Why Do We Climb Jacob’s Ladder?

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Jun 282016

“Each one of us has his Jacob’s ladder, whose rungs are formed of a series of objects. Thus it is not our business to withdraw from the world before our time; rather let us learn to orient our being in the flux of things; then, instead of the force of gravity which drags us down to the abyss of self-indulgence and selfishness, we shall feel a salutary “component” emerge from created things, which………….will enlarge our horizons, will snatch us away from our pettiness and impel us imperiously toward a widening vision……….”

Teilhard saw matter or physical things as rungs that we “climb” to get to God. Thus, rather than withdrawing from matter and focusing prematurely on spirit, he encourages us to be fully engaged in life including its material aspects. His own experience showed that engagement in the physicality of life can broaden horizons, keep us from pettiness, broaden our vision, help us renounce pleasures that are no longer helpful, and enhance our desire for ever more beautiful spiritual awareness. “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than just for yourself.” Colossians 3:10-11, 23.  Many times Teilhard returns to the importance of intention in what we do.

Why do I do the things I do? Is it for the glory of God or for my own self-satisfaction? Thomas Merton once wrote, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.” I pray for the courage to be equally frank in my own assessment. Do I know where I am going? I wish I had a clear answer. How about you?

 Posted by at 3:46 pm

Teilhard’s Instruction to Re-examine All Theories, Hypotheses, and Systems

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Jun 232016

“Evolution is a general condition, which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must submit to and satisfy from now on in order to be conceivable and true.”

Recently, during a discussion with my wife Sarah, I received an insight relating to my difficulty reading Teilhard. While it is true that his sentences tend to be extended and complex, and he often drives me to the dictionary, the greatest difficulty is that his teaching requires a complete reconstruction of my belief system. While I have long since given up the literal interpretation of the Genesis story of creation and images of Heaven “up there”, I am called to re-examine “all theories, all hypotheses, all systems”—that’s “all”, not “some”, and not just the convenient ones.  As I contemplate this, lots of hidden assumptions about the way life is are exposed. For example, Teilhard also wrote: “Should we not take a lesson from physics, which had no hesitation in changing its geometry when the pressure of facts demanded it? Should we not, then, simply decide at last to create a higher metaphysics which includes a further dimension?” The changing foundation of even science is for me a powerful reminder of the dynamic nature of life itself (my life!), and that has many implications.

In what ways do Teilhard’s ideas about evolution challenge you?  If you find Teilhard difficult to read, why?

 Posted by at 5:48 pm

Teilhard on the Trusting the Slow Work of God

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Jun 142016

“Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

When I first read this quote, I was immediately attracted to it, because it seemed so authentic based on my life experience. I know that “anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete”, and for much of my life I have assumed that if I lived “correctly”, the anxiety would be resolved. Teilhard says no, get used to it. I suspect that you also know this feeling of anxiety. In the context of Teilhard’s vision of the continuing evolution, perhaps anxiety is simply the way it is, par for the course; I’m not doing anything wrong, except not believing that God’s hand is leading me. It is difficult for me to accept that I am being led; in a way it is similar to my difficulty with accepting the self-driving car, but I am excited about that new spirit forming within me.

How about you? Do you believe that God’s hand is leading you? Do you feel that new spirit?

 Posted by at 8:38 pm

Teilhard on Death as a Sign of Progress and Life Fulfillment

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Jun 142016

“The Cross is not a shadow of death, but a sign of progress.”

This quote reminds me of my tendency of see the negative before I see the positive. As Teilhard might have observed based on physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Where there is a negative implication, there also is a positive one available for our discovery. Teilhard visualized a three step process of growth involving centration (development of self identity), decentration (there is more to life than withdrawal into one’s self), and super-centration (fulfillment in life through relationship with the radical or wholly other, God). In this context, death is seen as a necessary step in the fulfillment of life, “a sign of progress”, super-centration. But how does one move toward fulfillment of life?

We know from psychology that teenagers go through a process of individuation, a step that distinguishes each of us from everyone else. Roughly the first half of life is spent developing a strong sense of self (centration). Moving from self-identity to a focus that includes others (decentration) is stimulated by our interpersonal relationships. As we are able to share with others, feeling their joy, pain, and experiences of life, broader dimensions of life open. These relationships may be deep and meaningful, but they still involve issues of reduction and assimilation, according to Teilhard. Thus, in interpersonal relations we feel the need to be more like others (assimilation) and to be less than our complete selves (reduction) to fit in.

Teilhard felt from his own experience that relationship with the radical other, God, provides the space to be truly ourselves and find fulfillment in life (super-centration).  By its impersonal nature, this radical other provides a holding for each of us just as we are. We don’t need to worry about hurting God’s feelings! Teilhard saw death as a necessary step in the accomplishment of a fulfilling life. Perhaps it is in this final step that the distinction between self and radical other finally dissolves, leaving undifferentiated consciousness.

Where are you in this three step developmental process? How do you see the role of death?

 Posted by at 8:35 pm

Teilhard on Embracing Evolution

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Jun 142016

“The fact of God changes before our eyes………The vague feelings of my youth have now been swallowed by an immense Energy…..not of a ‘God who is dead,’ as Nietzsche says, but of a ‘God who changes’…..”

One of Teilhard’s continuing criticisms of the Catholic Church was that it did not respond appropriately to the changing perception of God in the 20th century, as reflected in this quote. I find it easy today to dismiss the position of the Church on evolution in 1950, but what does evolution mean for us today? And what does it mean for me? Isn’t there an unmistakable urge to have evolution be done and to sense the familiar instead of dealing with the constancy of change? There is for me.

I am always looking for the familiar. I don’t like it when my favorite website is redesigned and suddenly I have difficulty finding things. When on the highway, I like to take familiar paths and don’t like it when my navigation system sends me along a different roadway. I like to see familiar patterns of behavior in those I know and become uneasy when someone acts differently. And most of all, I like a static, unchanging image of God. Too bad says Teilhard, because it isn’t like that. God changes before our eyes, at least that aspect of God that we perceive on this material plane.

It was already difficult beyond comprehension to fathom God, but the unfathomable is changing? When my courage is strongest, I am able to see that this has been my experience. I just didn’t want to confront it. It is more than a little scary. It challenges me to let go of the familiar, to be present, to be in the now, and to let go of history. How can it help to find temporary comfort in that which has passed and is no more?

What does the changing face of God mean for you?

 Posted by at 8:34 pm

Teilhard on the Importance of Seeing

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Jun 142016

“One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing—if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united—and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow. But unity grows…. only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision. That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of the cosmos where it is always possible to discern more.”

 Teilhard saw God in everything and proclaimed, “God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my (pick) shovel, my paint brush, my (sewing) needle—and my heart and thoughts.”  He invited us to see in new ways, to see the luminosity and fire, for him symbols of God’s presence, in things small and large. We develop these new eyes through an ongoing practice. For about 20 years I have been a serious amateur photographer of nature and have taken numerous classes and field trips. I was originally attracted to this craft by the beauty of nature, which has always fascinated me. This has been one of the ways in which I am able to connect with Teilhard. As I studied photography, however, I realized something new. In my quest to capture and share divine images in nature, the ways in which I see changed; I started to see much more detail and to delight in nature’s designs. I am fascinated by the halo effect around the silhouettes of backlit plants, plants in the early morning with water droplets in which one can see tiny rainbows when the light is right, and the ever changing nature of these scenes as the earth rotates changing the angle of the sun.

As I see more, my sense of wonderment and awe grows, and  my gratefulness for life swells.  What is your experience? Teilhard says that God is all around us and is waiting for each of us. Do you see the luminosity and fire in nature that he describes?

 Posted by at 8:32 pm

Teilhard on Evolution and Birth of the Earth

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Jun 142016

As I initiate my series of Teilhard Tuesday blogs, I will be lifting up parts of his writings that in particular catch my attention. Often, these quotations lead to more questions than answers. I will be sharing with an invitation to each of you to participate by responding to the questions raised. I look forward to your perspectives.

“Some thousands of millions of years before this, not, it seems, through any regular process of stellar evolution, but as a result of some incredible chance (stars bursting against each other? rupture from within?….) a fragment of matter formed of particularly stable atoms broke away from the surface of the sun. Without cutting the ties attaching it to the rest of things and at just the right distance from the parent star to feel its radiation at moderate intensity, this fragment agglomerated, coiled in on itself, and took shape.

“One more star has just been born – this time, a planet – imprisoning the human future within its globe and motion.”

It has always seemed difficult for me to grasp the improbability of humankind’s existence, but the perspective presented by Teilhard makes it truly impossible. Given all of the steps necessary to get to this point from the “big bang”, one could say that the mathematical probability is very nearly zero, and it is only the fact of our existence that proves it isn’t zero. Isn’t that in itself “proof” of the presence of a Divine guiding force, moving step by step in the evolutionary process so elegantly described by Teilhard in The Human Phenomenon? Since the discovery of DNA, we have known that each of us is unique and will never again exist in this physical form. However, Teilhard expands our horizons to include the key steps leading to humans and where this experiment called life may be heading. I find compelling and exciting the view that evolution is being drawn forward  to fulfillment and perfection by this Divine force or Omega Point.

Given that this is our time, our unique time never to be repeated, how can we embrace what we do not fully understand? How can we make the most of our time, participating in this Divinely inspired, organizing principle that has brought us to this improbable moment? I believe I hear faith knocking at the door! What do you hear?


 Posted by at 8:30 pm