Church of the Planet
Q: Throughout Scripture its always a remnant which, by grace, “get” what God is up to in any given era. Jesus called them his “little flock” or “the elect.” How, then, does that biblical pattern square with Teilhard’s vision of a large-scale super-humanized collective evolving along planetary lines? Given the natural resistances in human souls for same, seems that a “grace booster” (a mass awakening) along unprecedented global lines would have to occur in order to move that along.”
Ilia: Last Friday, the Omega Center sponsored a Zoom conference on “The Sacrament of Everyday Life.” Over eight hundred people from around the world joined in for this conversation, thanks to the genius of Zoom technology. I want to build on this gathering and at the same time address a question that was submitted two weeks ago, namely, who is the “elect” in a Big Bang universe, the little flock that Jesus refers to in Luke 12:32. My short answer is, everyone who helps evolve the universe by deepening love, uniting in peace, forgiving in compassion, and sacrificing for the sake of the whole, is part of this little flock. The member of the little flock is the evolver alive with love-energy, the sacramental participant of evolution. Such participation is not tribal but global; not a matter of one religion or another , but a consciousness of being bound to an ultimate whole which is Love itself.
The great religion scholar Mircea Eliade wrote eloquently on myth as story and ritual that conveys deep truths of existence through narrative, symbol and metaphor. Religion is mythic. It tells a story that imparts deep meaning to life and we enact this meaning through ritual and worship. As we move from first axial consciousness, the level of consciousness in which world religions arose, into second axial consciousness, our period of globalization and ecology, we will need new stories and rituals to vitalize our lives. Religion is in evolution and the “little flock” are those who will engage in the new Church of the planet. Such engagement depends on how we understand God in evolution and how we see the role of the Church. Teilhard thought widely on each topic.
Teilhard was a mystic and a scientist. For him, science is “a process, always probing into the unknown.” So too is mysticism. Science like mysticism is not “contemplating a truth already established”; rather “it is the very act of discovery that create[s] a new truth.” “It is in these terms,” Ursula King writes, “that we must understand Teilhard’s talk of loving God … ‘with every fiber of the unifying universe.’ ” “As scientists struggle to make sense of their findings,” King writes, they are grasping for a new unity, new horizons of insight. “The ‘fibers of the unifying universe’ come together in the scientist’s mind,” King writes, as the mind is drawn to a power hidden in matter; for Teilhard this is “dark adoration.” It is “the supreme spiritual act by which the dust-cloud of experience takes on form and is kindled at the fire of knowledge” (Teilhard, Activation of Energy). Teilhard indicates that grappling with matter leads to “troubled worship.” Entering the unknown dynamics of matter disturbs the known, including prayer and worship. It is not business as usual, for new knowledge leads to new insights, which leads to new visions and understandings, and in this respect, God continues to emerge in new ways.
For Teilhard, matter is the incarnating presence of divinity; God is present in matter and not merely to matter. This core belief is still foreign to many ears because God’s immutability seems to be compromised. But divine immutability was based on ancient Greek ideas on matter and form, ideas that have radically changed with modern science. Teilhard is clear that God and matter are not the same: God is not matter but God is not apart from matter either. Rather, the preposition “in” is key: God is in matter meaning that God is the ultimate horizon, the depth and breadth of matter, other than matter (transcendent) yet intimately present to matter (immanent). To use Paul Tillich’s idea, God is the ultimacy of matter. When everything can be said about a particular form of matter, for example, a leaf (green, veined, and all its other properties), we have not exhausted that which really draws us to it, such as its beauty or light. The ultimacy of this experience, which cannot be adequately spoken or described, is God.
So when Teilhard speaks of a power in matter, he is speaking of the ultimate power that eludes our ability to grasp or measure it. Yet it is a power that is deeply experienced and draws us into it, expressed in the many ways humans invent, create and transcend themselves. Science, technology, art, music, study, writing, all are forms of engaging this divine power in matter by which we transcend ourselves.
Unless we grapple with matter — not only in scientific research but all aspects of world-unfolding life — we are missing out on the power of life itself, namely, God.
People today are searching for something to believe in, a power that vitalizes and dynamizes life. If the God of Jesus Christ “fills all things,” as St. Paul writes, then God must be found in all things. To belong to the Church is to belong to those committed to finding God in all things. If religion is the core energy of evolution and Christ, divine love in matter, is the unifying power within and ahead of the dynamic evolutionary process; Christianity then must be a planetary faith not a political establishment. Teilhard deconstructed institutional and patriarchal Christianity and reframed the incarnation as normative of evolution, not religion. This was a radical and bold move and deeply prophetic. He spoke of the Church as a new phylum in evolution and posited a new christified species. His theistic evolution, grounded in the dynamism of God’s becoming, returns us to the root of the incarnation and the question of Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” Similar to the Hindu Namaste, the God in me recognizes the God in you. Christ is the entanglement of our lives in the ever-newness of God’s creative love.
Teilhard had consummate trust in the presence of God’s absolute love. HIs advice is to surrender to God here and now, in every aspect of our lives. He spoke of God as “personal Love and cosmic Power … .God who is eternal Being-in-itself is, one might say, everywhere in process of formation for us. God is the heart of everything.” God is rising up in the world in and through us. The fullness of God’s life, therefore, depends on our participation. Our choices affect not only the world but God’s life as well.
We are encouraged to fall in love with Love itself, to dream a God who not only loves us but relies on us to move this creation to greater wholeness. God’s love should impel and encourage us to not be afraid; to dare to dream and share with God our thoughts and gifts; to use for the good of the whole. This thought should give us much hope, but also, at the same time, it should awaken us to the responsibility that we take on as co-creators with God. We share in the responsibility of bringing God’s creation towards fulfillment and completeness by the way we live, pray and act. The Church of the planet is a global Church and thus we must help one another in this act of co-creation.
In Teilhard’s view, God’s creative power does not fashion us as though out of soft clay; it is a fire that kindles life in whatever it touches, a quickening spirit. He wrote: “We must decisively adapt ourselves to it, model ourselves upon it . . . to increase our creative energy one must deepen thought, dilate the heart, intensify external activity. For created beings must work if they would be yet further created.” (Hymn of the Universe, 118] We have developed a modern mindset of individualism, consuming for our personal selves and our personal families, wondering how we can get back to “normal” so we can resume our individual habits. But the new normal is chaotic, complexified existence. Never before have we needed one another as we do now. It is time to stop criticizing one another and start helping each other see through a new eye of love. Teilhard wrote: “If all those who suffer in the world were to unite their sufferings so that the pain of the world should become on single grand act of consciousness, of sublimation, of unification, would not this be one of the most exalted forms in which the mysterious work of creation could be manifested to our eyes?” [Hymn of the Universe, 94] This means to surrender to the power of love at the heart of the world and “throw ourselves fearlessly into the crucible of the world of tomorrow” [Hymn of the Universe, 95].
We have to reorient our priorities. What do we really want and do we want it together? This is the question of being Church in the world. The idea of a single individual is an illusion and to live an illusory life is to bear the consequences of separation and isolation. Rather, we are to “live with a single passion, the desire to help forward the synthesis of Christ and the universe.” [Hymn of the Universe, 100]
We must have hope in the Church of tomorrow and a desire to be part of its future.
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