Politics shape human community. Our political decisions reflect our sense of who we are and what we want. We vote as citizens of a common household, members of a society governed by law. The question is, do we elect candidates who have vision? Vision is everything. How we see is how we love, and how we love is how we act. We humans are not ready-made objects but dynamic becomings, like eddies in the flowing stream of evolution. Teilhard de Chardin saw the human person as a fact falling within the realm of nature. We are earthlings through and through. We are trees and flowers, sun and stars, and blades of grass all gathered into a beating heart and a self-reflective mind. Those who see have a sense of the world as a unified whole in movement. Those who do not see, do not see beyond the multiplicity of things. They perceive the world as fragmented and ultimately absurd. Teilhard wrote his magnum opus, The Human Phenomenon, at a time of war, “from a sense of organic crisis in evolution, to free humanity from fear and despair so as to give new hope and heart for life.”[i] He emphasized the collective reality in the opening chapter of The Human Phenomenon, where he said that a collective reality is more than the sum of its parts. The translator of the text, Sarah Appleton-Weber, writes, “it [the whole] has a mysterious unity and active power in itself—a birth, unfolding, and a passing. Humanity belongs to this category.”[ii] The human is part of a whole, an insight reminiscent of Einstein’s famous passage:
“A human being is a spatially and temporally limited piece of the whole, what we call the “Universe.” He experiences himself and his feelings as separate from the rest, an optical illusion of his consciousness. The quest for liberation from this bondage [or illusion] is the only object of true religion. Not nurturing the illusion but only overcoming it gives us the attainable measure of inner peace.[iii]
There are many passages in Teilhard’s writings that express a strong sense of the interdependent unity and organicity of all living things. He wrote in 1942 that through studying the history of the cosmos and of all forms of life,
… we have gradually come to understand that no elemental thread in the Universe is wholly independent in its growth of its neighboring threads. Each forms part of a sheaf; and the sheaf in turn represents a higher order of thread in a still larger sheaf – and so on indefinitely …. This is the organic whole of which today we find ourselves to be a part, without being able to escape from it…in countless subtle ways, the concept of Evolution has been weaving its web around us. We believed that we did not change; but now…we are becoming aware of the world in which neo-Time, organizing and conferring a dynamic upon Space, is endowing the totality of our knowledge and beliefs with a new structure and a new direction.[iv]
Teilhard’s paradigm is like a hologram in movement. It requires a capacity to see whole-parts: vision is a level of integrated consciousness, beyond the analytical capacity to examine and rationalize. By “vision” Teilhard meant something more than mere physical sight. The inner eye must see what the physical eye observes; vision expresses an inner depth. The mind and senses are integrated in the perception of that to which one perceives or experiences. One is reminded of Antoine d’Exupery’s The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This is the vision of the mystic. The mystic sees what everyone else sees; however, the mystic sees in a deeper way. The medieval mystic, Hugh of St. Victor, spoke of a third or inner eye, the eye of the heart. Bonaventure captured this heart vision in the life of Saint Francis when he wrote: “In beautiful things, Francis saw Beauty itself and from each and every thing, he climbed up to embrace his beloved.”
Teilhard was a mystic scientist whose inner eye was deeply perceptive of the whole: “To see is to develop a homogenous and coherent perspective of our general experience . . . to see a whole that unfolds.”[v] His aim was to see and to make others see: “One can say that the whole of life lies in seeing—if not ultimate, at least essentially. . .unity grows. . .only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision.”[vi] Unity grows by an increase in consciousness; vision is a matter of consciousness. The eye is the seat of the soul, and the soul has the capacity to expand in love.
Vision is important to living the Gospel life. Jesus chastised the Pharisees who claimed to see the truth of Jesus: “It is because you say you see that your blindness remains” (Jn 9:41) The author of the Gospel of Matthew had a sense of the body as the whole eye: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt 6:21). Teilhard deepens this insight by saying “if we lack these qualities of sight, no matter what anyone does to show us, the human being will indefinitely remain for us. . .an erratic object in a disconnected world.”[vii]
Scientists today are recognizing that light and consciousness are synonymous. Physical light has no mass and is not part of the material world. The same is true of consciousness; it is immaterial. Physical light seems to be fundamental to the universe, so too is consciousness. The light of consciousness is fundamental to everything else; without it there would be no experience. The mystics knew the reality of light-filled consciousness long before quantum physics arrived. Early Christian writers wrote of the light-filled presence of God in beautiful prose, for example, the words of Saint Augustine:
But what do I love when I love my God? . . . when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God.
The Pseudo-Dionysius, writing in the fifth century, spoke of God as the super-luminous light, a blinding light that darkens vision by its sheer luminosity; like the flash of a camera directly on the human eye, “the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.”[viii] Light and consciousness: God and mind. The ancient writers spoke of these realities as symbols, but modern science is beginning to see that light and consciousness are our most fundamental realities. If God is light, and light is a form of consciousness, then God is seen when the mind is unified at higher levels of consciousness. God is everywhere and in everything but it takes a light-filled mind to see this reality. This is what Teilhard recognized. Those who see, he said, “have the sense of the world as a unified whole in movement. Those who do not see, do not see beyond the multiple. They perceive the world as fragmented and ultimately absurd.”[ix]
Our culture militates against the vision of a unified mind, and advocates fragmentation and dispersion. It is a question of power. If we seem to be falling apart then we need a powerful figure to save us. Institutional religion runs along this current and so does politics. Socrates was right by saying, “Know thyself.” Self-knowledge and, more so, self-experience may be the most important work we can do in our own time. To be reconciled within is to heal the mind of its wounds and to gather the mind into the energies of love. To do so is to become powerful as a person because one sees and knows in a deeper way. This is the path of Jesus. One who lives from an inner center of love, lives in freedom, and acts from this center of love in all things. One who lives in love lives in truth. And what is truth? That we are living in an absolutely transparent world; the world is charged with the grandeur of God. Divine love is radiating through every cell and star, shining through the beautiful skin of every human face, beating in the heart of every human person. Divine love is our truest identity because it is the love out of which we are born. This love is within each person; it is the power that carries us on in the face of adversity or rejection. Love sees with the eyes of hope, that we can become new persons, a new human community. It is time to turn politics into the power of love.
[i] Sarah Appleton-Weber, introduction to The Human Phenomenon (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1999), xxi.
[ii] Appleton-Weber, introduction to The Human Phenomenon, xix.
[iii] Albert Einstein, “Letter of 1950” New York Times (March 22, 1972). https://www.thymindoman.com/einsteins-misquote-on-the-illusion-of-feeling-separate-from-the-whole/
[iv] See his essay “The New Spirit” (1942) in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, trans Norman Denny (New York: Image Books, 2004), 74 – 89.
[v] Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, 6.
[vi] Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, 3.
[vii] Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, 5.
[viii] Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Celestial Hierarchy”? See Complete Works
[ix] Appleton-Weber, introduction to The Human Phenomenon, xix.