Back to the process at hand -- my personal search for hope. In thirty days -- or more. (See entry for August 1.) I realize now that while my body might adapt to yoga poses in four weeks time, it will probably take longer to wrap my mind around some of the philosophical ideas described by Teilhard de Chardin in The Divine Milieu. He was a scientist, and I’m not. But I have always been intrigued by scientists who are people of faith, that their understanding of science -- evolution, for example -- does not hinder or cancel out their faith in God.
Honestly, I don’t know much about de Chardin, who died before I was a year old. I know that during his lifetime, some of his philosophical writing was considered controversial by leaders of the church. Much of his written work was suppressed, and he was ordered not to teach. Then, as sometimes happens, his work is picked up again after his death, reconsidered and now church leaders are inspired by his writing.
So de Chardin was a scientist -- a paleontologist and geologist -- who found no inconsistency between science and spirituality. For de Chardin, the more he understood the world around him, the more deeply he believed not just in God but in the idea that creation is still underway and moving, inevitably, toward Christ. I’d like to believe that, that we and this earth are moving toward ultimate unity, but it sure doesn’t look like that right now.
In The Divine Milieu, he writes about a connection between the human soul and God. “What is most divine in God is that, an an absolute sense, we are nothing apart from him,” he writes, following that with this: “ . . . the general influence and practice of the Church has always been to dignify, ennoble and transfigure in God the duties inherent in one’s station in life, the search for natural truth, and the development of human action.”
Right action, he says, must begin with “good intention,” “the necessary start and foundation of all else . . . . it is the golden key which unlocks our inward personal world to God’s presence.” And one of our chief tasks, as human beings with souls, is to sort the myriad influences that wash over us in waves:
“Through every cleft the world we perceive floods us with its riches -- food for the body, nourishment for the eyes, harmony of sounds and fullness of the heart, unknown phenomena and new truths, all these treasures, all these stimuli, all these calls, coming to us from the four corners of the world, cross our consciousness at every moment.”
I am pretty sure that de Chardin is thinking of positive stimuli, but in this moment, I am nearly drowning in negative information about our government, my fellow citizens, our treatment of each other and the “outsiders” who come here in search of safety and food to put on their tables. So, when I read the previous quotation from de Chardin, I see a good description of being overwhelmed. And then he observes that all the stimuli bombarding us (that of course, is my phrase) “will merge into the most intimate life of our soul and either develop it or poison it.”
Is the choice facing my soul between development or poisoning from all these stimuli? What’s surprising to me is that we have a choice at all. Then de Chardin observes that “that the human soul, however independently created our philosophy represents it as being, is inseparable, in its birth and in its growth, from the universe into which it is born. In each soul, God loves and partly saves the whole world which that soul sums up in an incommunicable and particular way. . . . It is we who, through our own activity, must industriously assemble the widely scattered elements.”
Easier said than done, I say. But here’s why it may be so important:
“We may, perhaps, imagine that the creation was finished long ago. But that would be quite wrong . . . We serve to complete it even by the humblest work of our hands. That is, ultimately, the meaning and value of our acts.”
So, what do I take away from the past few days of reading de Chardin? That as a believer, it is my job to sort through the influences around me and not allow them to poison my soul but find, maybe among them, a good intention and work toward that end, even in a humble way. Maybe that means helping with voter registration -- a good intention and a positive effort.
But I suspect there is more to it. In my circumstances, I want to engage with people who don’t agree with me (good intention, check; positive action, check) listen to their fears, (positive action, check), think about where those fears come from (positive action, check) and to resist, resist, resist the temptation to judge them, scream that their fears are unfounded and, in the process, contribute to the discord that characterizes Americans these days (not so postive). I don’t think I’m there yet.
Next time, mulling over The Soul of America.