Finding Our Way In An Evolutionary World

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.

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  1. Mary Pat Jones on July 13, 2017 at 5:11 am

    Sounds like you are making an enormous contribution John. My favorite faith concept is Kenosis, obviously you are deeply and humbly living this calling. Hopefully your work schedule can soon be moderated. Do you have or can you enter into a loving group where you may feel “fed” as much as you “feed”. Your work is so demanding. Years ago I sought out a Centering Prayer meditation group while I was working in-patient Mental Health. I’ve felt a deep calling throughout my career both in this field and in Hospice, but some days as soon as the door locked behind me I literally felt my energy draining. I needed the sacred energy of meditating together, they even graciously changed the time by a half hour, making it possible for me to stay for the whole weekly meeting. The core group became dear friends. Some of us are reading Sr. Ilia’s; Personal Transformation and a New Creation, the Spiritual Evolution of Beatrice Bruteau and will discuss it toward the end of summer. I know you feel the last thing needed is adding something more to your insane schedule, but your field is not going to take care of you, and becoming jaded is dangerous ground.

    I was hesitant sending this but in approaching my seventies I’m risking it. We simply have to seek the loving nurturance we need and therefore can end up being energy not only for each other but with more to give all those we encounter. I know all about wrestling alone with all the obstacles and /or chiming in with all those trying to make the irrational health care system rational. That route depleted my energy resources even more. Intellectualizing is a great defense mechanism for the short term only. I was a certified psychiatric/ addictions nurse who was excellent at spotting that one in others in spite of the log in my own eye.

    I beleive we gradually awaken to our WE ness, our connectedness in deep time. Seeking those who are ready to do that is liberating, but you already know that because you found this site. Peace be with you.

    • john ferro on July 16, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you Mary Pat for your kind words. It is good to share! Maybe I will try reading Personal Transformation and a New Creation. Currently I am reading Robert Plotkin’s “Wild Mind”. I find the idea of moving my search for wholeness from goals set by culture and society to “being” in Nature and Evolution, is my next step in personal growth. But also to learn how to live out of seeing the future in the present moment.

      The concept of seeing things in the future through the “Mind’s Eye”, to help live in the present, is an interesting endeavor. For instance, whenever I had a medical student tag along with me as I did rounds, I knew that there would be time where I would be busy and they would have some free time on their hands. So I would give a Zen type Koan or riddle for the student to master. I would give them a picture of a single tree, standing denuded and in isolation, surrounded by snow. I would tell them to write down what they see. Of course in our culture and education system, they would write down the obvious. The tree, the snow, etc. I would look at their response and give them their paper back and challenge them, “What else do you see?” They would be confused. For obviously they were telling me what they see. They were giving me the “phenotype” of the picture. But I was persistent, that is not enough. Sooner or later, they would then begin to see with the “Mind’s Eye”. They would tell me, I see the roots below the ground. “Good, keep going!” I would reply. Then they would eventually see the Xylem and Phloem tubes within the yearly annual rings. Eventually they would look at the denuded tree and see the buds blossom, the leaves bloom, the flowers birth, the seeds drop, the carbon dioxide enter the stomates, the molecules dance making glucose and giving off oxygen escaping out of the leaves and eventually into our noses and lungs where the oxygen couples with our hemoglobin. The chlorophyll will eventually breakdown giving the colors of fall and eventually the petioles release from the tree and the dead butterfly that was once the tree’s life giving factory, ends its cycle. The snow would fall and we would be back at the original picture. If one continued, one could see the tree grow in girth. Maybe other trees beginning to grow besides it. The point of the exercise was the realization that one can use the “Mind’s Eye” to see a person or patient also. Look at the 84 year old woman in front of you, but also see the child, the young woman, the adult, the mother, the grandmother, lying in front of you. For this 84 year old woman was all of that. When you treat her, treat her from that life reference point. Because, one day you yourself, may be 84 and lying on that hospital bed, so much more then the phenotype that appears in the moment. How would you want to be treated?

      I think an artist, although I have not been artistic in my life time, does the same thing. They look at the white of the virgin canvas. Their “Mind’s Eye” creates a picture which their mind’s extensions, the arms and hands, then work on creating that picture on the canvas. Is not music the same but with sounds instead of visions. Were not the sounds of an orchestra but the movements of the action potentials of the nerve cells of an individual’s brain coming together on the canvas of the music sheet? There is so much potential here. Even in business, an MIT professor, C. Otto Scharmer, has created a business model based on “Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges”.

      This soil is so rich. Now to create the time from one’s busy daily work schedule to grow in such infinite ways! Dancing the dance!

  2. John Ferro on July 9, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Greetings! I enjoy the intellectual challenge of reading the above “Finding our way in an Evolutionary World.” The problem for me in living an “Evolutionary life of the Mystic” is the reality of living out a life in our culture and society. Specifically, I have to work to make a living. Just like the Omega Center needs donations to help with its existence, I have to wake up tomorrow morning, don on my work clothes, and assume my work role. What is the road map that allows us to build the time and effort to learn how to be the “Mystic”. I want to be the “Mystic”, but I don’t know how. Sometimes I think I grasp it, everything is now. All of the eternal past, and all of the eternal future, is here now. What will be will be. How much do I, as an individual contribute to the evolution? Work is so difficult, how do I bring this evolution and mysticism into the work I do? Is their a road map or do each of us meander toward the attempted goal without direction?

    • The Omega Center on July 10, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Great question John. How do we live into the mystic in a busy, working world? I think the road map must begin with the interior self and how this self is integrated into the outer world. You might look to the work of Richard Rohr, Ken Wilber, Steve McIntosh and others. There has been much progress in our understanding the flow of life, even amidst the craziness of an everyday job. Keep reading, reflecting and take time to pull away – to nurture the inner heart.

      • John Ferro on July 11, 2017 at 7:33 am

        Thank you for your heartfelt answer. I work in the medical profession and I have tried to incorporate some of the learning I have done from you into my lectures to nurses and medical students. I begin any talk, even that about subjects on Stroke, with a slide challenging the audience with the phrase,
        “Who are you? Really?”. This began when I was asked to give a talk at Albany Medical College to the house staff when I was interviewing for a position on their staff. I began by quickly going from ascending the path to consciousness beginning with atoms, moving to molecules, moving to complexity with the four main complex molecules of life: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. I then talked about the coming together to make the first cell, a cell membrane which separates the inner movements from the external world. Then how the neucleic acids allowed for reproduction of the the cell. From this point I went to the building of complexity of organisms, eventually to humans. I show a slide with Carl Sagan smiling at the audience with his time line of life that he lived with the universe behind him. I concluded the original talk with this slide commenting that at this moment in time, human beings and consciousness of our existence, are the best that nature has been able to evolve in billions of years. Therefore, the first thing we need to do is take a step back to acknowledge what a wonderful, miraculous creation, our current beings are. But then we have to challenge ourselves to become, or evolve, into something better. That talk was about four years ago. Now I always begin any talk with the slide of Carl Sagan and the universe behind him, challenging everyone to continue growing.

        I have tried to read and reflect as you suggested, and will continue to do so for I do not know what else I can do. I went to a Male Rites of Passage in 2004 which was a product of Richard Rohr’s concept of “Father Hunger” as a source of a man not leading a life to help others. I have read, and enjoyed, his books as I have read and enjoyed yours. At an intellectual level I understand the message. It is at the level of living out what is learnt in our daily life which is the most challenging. As a doctor I have been challenged even more by my acknowledgement that human life, and our culture and our society, is very difficult for so many people. I see patients in the Emergency Room as they arrive with their strokes. I treat them the best I can. Eventually, days later, I sit with the patient and try to educate them about their smoking cigarettes, eating too much lipid laiden foods, etc., but I also understand that it is difficult growing up in our society and culture, where consumerism and money, and freedom to do what they want, is what they know. The freedom to smoke, or drink alcohol, is a right of freedom as one grows up but not as one grows up mentally on how they are harmful also. In the end, I accept the person for who they are and where they are in their “life”, knowing that some will change to a healthier lifestyle but most won’t. It doesn’t make them any less valuable if they remain stuck in their habits because they are still “Carl Sagans” in their own ways and beings.

        My biggest challenge is to live out my life in a medical profession that is also based on business. The organization I work for tells me, “John you are too slow with your patients. You cannot spend so much time with them.” Then have the hierarchy of the group insist that I work 9 days in a row and do 5 nights on call during those 9 days. It is hard to be balanced when one works as such. Physician heal thyself.

        Once again thank you Ilia for your kind response to my initial statement. I look forward to your next book! I will continue reading and reflecting, and trying to take what I learn into each of my days.

  3. Isabel Rodrigues on July 8, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Ilia,I liked the way you spoke about our death, just as Christ died in the arms of the Father. Resurrection raised Christ to the sphere of the Pneuma and assures a pneumatic existence to those who believe in Him. The Holy Spirit present in Jesus is destined to be poured out upon the Church, therefore upon all of us. This connection with love and transcendence is our unique salvation. Pope Francis told us a secret: in the evening, before going to bed, he prays a short prayer “Lord if You want You can make me clean” and he prays five Our Father, one for each of the wounds of Christ, because Jesus cleansed us with His wounds. Jesus always listens to us. He is omnipresent and open to each of us. It is wonderful to have this always in mind whenever we are with someone. We share a sacred preciousness, and we are in His arms despite our faults. This is the most important connection.

  4. murray russell on July 7, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    “evolution has not yet found its own god’ i wonder if among the plethora of gods and idols our culture is spawning for us, their sheer noise of numbers is overwhelming our ability to find the ones that have the true sap and vitality to guide our ascent. assuming that omega is now proceeding can we now map its topology? this is my search, to find the families of fire and join them with purpose. thanks to your articles, i think i’m getting warmer. any more maps? blessings

  5. Phillip Bennett on July 7, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Hello Ilia, thank you for this stimulating blog entry. I find your thrust on evolution and Teilhard very relevant and exciting. It is a particularly crucial time in our human evolution and your work is very important. One thought: I’m not sure that language such as “steep upward ascent”, “going against our nature” and “taming our unruly desires” is the most helpful way to describe the shift of consciousness that this moment of human evolution requires. It echoes a kind of dualistic individualistic asceticism which can take us away from the matter/spirit based here-and-now world that Teilhard presents as the arena of growth and challenge. My experience of many good-hearted people in the church and beyond is not so much that they are in the grip of ego fixations and unruly desires–though that can certainly be a challenge for any of us– but that they haven’t been presented with a God of evolution. Too often the language of popular belief–especially liturgy and preaching – – does not take into account the incredible immensity and complexity of the universe –both micro and macrocosm–that modern science is revealing to us. I recently preached a sermon using Teilhard’s ideas and people were absolutely fascinated. I sometimes think we’ve talked down to people instead of integrating the amazing mystery of science. In Eckardt’s words, we may need to articulate a “God beyond God”. Best wishes!!


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