These are very strange times, as we hover between a virus pandemic and an economic recession. The scare of COVID-19 has pervaded the entire globe. People fear for their lives and their childrens’ lives. The supermarkets cannot keep up with the demand for essential foods such as water, eggs and milk. Universities have shut down and stores are closed. Many people are now homebound and there are few cars on the road. The volatility of the stock market has provoked massive selling, as people seek to secure whatever monies they have. Hope has lost sight that the future is open to new life.
Despite the events, I celebrated a lovely Shabbat meal last evening with my Jewish neighbors, Harry and Judy, and their good friends, Michael and Sandy. I was struck by the careful details of the table setting with the lit candles and clothes covering the foods, and then the beautiful prayers of thanksgiving recited in Hebrew over the food we were about to eat. Our gathering was one of community—agape—and during this time of Lent, I thought of Jesus dining at the house of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. Although we spoke of the virus pandemic, our being together and sharing a meal transcended our fears. There was a sense of oneness, unity, as we spoke about many things, including religion. I shared Teilhard’s vision on religion and evolution and they had never heard of such insights before. I told them evolution is moving us toward a new religion of the earth, beyond Jewish, Catholic, Muslim religions, and they blinked twice but pondered this new emergence. Harry and Judy just returned from a trip to Israel and were deeply impressed by the collaborative efforts between Jews, Muslims and Christians and the new programs being initiated to promote unity. However, Harry and Judy are deeply tied to their Jewish tradition and are concerned that younger generations are losing the value of tradition. I agreed to some extent. Each religious tradition has beauty and wisdom within it. We do not want to lose the valuable insights of our ancient traditions and yet we cannot remain in the world of the ancients. Sandy wisely noted that as old traditions fade, new traditions arise. I said that evolution enfolds the best of the old into the new. Nothing is really ever lost; rather it is taken up and understood in new ways and expressed with new symbols and meanings. We all agreed that tradition is important and that life flourishes in friendship and community.
After I returned home from dinner last evening and reflected on our time together; I was reminded of the beauty of personhood. We are born out of love and are created to live in love. How did we fall so far apart from one another, turning the possibility of friendship into animosity and opposition? Why have we built walls to separate us instead of bridges to unite us? This is what I pondered. Then I thought to myself, You are infinitely near us O God, within us, among us—the depth and breadth of our very existence. Our panic may be in some strange way a sign of Your presence. Apart from you we are random particles of matter struggling for existence. In You who are the Whole we know ourselves to be whole; each of us is a whole within a larger whole of which you are the center. When You are present we are one and we can pray in a thousand different languages and feel at home together. But when we ignore You, reject You, suppress You, or turn You into an idol, we become scattered fragments of matter without meaningful life together. Only when we move toward one another do you emerge as the center of our lives. As Teilhard lamented, who will give evolution its own God?
Community meals remind me that nature is a relational whole.Twentieth century science opened new windows to the realization that nature is porous, permeable and chaotic. Complex cellular life organizes according to principles of systems rather than individual function. Neural nets, algorithms, genetic codes are just some of the ways that nature has developed tools to calculate the processes of life in ways that are open to more life. Nature does not work according to fixed essences or autonomous existents. Rather nature is a choreographed drama or, better yet, a symphony of unfolding life, where even the seasons express the different movements of nature’s flow.
We are approaching Spring here in North America and, once again, tiny buds are piercing through what appeared dead during the course of winter; the dried bark of the maple tree has been a disguise for the flourishing life within. Every aspect of nature has a part in this symphony—even the Coronavirus. Everything works rightly when it functions in its natural habit. Everything gives you thanks and praise, as Sara Thomsen sings in her song, “Canticle of the Feathered Ones”:
Canticle of the feathered ones
Hymn of the hermit thrush
A song in the holy hush
A lake in the sake of the sun.
Vireos in the vestibule
Warblers wait in the wings
A finch begins to sing
The water, a sparkling jewel
Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison.
But when the niches of nature are disrupted, exterminated by bulldozers for the purpose of building shopping malls, or forests stripped of their communal life for housing developments, the natural habitats of nature are confused, disoriented and disrupted. Have we ever considered the silent war we declared on nature in the last few hundred years in the name of progress and development? Are we aware that we created conditions of mass migration of species? Even viruses and bacteria can become lost in space, as their simple lives are disrupted. They can be forced into exile, impelled to take up residence in foreign lands where they are not at home. Have we considered that our blind ambition for money and power has provoked climate change, melted glaciers, displaced species and disrupted the natural flow of life? We have become over confident in our ability to conquer but we have lost sense of who we are within the wider world of nature. Lack of self-knowledge, Bonaventure wrote, makes for faulty knowledge in all other matters. Maybe it is time to take a good hard look at ourselves and ask, do we have a part to play in the emergence of deadly viruses? Have we considered our part in the disruption of natural habitats? Finding a new home can be difficult, especially as a foreigner in exile. Even the life of a virus can be disrupted by global warming; forced into exile by climate change where mutation is quite possible, as it tries to adjust to a new environment. I am not trying to vindicate COVID-19 but I am saying that we may not be totally innocent in this matter.
I share these thoughts with you God because many people ask, how come God does not save us or spare us from tragedy and death? Others interpret these times as the beginning of the apocalypse, thinking that You are standing ready in judgment, as we approach “end times.” Still others say, religion is the problem and not the solution. Yet, all of these ideas are foreign to You who are Life itself. You have nowhere to go but to remain with us because you are Life itself. You do not punish because the world is blind, deaf and dumb; rather we punish ourselves by losing trust in You. You remain faithful in love because the world is integral to Your life and You need the world to be truly who You are. You are always present, faithful and empowering in love. You are absolute oneness in love and will not rest until we are joined together fully in love—not just every person—but the whole world, the planet, the galaxies, the entire universe—You are in all and all is bound to share in your light and life.
Teilhard de Chardin lived through many harrowing experiences. His expeditions took him to difficult areas where he endured blistering heat, icy blizzards, poor food, sandstorms, snakes, flash floods, marauding bandits, civil war, political intrigue, bribery, and drastic policy changes leveled by unstable governments. No matter how trying the times, he continued to develop his vision of hope in You. He realized You will not save us; rather we must save ourselves by waking up from our deep sleep and engaging in evolution, in the movement of love toward greater wholeness. To be saved is to be made whole by the power of love.
You told us long ago that you are always present at the doors of our lives but we must answer Your knock on the door: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into her/him and we shall eat together” (Rev. 3:20). We don’t hear you knocking because we are too busy trying to protect ourselves in our isolated existences. We hoard all the goods we can buy and shut our doors. Now we fear a knock on the door because we don’t want to encounter a stranger. Without trust in You, we worry about being eaten alive, like the children in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Yet Christianity is precisely focused on eating the Body of Christ, which leads me to my final thought on the Eucharist. Someone recently wrote to the Omega Center and asked, how can I make sense of the Eucharist in light of Teilhard’s vision of evolution? What does consubstantiation and transubstantiation mean in an unfinished universe? Well in light of dinner last evening with Harry and Judy, I can say Eucharist is the sacrament of evolution. Last evening, the depth and presence of Your Love in my life met the depth and presence of Your Love in Harry and Judy’s lives—different people from different traditions meeting together in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine–literally—united in the transcendent power of love. And from this center of convergent goodness You appeared in a new way, a new light, a new understanding, a new power of friendship and unity: “Where two or more are gathered in my Love, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). This is Eucharist in an unfolding universe. The bringing together of diverse elements, people, ideas, values, traditions, in the breaking of break and the sharing of wine, toasting together to the fullness of life. When we share life together, You appear in our midst as Life itself, and we rise up together beyond the resistant forces around us and within us; this is the Body of Christ.
Christianity can help us realize that death and resurrection are part of the evolutionary path toward wholeness; letting go of isolated existence for the sake of deeper union. Something dies but something new is born—which is why the chaos of our times is, in a strange way, a sign of hope; something new is being born within. Out of chaos, a star is born. Breakdown can be break through if we recognize a new pattern of life struggling to emerge.
The old structures of power and greed are fighting tooth and nail against the forces of evolution but they are dying out. We are living in the midst of a great epochal shift and we need a new religious awareness to help us realize that You are the power of this great shift; absolute Love can never remain incomplete or partial. Realizing that You are change itself (for perfect Love is always in movement), we must overcome our selfish selves by reaching out to others in love, reaching across the tables, so to speak, that divide and separate us. Awakening to Your presence, can help us know that we need one another; we belong together. Life takes on a new fullness when it is celebrated together. To know we are not alone is the beginning of our peace; and when we live in peace, we live in freedom. If we realize we are not alone, then death has no power over us. Even if we succumb to physical death we will live in a new power of cosmotheandric life, the life of the whole in which we will find our truest personhood for all eternity: “I believe in the resurrection and the life.”
I know you asked my thoughts on the present situation with the coronavirus because You are struggling to breathe new life into this world; to gather all peoples, all creatures, all that exists, into a new unity so that we may become a new earth community where you are at home in the unfolding of life and the dynamism of love. I suppose it will take a number of existential threats for us to realize that You need us to be You, and we need You to be ourselves. We are in this together and no matter what happens O God, You are Love itself and You will always be our future.