin to identify the grand divine project and the evolutionary law governing it.

The plan is not only that each human being would be “saved” individually, but also that we humans, working together as one family, would consciously cooperate in the creative work of this Universal Being. We are invited to be an integral part of that project. Some participate in it consciously and creatively. Many others, like research scientists and people in the helping professions, cooperate in it, too, even though they may be unaware of the Christ Project by name. . . .

The evolving noosphere [sphere of human thought] . . . calls for . . . people, individually and collectively, [to] create and contribute to its evolution. The purpose of such a relational spirituality is to bring the noosphere to its highest level of convergence, eventually operating as a single consciousness. This convergent oneness of humanity and the planet will be a knowledge-based and love-inspired union and communion. Only in this collective way may we create an adequate infrastructure for the full emergence of Christ as a Cosmic Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15, 17, 19). In this perspective, when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is among you,” [Luke 17:21] it would mean, in Teilhard’s language, that the divine project is already under way

Teilhard believed that those who grasped this idea would feel the call to spend their energies not only on their own personal salvation but, with their eyes focused on the vision of humanity as a whole, would put their minds, hearts, and energy into building the great Body of Christ.

More specifically, they would realize that a major task of any true contemporary spirituality should be to help prepare the collective mind and heart of the planet for the Cosmic Christ. This is the Christ project. Helping achieve this convergent oneness of humanity [and other species] by promoting further evolution will demand that each person learn the creative art of imagining a better future and helping make it happen—over and over.

Reference:
Louis M. Savary, The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Paulist Press: 2010), 26-28.

Image credit: Gua Tewet Tree of Life (detail), cave painting, Borneo, Indonesia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. —Thomas Berry (1914-2009)

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