Chardin: The Matter of Man

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin lays the foundation of his theory regarding the evolutionary process currently happening all around with a poetic description of a new way to view the cosmos. Chardin paints a picture from one end of the materiel universe to the other with the hope of broadening our view of reality. He dares us to expand our preconditioned minds, from seeing only those things directly in front of us that are rooted in scientific fact, to imagine where it is we are going. Chardin challenges us to take the knowledge we have learned through science [in particular through evolution], combine it with the hope we find in the New Testament, and use these tools as a means of envisioning the direction we are driving towards in our eternal state of being. Teilhard wants to not only impart such a vision, but more importantly wants to encourage humanity to work together to help bring about that vision.

This vision begins with a fuller, more integrated view of the universe. Chardin bonds together the various ways we currently see reality, in order that the unified whole is replaced as that which is more naturally seen. As we stare out into the cosmos on any given night there are certain things that naturally arise in each of our minds—other solar systems with their own spinning planets, blazing suns being born and dying, black holes, and our dreams of the unknown. Alternatively, we see things in our mind differently when we glance around the very place we are standing or as we look into the eyes of another human. And then there is still another when we ponder those things on the atomic scale. There is space; there is what we see on the scale of the earth and the human race; and then there is the mysterious atomic and mostly undiscovered quantum scale. Teilhard lays this divided spectrum in front of us and then questions the usefulness of such a division. What if the way we viewed the universe could give us a fuller view of the hope we find in Christ? What difference would it make for Christians to regard the physical universe as a whole, rather than a spectrum of divided realities?

The New Testament declares that we are to be built up together to form the body of Christ. This same church that is being built up into Christ also rests upon Christ who is our cornerstone and from which nothing else can be done apart from. This biblical description is echoed in the very fabric of the universe we find all around us. From the smallest and seemingly infinitely divisible molecules, to the massive and constantly expanding universe, each part is both being multiplying and becoming a unified whole at this very moment and in each that follows. And each of these deriving from and hurling towards a singular point (a point later referred to by Chardin as the Omega point). As we begin to grasp the universe as a unified whole of physical matter, rather than in divided spectrums, we can turn our attention to the next layer of reality Chardin asks us to consider. A reality we must become more cognizant of if we wish to work together to build up the body of Christ—the reality of our consciousness.

I love the way the following quote from Chardin encapsulates the beauty that will arise as humanity begins to see itself beyond itself in hopes to become that which we have been called to become: “To see is really to become more … In such a vision man is seen not as a static center of the world he’s for long believed himself to be – but as the access and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer.”

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: A Hopeful Introduction

A Hopeful Intro Blog ImageI’ve spent the last two years devouring the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A Jesuit priest who lived from 1881-1955. There is far too much that could be said about his life’s endeavors and experiences to include in one blog post; however, as I hope to continue to flesh out his works on my blog, I can imagine many of these will naturally arise throughout the process. Although there is one aspect of Chardin’s life that is helpful to know right up front. Chardin was both a Jesuit priest, as well as a distinguished paleontologist. His discoveries and contributions to the world are often more well known within the scientific community than they are among the religious (a very unfortunate reality for those in the latter community). This divide in scientific and religious worldviews would be his life’s passion and pain. He received opposition from both sides and struggled on how to best impart the vision he had been given to those around him. His was a vision that didn’t just make a way for scientific and religious realities to co-exist without disagreement, but rather made the two so intertwined and so dependent upon one another that once a person is able to grasp his vision it will soon become the only vision one can see. The problem is the vision Chardin casts is gigantic … and well, it’s also infinitesimal. It describes that which is both innumerably multiplied and simultaneously united into one singular being. Understanding the science behind his theory is doable, although it can still take me a great deal of effort at times. Chardin’s works are more than simply a scientific method laid out in such a way as to deliver facts based on evidence and devoid of beauty or intentionality. Teilhard is one of the most captivating poetic philosophers that I have ever had a chance to read. Reading his works is intellectually stimulating and simultaneously world changing, but at the same time spoken in such a way that I am driven to tears almost every time I hold one of his books in my hands.

My intention for this post was to get myself to a starting point with how to begin discussing his theories and ideas. I’m not sure I can say that has happened, but perhaps a short introduction–combined with a sense of my own admiration for Teilhard–was important to get the ball rolling. His first work was published shortly after he died in 1955 (He never published due to the church having forbid it due to the content). It is called “The Phenomenon of Man” and lays the foundation for his entire theory following after. I’m re-reading the work and my hope is to be able to write out some of my own understandings of what he has already laid out for us. An appropriate quote to end with today displays the beautiful poetic nature of his speech that I spoke of earlier, but also describes one type of person who he calls the enthusiast and in my opinion describes well the type of person Chardin embodied–that of a hopeful person. Hope is one of the things I find most compelling and captivating about Chardin’s qualities. He had an insatiable audacity to have unwavering hope in the truth of who Christ was, who Christ came to be, and who Christ is becoming through His church. Hope to declare a knowledge that the incarnation has truly and mysteriously enmeshed us through grace and brings us right into the midst of this incarnational story. Jesus came and then he invited us … Could it be that we have forgotten that our acceptance of His invitation must be regarded seriously both through the eyes of the spiritual, but also through the eyes of the physical? This quote comes from a lecture he gave 1943. He is describing such a hopeful being as this when he says, “Not only is it better to be than not to be [for the enthusiast], but they are convinced that it is always possible–and the possibility has a unique value–to attain a fuller measure of being. For these conquerors, enamored of the adventurous, being is inexhaustible–not in Gide’s way like a precious stone with innumerable facets which one can never tire of turning round and round–but like a focus of warmth and light to which one always draws closer. We may laugh at such men and say that they are ingenious, or we may find them tiresome; but at the same time it is they who have made us what we are, and it is from them that tomorrow’s earth is going to emerge.” To find such hope in this world and to live it out as it is already true is something humanity could never have too much of. And so, it turns out I did find my starting point for this series after all. We begin with hope, keep moving towards hope, and rest assured it is there we will find love.