Teilhard’s Influence on My Life and Work
#1 Sister Celia Ashton, OCD, DDS
The life and writings of Teilhard de Chardin have captivated my imagination and inflamed my passion and my desire for God. In Teilhard, I have found a fellow traveler and a companion who delighted in the wonder and beauty of creation and who allowed himself to be absorbed by the God who courses through every blade of grass, glides on the back of every soaring bird, dances in each sparkling ray of light, bursts forth in every blossoming flower, and enlivens all Matter, even the most inanimate object, with Spirit. Teilhard has helped me to see the luminosity of God radiating from the Sacred Heart into the farthest corners and deepest recesses of the cosmos, weaving a network of intricate fibers that carry the pulsating Love of God into each human heart. Moved by the magnetism of God, Teilhard charted a pathway to transformation and communion that resonates with me, one that I hope to spend a lifetime exploring.
Teilhard has helped me to leave the mythical garden of Eden and relish in the dynamism of the unfolding universe, which is continually in the process of becoming. This unfinished and expanding universe is being lured into its future by the Cosmic Christ, who embraces all in Love. This is who excites and energizes me—this God of evolution’s future. Like Teilhard, I want to harness for God the energies of love and to become Love at the heart of the universe through graced participation in the divine life.
As Carmelites, when we enter the novitiate we take a title—a name of God that is significant for us. Inspired by Teilhard, I chose the Cosmic Christ. In choosing this title, I wanted to express the interconnectedness of every living being, including the earth and the entire cosmos; an interconnectedness that in and through the living Christ leads to a profound communion, and a transformation of consciousness that carries with it the possibility of true liberation. A liberation from the individualistic, small self that lives in competition with the whole, and moves us into the realm of the deeply personal self who shares consciousness with the whole: the ultrahuman.
Teilhard’s conceptualization of the noosphere has been incredibly significant for me and my understanding of it deepened throughout the pandemic when we relied on various technologies, such as Zoom, to connect us in a new way. This sphere of human consciousness enveloping the world became so evident to me as our community shared prayer over Zoom with people throughout the world. I couldn’t help but feel that through these virtual connections we were engaging the dynamism of the noosphere and were pressing into the realm of the ultrahuman. We weren’t just individuals in little boxes on the screen. Much like Teilhard’s vision of “the picture” he describes in “Christ in the World of Matter,” the sharp demarcations of each box began to merge and I could sense that the energy flowing between each person was not only animating each of us, it was affecting the consciousness of every particle of Matter across the miles that separated us—enmeshing us into the depths of God’s Love, a force which unites and compels us to lean into the collective WE for the sake of the transformation of the world and the future of humanity.
Shortly before the pandemic, Sr. Liz Sweeney, SSJ, introduced our community to WE Space Dialogue, a contemplative practice where we shift our attention from the “I” to the “WE” and lean into what is emerging among us. Our community continued this practice over Zoom throughout the pandemic and I have come to see it as a vital part of our becoming pioneers of this evolutionary future.
For many of us the language of emergence is new. The shift in focus from what we have done to who we are becoming leaves us with new questions, opens us to new possibilities and new conversations, and is sure to bring new challenges. However, as Teilhard indicated, the next step on this evolutionary journey is for us to do our part to usher in a new consciousness of shared being and to transcend the boundaries that have traditionally defined us.
As is evident each time I turn on the news, we are a people on the way, living in an unfinished universe. While the work of an evolutionary God moves us onto “the edge of chaos,” it also allures us into the future with a sense of wonder, and element of surprise, and abundant hope. As I encounter the pain of the world, I am tempted to despair. The image that comes to mind is that of individual particles—repelling, colliding, destroying, bursting into flames. And I wonder, what is the threshold whereby these repelling particles will begin to unite?
This question leads me to the hope I feel Teilhard holds out to us in 2022—the conviction that by continuing to put love on the currents of human consciousness and allowing ourselves to be woven into the fabric of the noosphere, we will reach a critical mass whereby the energy of Love will impel us to live from a place of communion and wholeness. Confident of this, I join Teilhard and all of you, in offering to God the labors and sufferings of the world this day.
#2 Sister Libby Osgood, CND, PhD, PEng
As a spiritual seeker with scientific training, I love the way Teilhard unabashedly crosses disciplines and speaks from a deep internal place of knowing, imagining, and wondering. Because he is as multi-faceted as a diamond, I connect with him as my spiritual mentor and guide and allow him to influence the many facets of my life. As an engineer, I approach his corpus with a critical eye, weighing the parts I love and the parts that make me cringe, the parts that inspire deep spiritual thought, and the parts that bring me instantly to an ecstatic state of prayer. Teilhard offers some deep truths that linger, as well as a hope for the future.
Teilhard has given me permission to be wrong. As an engineer, I try to be precise and accurate in everything, but there is also a place to posit theories, to play with ideas, so that others might grasp them and turn them into more. Teilhard wasn’t afraid to let his ideas evolve. As he writes to his cousin Marguerite, “your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste” (Making of a Mind, p.57). So when reading his work, it’s important to know when it was written and the context of his life at that particular time. Was he writing from the battlefield? Was he a young Jesuit teaching in Egypt? Was he in the middle of a dig?
As a professor of engineering, I have learned from Teilhard how to lean in to the fear of being rejected by fellow faculty. He encourages me to research more than widgets and to look beyond the walls of the engineering building for inspiration. Teilhard gives me permission to be both scientist and religious. He truly helps me to realize my calling to religious life and allows my love of science to influence my spirituality. He said, “to tell a religious to take up science, without at the same time allowing [her] to re-think [her] whole view of religion, is indeed . . . an impossible assignment—and to condemn [her] to producing results of no real value, in an interior life that is torn two ways” (Science and Christ, p. 217).
While I once did feel torn between these two ways of life, Teilhard helped me to understand my calling. He showed me as a young religious how to live my vow of obedience in an adult way. Despite his many attempts to publish The Divine Milieu during his lifetime, he remained faithful to his vocation and obeyed when Church authorities said “no,” time and time again. He was both respectful to his superiors and to his inner calling. However, he found a loophole and continued to write, knowing his works would be published after his death.
I have read all of Teilhard’s work twice. When I was in the novitiate, I studied his essays chronologically to see how his thought evolved over time. And this past year, I examined his essays and letters with my friend and mentor Sister Kathleen Deignan. Inspired by Teilhard’s suggestion that “we need . . . a new and higher form of worship to be gradually disclosed . . . adapted to the needs of all of tomorrow’s believers without exception” (Science and Christ, p. 220) and entirely over zoom (what would Teilhard of that), we composed a Book of Hours using Teilhard’s own words, so that we might pray along with our spiritual guide.
Sometimes Teilhard’s language can be problematic. He sometimes speaks less suitably about people outside his race. Despite his many friendships with women, his writings to and on women can be patronizing at times. While I acknowledge that I am reading translated, edited versions of his work, and he was a man of his time, parts of his texts are out of place in today’s world. However, we Teilhardians wish better of him and recognize the intent behind the language. It’s our responsibility as researchers to bring his thinking into the 22nd century, not for today but for tomorrow. Thus, we can interpret his work using gender neutral, respectful, non-binary language, to make his theories, his hope for a better future accessible to larger audiences. Just as we gently correct the language of an elder who crosses the line at a family party, so we must do for Teilhard, because his message is extremely important, and we don’t want it clouded or misinterpreted. This is our responsibility as devotees.
What ultimately drew me to Teilhard was that he wasn’t bound to one area of knowledge. He balanced art and science. He found a way to worship while digging and helped to find evidence for evolution. Teilhard gives each of us the freedom to go beyond what we perceive as our limits. He calls us to the more, to constantly bettering ourselves and our world. He says, “Henceforth, no intellectual seeker worthy of the name can work . . . unless, in the depths of [her] being, [she is] sustained by the idea of carrying further, and to its extreme limit, the progress of the world [she lives] in” (Science and Christ, p. 216).
#3 Joshua Canzona, PhD
As a university ombudsman, I work to help people navigate challenges and conflicts on campus. In broad terms, I work in the field of conflict resolution or conflict transformation, and in this work, Teilhard is the great prophet of movement toward unity. I see my task as helping people who might not otherwise talk with each other find ways to communicate productively. I want to help individuals who work together actually work together with some recognition of their common mission and interests. And Teilhard inspires me to do this well. In one of his early wartime essays, Teilhard writes, “True growth is effected in progress toward unity” (Writings in Time of War, 95). And we have his passionate cry, his irresistible and hallowing desire from his essay, “The Mass on the World,” “Lord, Make us One.”
In my work, I often use the following definition of conflict as a grounded and practical instrument: conflict is “a perceived divergence of interest, or a belief that the parties’ current aspirations cannot be achieved simultaneously” (Dean G. Pruitt and Jeffrey Z. Rubin, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement, 4). And there are words here with room for movement. The divergence of interest is “perceived,” it is a “belief.” The aspirations of the two parties cannot be achieved “currently,” but the future is unwritten.
In short, conflict transformation is optimistic. It looks toward creative synthesis. Each time I begin a workshop or a mediation, I think of Teilhard for this reason. And I think of the profound reality of Christian mysticism he articulates: that the boundaries, gaps, or conflict I perceive between human beings are just that, perceptions obscuring a deeper reality. Teilhard describes the divine milieu as a center where “all the elements of the universe touch each other. . . There they shed, in their meeting, the mutual externality and the incoherences which form the basic pain of human relationships” (The Divine Milieu, 114-15). In fact, God is not far away from us. In the divine milieu, Christ “consoles by gathering up everything that has been snatched from our love or has never been given to it” (The Divine Milieu, 120). As the Qur’an reminds us, “God is closer than our jugular vein.” (Qur’an 50:16). And as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, “for Christ plays in ten thousand places, /Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his /To the Father through the features of men’s faces” (Poems and Prose, 51).
And so, to use another key Teilhardian term, the work of conflict transformation is the work of “seeing” and the work of helping others see how they too might act out a creative role in this divine reality.
#4 Rev. Catherine Amy Kropp, MDiv, STM
Teilhard began to influence me long before I was conscious of it. His work represents something so big and emergent. It is rising up through me like ground water moving slowly through the Earth, and continues to evolve and travel within me. I feel myself falling in.
Teilhard’s influence has formed the basis of my ministry and my sense of becoming. It has led me to become, almost without knowing it, a practitioner of Teilhard’s work. And I would call myself a practitioner before a scholar of Teilhard. As a priest and a pastoral care provider, as an interpreter of scripture and the Gospel message, I find I am drawn into something that has practical application, relevance, urgency, and immediacy. Finding language for that and reaching for that language has been part of my journey, and I find that language in Teilhard as I go back again and again to his writings.
Before I was ordained a priest, I was as a science teacher in Maine. Even then I was yearning to bring together the whole sweep of things: science, art, pattern, beauty, and deep life; the deep web of life, cosmos, and mystery. I was discovering in Teilhard a language for my spiritual hunger, a sense of becoming more, a sense of becoming more together, and a feeling that I was part of something larger than myself. How we see ourselves as part of this world, responsible and interconnected, truly matters.
In my journey from science teacher and outdoor educator to priest and then into ministry exploring the cosmic dimensions of Christianity, Teilhard has been my bridge, my grounding, and my touchstone. And I am drawn to the sacramental worldview. I remember reading Teilhard’s “Mass on the World” for the first time, ecstatic with the language that he brought into my heart. He proclaims, “We make the whole earth our altar and on it we offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world . . . We call before us the whole . . . of living humanity . . . This restless multitude . . . this ocean of humanity . . . it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond.” In this sense of the sacramental, we are all called to wake up, to see ourselves, to realize we matter, that even the small things matter.
We can feel crushed and overwhelmed by so many things, and, yet, when we become deeply present to this mystical sense, we can see that we are actually radiating energy and becoming conduits. We are doing more than we realize, and we are needed. When I experience impasse, either when my spiritual journey meets an obstacle, or when I feel with the Earth a great convergence, I find in Teilhard a great companion. Sometimes my spiritual experience runs deeper and broader than the church in its present form can express. In that deep sense of yearning and in that sacramental worldview I find Teilhard guiding me into the future, showing me how we can worship and how we can gather. I also trust in what Teilhard calls the “slow work of God.” I love this reflection and I am drawn to trust in that work patiently.