Teilhard for Troubled Times

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Teilhard for Troubled Times
Sunday, October 15, 2017

I’ve invited Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, to explore Christian mysticism in this week’s Daily Meditations.

When I was asked to reflect on a mystic’s life and work, for me the choice was clear. In the midst of our socio-political concerns, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)—a French philosopher, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest—enters the equation offering a vastly broader and more hopeful perspective in which to search for a new moral grounding. Writing in a historical era whose traumatic upheavals eerily foreshadow our own, he is yet able to paint a bigger picture where there is still room for optimism and coherence.

Just how is Teilhard able to find hope in such troubled times? I’d like to unpack that question over the next few days by presenting what I call the Teilhardian “waypoints.”

For many of us, the concept of a forward evolutionary journey may feel like a false hope. Perhaps it seems that such hope is bought at the cost of all sensitivity to individual suffering and pain, by setting the scale at so vast a magnitude that human lives register as no more than tiny pixels.

Teilhard himself was accused of false optimism, of an indifference to personal suffering after World War II when people and nations—still shaken from the horrors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima—struggled with personal and collective remorse. But Teilhard was by no means indifferent. His life-transforming vision of the oneness of humanity came to him in the midst of serving as stretcher bearer in the bloody trenches of World War I, and his writings on human progress rose from the untold depths of personal suffering he endured in faithfulness to a Church that actively blocked his path. He knew personal suffering only too well, and he looked straight into the face of the sorrow, the horror, and named it as such.

The haunting prayer woven into Teilhard’s reflection on faith in The Divine Milieu makes clear that it is no cheap optimism he is dispensing here, but a wrenchingly honest acknowledgement of our human predicament and an unfailing fidelity to seeing God in every aspect of the earth, even in our human suffering:

Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal. . . . At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks—the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this . . . teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it. [1]

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.

References:
[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, (Harper Perennial Modern Classics: 2001), 112. Emphasis added.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 1, Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time,” April 3, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-1/.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

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