The word “mystic”…simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone.
No longer simply a religion of individuals and of heaven, but a religion of mankind and of the earth—that is what we are looking for at this moment, as the oxygen without which we cannot breathe.
Teilhard de Chardin
I remember first coming across the name Teilhard de Chardin five years ago. His very name has a ‘mystical’ sort of ring to it. Like an exotic French 50 year old French vintage wine, the subtleties of which my un-refined Bota-Box palate would never differentiate.
Like all things French, I immediately assumed I wouldn’t “get it,” and so a couple of his works sat untouched collecting dust in my study for several years. However, during my first year in the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation, Teilhard came roaring back into my life. His body of work became the critical key that unlocked all that was theologically tangled and seemingly unresolvable for me between Christianity—frankly religion in general—and its relevance to my millennial peers and future generations.
So what are the notes of this particular “Teilhardian” varietal?
Since the time of the Western Enlightenment in the 17th century, humanity has lost its place in the family of things. Our neurotic human souls are crying out to once again find our meaning in a meta-story, to sense ourselves as belonging – not just to one another, but to the whole of the cosmos.
We’ve lost our place, and religion has become irrelevant, bogged down by theology that is not only incompatible with what we know about the cosmos, but in critical ways psychologically damaging to the collective human soul as well.
From what I can gather about our millennial cohort, it is simply impossible for us to adhere to a theology without a corresponding cosmology that is scientifically sound. We also refuse to believe in a white-bearded God up in the sky, perpetuating shame and condemnation on out-groups just because of a differing religious paradigm or sexual preference. We’re the first cohort to grow up with internet, making us the first planetary generation. We value diversity, inclusivity, and hopeful participation in creating a better global society – these are non-negotiables.
We want a path to become better humans, not escape our humanity.
Teilhard describes a theology that the next wave of humanity desperately thirst for: the convergence of matter and spirit form one coherent, powerful trajectory through evolution. As a scientist and theologian, he paints the picture of a universe that is still in the process of becoming. Humanity’s hope rests in the future of what we build together instead of some paradise lost.
Am I saying that we didn’t screw everything up because some ancestral woman got simultaneously curious and hungry? Yep. And So is Teilhard.
(Cue the sigh of relief at shedding that bit of unhelpful sexist ideology.)
As dangerous of a combo as a curious and hungry woman can be, scientific common sense makes it clear that the reality of a perfect paradise lost is impossible. While there is still plenty of symbolism and worth to the story of Adam and Eve, Teilhard’s major beef is with the damaging adherence to “original sin” that the literal interpretation of this story of our origins has created in the Christian paradigm.
Teilhard depicts the salvation of the whole of creation as existing now in the potential of our present choices, not in an afterlife. Being present to the moment is not just for the benefit of the spiritual seeker, but actually impacts our capacity to bind a new possible future into the reality of the now. It turns out that our spiritual practices are practices of social justice just as much as our activism is.
We have a conscious choice in the furthering of evolution in the midst of our suffering and frustration, which Teilhard describes as cosmically necessary ingredients in creation. What we do with all our material combustible energy matters and actually impacts the whole story of evolution.
Another aspect that I deeply appreciate about Teilhard’s theology is that through the evolutionary lens, Christ ceases to be the president of the private club called “Christianity” and instead becomes the pre-existent coherence of the Divine-in-all-things, which also is becoming. Instead perpetuating the colonial hangover of needing to conquer other faiths, Teilhard unveils a Christianity that could be far more conversant with other spiritual traditions and support anyone, regardless of their path or tradition.
In the last few years Teilhard’s work has midwifed some pretty significant transformation in my life: I’ve become taken with the ways in which everything is connected to everything else, developed a pretty chronic case of beauty-induced jaw-drop and become ravenously inspired to participate with all of myself in this evolution that we are all part of.
I used to split myself into categories of what I felt was good enough or appropriate to present to the world: “this is me the mom”, “this is me the student of the mystics,” “this is my music self”, “this is the spiritual me.” Meanwhile, I would just stuff the rest into the “too messy and dark to acknowledge” box. But these days the walls of the boxes are melting away like wet cardboard in the rain. I’m allowing all of these parts to coexist and converse with each other and realizing how everything fits. Everything belongs. Everything is filled with raw potential. Everything is good. Yes, there is shit in the world and plenty of suffering. But Teilhard hands us a compelling antidote to today’s compassion-fatigue and cynicism: through the lens of evolution, we can understand even the worst of our world as scrambled energy that is ardently seeking its way forward…our very bodies and minds, hearts and stories get to play a crucial role in helping mediate all the angst of being human toward a more hopeful future.
Now that you’ve got a taste for Teilhard, I’ll do my best to continue to expose your palate to his work and the work of other mystics and poets whom I find utterly intoxicating.
Like Rumi says, we will drink until we can “tear away the veils of intellect and melt away the layers of shame and modesty. In Love, body, mind, heart and soul don't even exist. Become this…and you will not be separated again.”
This sounds like a wholeness I’d like to drink deeply of. How about you?