What do we long for? That is where our soul lies. What do we hope for? That is what stretches the heart. When I was asked to give the Madeleva Lecture last April at St. Mary’s Notre Dame, I was not sure how I would pull together the emerging story of wholeness; what stretches our hearts and shapes our desires. I took my cue from Teilhard de Chardin’s brilliant insight on the two dimensions of the material universe: withinness and withoutness; radial energy and tangential energy; consciousness and love. Building on the insights of quantum physics, I began to realize that consciousness may be the core stuff of life. Everything begins with consciousness and culminates in a luminosity of conscious matter unified in love. Teilhard said that evolution is the rise of consciousness.
Now we hardly know what consciousness is but we do know that we cannot live without it. There is simply no getting around consciousness or getting rid of it; we may become unconscious but we are never without consciousness. While some may say that death is the end of personal consciousness, I think death may be the release into the cosmic fullness of consciousness or rather into divine consciousness. As we have been known in our earthly life, in death we truly know because there is nothing that hinders or separates us from the love of God.
In his original and insightful way, Teilhard drew together consciousness and love. He spoke of love as the energy of attraction and consciousness as the energy of transcendence. As we are attracted to another so too we grow in awareness of the other, and as we become aware of another so too we are attracted to the other. Love without consciousness is blind and consciousness without love is lame. These two energies lie at the core of life’s openness to newness, wholeness, creativity, and freedom.
Our contemporary culture has parceled out love and consciousness into emotional gratification and power. We have depleted our energy to evolve by selling the body to instant pleasure and our minds to virtual reality. We are losing awareness of life’s meaning and purpose and, as a human community, we have no sense of where we are going together. Our tendency is to hold on tightly to the little we have lest we lose everything and are thrust into pain and darkness.
The real problem as Teilhard indicated is that we have no sense of divine activity in a changing world or, to put it in his words, evolution has not yet found its own God. We live somewhere between medieval religion and a fast-paced, changing world. How do we find a resolution to this tension?
The key for Teilhard [and for us] lies in mysticism, seeking the hidden, ineffable presence of divine reality in our midst. Karl Rahner once wrote that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will cease to be at all. We must learn to see the world with new eyes and love from a deeper center of the heart.
But this learning curve is steep. The great mystics arrived at union with God by paths of suffering, renunciation, fasting, prayer, meditation, works of charity, and self-discipline. Our human nature is unruly and the mind is scattered in many places. Only a decision for God can mark the path to God. Bonaventure spoke of the highest level of mystical union as a death and passing over into darkness and silence where one knows the ineffable reality of God within oneself and outside oneself. One is drawn by a power of divine love that transcends all earthly delights; in this love one knows God by way of union in the same way that one is known by God. The mystical path is within and without; into the core of this mysterious center we call “self” and into the heart of the world, for self and world are mirror images of each other.
Our world is suffering the pangs of new birth. Life seeks to evolve beyond the incomplete and fractured lives of human persons. God is at the heart of life and continues to love the whole into greater wholeness. We have the capacity for a new world because we have the capacity for a new level of love on a higher level of consciousness. But the path to this higher realm is steep; it requires us to go against our nature, to tame what is unruly, to unharness what is scattered. We have fallen into the trap of thinking we can have it all: money, fame, power, sex, security—but these are all elusive and can quickly turn into poverty, slavery, terrorism, and defeat. Life hangs on the threads of God’s gracious love. Only when the individual dies in the arms of God will the new person rise in the glory of new life. For this new life is an enduring relationship of ever newness in love—growing in mind and heart—open to the ongoing creativity of eternal love.