I’ve been reading about French Jesuit Priest Teilhard de Chardin S.J. recently, not least because his birth date, while over a century earlier, coincides with the birth date of one of my children. Creation, ecology, spirituality, and science more generally, are significant strands woven through what it means to be human and to live in a 21st century Western context.
Authors like the invariably controversial (but none-the-less interesting) Ken Wilber, for example, major in ways of integrating spirituality within what it means to be holistically human and at the same time parts of a much larger more complex and interrelated creation. He writes on psychology, philosophy, mysticism, ecology, and spiritual evolution Good examples are his books: The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion, A Brief History of Everything, or as in introduction, his The Integral Vision.
I think de Chardin will find a new and appreciative audience in the coming years, so too mark the 130th anniversary of Teilhard de Chardin’s birth on May 1st 1881; I want to highlight his book The Divine Milieu, a book which Eugene Peterson describes in the following way under the heading of “spiritual direction “…The elements of spiritual direction are laid out in a wonderful way by establishing the broadest and deepest context possible… he [Teilhard de Chardin] was adept at crossing boundaries and making connections.”
I also want to highlight a newsletter called Teilhard Perspective, and in particular the Fall 2008 issue which featured a really useful and award winning book which sets out to “explain” The Divine Milieu. The book is called Teilhard de Chardin: The Divine Milieu Explained by Louis Savary. And, for those interested in Jesuit Spirituality and The Spiritual Exercises it might be of interest to note that Savary has also written what looks like a fascinating book incorporating Teilhard de Chardin’s thinking and The Spiritual Exercises: The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin (pub. Jan. 2011).
Here’s an excerpt from the newsletter referred to above. It’s an excerpt from the author’s foreword to Teilhard de Chardin: The Divine Milieu Explained:
“…Almost 400 years before Teilhard [de Chardin, S.J.] wrote The Divine Milieu, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, the Society of Jesus, designed a powerfully transformative system of spiritual practices, called The Spiritual Exercises. Ever since then, and even today, people seeking spiritual growth have been, as the Jesuits say, “making the Exercises.” Everyone agrees it can be a life-changing event.
If you were to “make” the Exercises, your culminating experience would be the “Contemplation for Attaining the Love of God” (Contemplatio ad Amorem). In this almost mystical exercise, Ignatius hopes you will be graced with the “eyes to see” that it is (with) in God, whose name is Love, that we live and move and have our existence. Living in God is like living in the air we breathe. God is the atmosphere, the environment, the divine milieu in which we spend our lives.
The Spiritual Exercises were a transforming experience for Teilhard, too. His purpose in writing The Divine Milieu was to share with us how he, as a Jesuit and as a dedicated scientist, learned to use the new eyes that Ignatius gave him in order to see spiritual reality today – in the world contemporary men and women live in, thoroughly informed and transformed by science and technology. (ix-xi)
Teilhard was a part of some of the scientific discoveries of the past century. He realized that humans would continue – as we have done – to make more and more discoveries like these about our world. And these discoveries I mentioned don’t even include those that have been made – and are being made daily – in the fields of physics, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, neurobiology, and brain research, to name just a few.
Teilhard realized we needed a radically new kind of spirituality – an understanding of God and creation and our part in it – that could welcome and easily integrate all these important scientific facts of our existence into itself. Most contemporary spiritualities, following tradition, usually put these scientific facts aside, assuming they have little to do with our spiritual lives.
But in fact they permeate our very existence. They are part of the way we think today. We cannot put them aside. And Teilhard doesn’t, because, for him, everything we learn about Creation is something we are learning about the Body of Christ – the Christ that lives today, the Christ who is as big as the cosmos (xiii)…”
You can find the full Fall 2008 issue of Teilhard Perspective here (PDF).