While on sabbatical last summer, I took on the daunting task of reading Teilhard de Chardin. (sabbatical post on Chardin) I did so because so many of the progressive Christian scholars that I admire and have learned so much from, site Teilhard de Chardin and I thought that it was long past time for me to become familiar with these important primary texts. Well my ambition far outweighed my capacity for understanding and I found myself weighed down in Chardin’s seminal work The Phenomenon of Man. I was hopelessly lost until I discovered the work of the renowned Teilhard de Chardin scholar Ursula King. (King pointed me in the direction of a superior translation of Chardin’s work by Sarah Appleton-Weber: The Human Phenomenon).
In this video, Ursula King explores the impact of the discovery of evolution has and is having on religion, society and consciousness. As an expert on de Chardin, King brings a unique perspective to the emergence of synergies between various ways of knowing. (the interview by Krista Trippett mentioned in the video can be found here)
I first discovered Teilhard’s work while completing my undergraduate work in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, when a well-used copy of “The Phenomenon of Man” (Le Phenomene Humain) captured my interest. At the time, Teilhard’s insights were quite a stretch for me and although I finished the book feeling overwhelmed by its complexity, I couldn’t help longing for the day when I might be better able to follow Teilhard beyond the rigid confines of the science versus religion debate toward a more comprehensive approach to understanding the cosmos and our place in it.
Today, in the midst of my sabbatical at UBC, it feels so appropriate that I should once again be consumed by Teilhard, as I luxuriate in Sarah Appleton-Weber’s newer translation: The Human Phenomenon. Lo these many years later, I still feel ill-equipped to grasp the wonders of Teilhard’s vision. But, I am struck by the beauty of his vision of the complex process of unfolding of the universe.
My comprehension of Teilhard’s work is enhanced by Ersula King’s splendid biography: Spirit of Fire. King describes his vision as one in which: “love is a spirituality that celebrates the oneness of creation, a spirituality that acknowledges love as the clearest understanding we have of God, of ourselves, of history, and of the cosmos.”
“his vision was one of consuming fire, kindled by the radiant powers of love. It was a mystical vision, deeply Christian in origin and orientation. Yet it broke through the boundaries of traditional orthodoxies — whether those of science or religion — and grew into a vision which is global in intent.”
In an essay, “The Heart of the Matter” written near the end of his life, Teilhard described this fire at the heart of reality:
“Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight, until a flame all around me, it has become almost luminous from within. Such has been my experience in contact with the Earth. The diaphany of the divine at the heart of the universe on fire. Christ, the heart, a fire capable of penetrating everywhere, and gradually spreading everywhere.”
Teilhard was a scientist/theologian/philosopher/prophet who remains ahead of his time, whose work continues to push scientists and theologians to move beyond the carefully drawn boundaries of their own disciplines so that they might learn from one another. King explains: “His deepest desire was to see the essence of things, to find their heart, and probe into the mystery of life, its origin and goal. In the rhythm of life and its evolution, at the center of the cosmos and the world, Teilhard believed, is a divine center, a living heart beating with the fiery energy of love and compassion. Now, the heart is really a fleshly reality But the image of this very flesh, this concentration of living, breathing matter, came to symbolize for Teilhard the very core of the spirit.”
The warmth of these summer days at UBC are richly complemented by Teilhard’s fiery vision as I savour this divine consumption.