Tucked away in the charming lobster fishing town of Stonington, Maine, a group of about 100 students gathered this past week for this year’s Wisdom Ingathering, exploring together with Cynthia Gurdjieff’s five Obligolnian Strivings in the mornings, and the 8 conversation-starter points that Cynthia recently published in a blog (“Whur We Come From”) on the key components of what comprises our Wisdom “lineage” during the afternoon sessions.
Sprinkled throughout our time together was the usual rhythm of teaching, conscious work, and prayer that marks all of our Wisdom work… but this particular gathering carried a unique energetic signature that felt decidedly different. As all mothers can attest to, the signs of a growth spurt are usually evident in the preceding days in an angsty, unusually sensitive child. Suddenly they’re waking up at night, tossing from the discomfort of physical change that is often achy… but lack the self-awareness to be able to name what it is that they’re sensing.
I’ve been living this recently with my five-year-old son Rowan. For three nights in a row he woke up, stumbling into my room, restless and uncomfortable… half asleep and unable to communicate clearly except for a moaning jumble of half-words of need. As a mom, I know the routine: I comfort him, give him Tylenol if it’s a particularly boisterous achy-moan-stumble-mumble-jumble…but I’ve seen these rhythms enough to recognize the signs and trust that in a few days his body will rest from the strain of growing and stabilize back into a fallow period.
Looking back on the past year it’s clear that our Wisdom community has been in a period of great growth and change and in many ways this Ingathering has carried all the tell-tale markers of growing pains. All week I felt an underlying communal energetic restlessness, a shared heightened sensitivity, and it wasn’t until the very end of the week (accompanied by the first sign of blue skies) that I was able to get a glimpse into where and how a particular growth shift may be stretching us.
As we explored the Five Strivings and the 8 components of our Wisdom lineage together, we spent some time exploring the evolutionary shifts from First-Axial Age religions—which carried the huge burden of transitioning from un-differentiated group-think to individual responsibility and agency—to what scholars are calling the dawn of the “Second-Axial Age” in which we’re being invited to shift from separate-self or individual-identity to a cosmic whole-self identity, in which the part (and the particular) is identified only in and from the whole in which it is nested.
Heads nodded up and down as this concept was presented, as this is not at all the first we’ve heard of it. Cynthia began really driving this insight into our shared collective view when we first dug into “The Year of Teilhard” and played with our understanding of “scale” and deep time. From where we sit things can appear chaotic, but as we zoom out we can see the ways that all of this evolutionary “reaching out in the dark” is moving us closer and closer to collectivity and planetary identity. Leaning on the Law of Three, we’ve worked with re-orienting our typical flight away from conflict, to learning how to hold tension and work with “third force” to serve a shift out of impasse.
Teilhard and Gurdjieff have been forming for us two powerful pillars of teaching, bookending either side of the collective and the individual work with a powerful and inspiring cosmic vision, and the disciplined practical path of what it might take to get us there. As a Wisdom cohort, I must say, we’ve gotten quite adept at zooming out to this great Teilhardian “cosmic” view-finder and zooming back into a practical Gurdjieffian commitment to the work of transitioning from “individuals” to transformed persons (ones in whom the “whole” resounds). But it strikes me that we are being invited to now hold the cosmic view of collectivity even as we zoom back into the level of where our new growing edges are.
How do we begin to speak of personhood at the collective level? Can we begin to see our Wisdom lineage, and the other lineages with which we share the spiritual ecosystem, not as separated “communities” but instead as so many currents within a greater collectivity binding and moving through our communities? Can we begin to see all our many communities interwoven as co-inherent collaboratives?
“But wait a minute!” you might be thinking. “Surely we are already a co-inherent community… we have Wisdom networks all over the country, and isn’t this why Cynthia laid out for us the 8 points of our lineage… so that we could see the markers of what makes and unites our community?”
Well… yes, and no.
Like all bakers will tell you, naming all the ingredients of the cake will not a cake bake. And while the ingredients that shape our unique body of Wisdom in this lineage are absolutely critical to name so that we can deepen into greater clarity about the specific post we’ve been asked to hold at this evolutionary juncture, the 8 points are not a map to the how this lineage might be uniquely invited to support and create a greater collectivity and wholeness in our time. Cynthia makes that abundantly clear at the end of her essay when she reminds us:
“Please know that this list is intended to start a conversation, not end it.”
Much like Jesus and the early disciples, however, in the flurry of wanting clarity we are just as subject to the heavy-handed do-re-mi feedback loop of the Law of Seven that might tempt us to turn the 8 points into our own stone tablet commandments and frameworks by which we can identify how our lineage is different from that lineage and aren’t we glad we’re in the right lineage. How absolutely human it is for us to want to jump in and pour concrete on the tree for fear of losing it! And how quickly what’s intended to be a living dialogue can be clung to as our teacher’s creed instead.
Jesus intuitively knew this very understandable side-effect of love, when he warned his disciples that he would leave (and that unless he did, the Holy Spirit could not come to them!), when he encouraged them in advance to not make new laws, and even in his heart wrenching declaration post-resurrection to his beloved student Mary, “Do not cling to me…”
But what if there was something else afoot in Jesus’ example beyond just the shaking off of the material forms and sloughing off of human clinging attachment? What if Jesus was pointing the way toward a powerful new roadmap into Second Axial community as the new modality that could carry this new consciousness? Is this not exactly what St. Paul points toward in his luminous vision of spiritual community as “the Body of Christ”—one awakening Body made up of many members, each utterly integral to the whole?
In essence, Jesus is bucking the guru-model and the inevitable dogmatic institutionalization that comes with it. He seems to be saying: Don’t make this about me, do your own work! Stand to your own feet in the midst of the cosmos and awaken to the wisdom that can flow through and in you as a collective. That is the icon of Pentecost arriving in flames to the community. The light was no longer about the “one” singular teacher, but in the single-heartedness of the “unified” community.
Beatrice Bruteau describes Jesus as heralding an entirely new communal paradigm which she called “communion paradigm” in contrast to the dominant-paradigm of hierarchy which thrives exclusively on individuality and separateness. And for a while—this communion paradigm worked! But the old grooves were deep and hard to not fall right back into, and eventually our tradition slipped back to the First Axial Age’s individual emphasis with all the right and wrong laws, dogma and orthodoxy to distinguish those individuals who were “in” and those who were “out.” We slipped right back into the mind that can see only from differentiation, and fell out of the eye of the heart that could perceive our unity at a different level.
Fairly quickly the most our consciousness could hope to grow to was the level of the “individualized and separate community,” with the Reformation providing even more myriads of distinct and separate community-identities by which to demonize all the rest. And as Cynthia reminded us: this wasn’t “wasted evolutionary time.” Perhaps the highly territorial consciousness of the individuated community needed to exist in order to preserve the continuity of transmission in the midst of such a turbulent era.
But today our picture looks quite different from those first centuries, and the ecological planetary disasters of our time are showing us what will continue to happen if we cling to First Axial individual-identity, even and especially at the level of how we define “community.” Consider this: how do we typically think of community? Even Webster defines community as a “group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” or “a feeling of fellowship based on shared attitudes, interests and goals.”
Even our understanding of “community” is defined by small groupings of “like-minded” or similar interests or shared values. Doesn’t that sound like the First Axial individual paradigm but in collective form? In Ken Wilber’s map this is very much the “mean green” level of consciousness that in Wisdom circles we love to consider ourselves above. “Ah,” we say, “political correctness and group-think are so below us.”
I want to invite us as a Wisdom collective to think about that a little closer to home.
We are very much at risk (if not already guilty of) replicating the same old individual consciousness at the communal level—with all the fear and territorialism that comes with it—when we think of ourselves as exclusively independent or entirely distinct “Wisdom communities.” We are also at risk of “mean-green” when we comfortably settle into accidentally defining Wisdom work as primarily catering to a specific privileged subset of our society by not actively exploring other financial models or locations where this work could take place. Or, likewise, if we fall into the hubris of believing our lineage is somehow better than the other networks and organizations that are holding equally important—albeit distinct—posts, we are also failing to miss the beautiful web of mutuality and reciprocity that we exist in.
Cynthia has brilliantly and intuitively shunned any one monolithic institution to carry her work forward into the world. While the Wisdom Schools serve as the primary stream in which this transformative wisdom can take root and flower, she has wisely created a multiplicity and diversity of communities of Wisdom around the country (and all over the world) to keep us from this very natural temptation to fall into clunkier forms of identification and institutionalization.
Cynthia has also encouraged us to not be so reliant upon her as the teacher, but to grow our own initiatives and find our collective agency to explore what Wisdom can look like in “the age of Pentecost” rather than “the age of discipleship”… i.e., what does this work look like when we leave behind the crutch of requiring the guru-teacher model to lead?
The invitation before us is how we might begin to shift into a greater collectivity of communion-identity that sees how each Wisdom group (be it a small Thomas circle in a tiny town in the Midwest to the bigger “hubs” of this work) is inter-connected and inter-dependent. One step beyond that is to begin to locate ourselves as part of a broader ecology of the evolution of the mystical and contemplative strands of the religious traditions and see this Wisdom lineage as actively inter-abiding in and collaborating with the other lineages that are seeking to animate an evolutionary renewal of spiritual formation.
The questions we might ponder to help in this shifting began to naturally rise to the surface over the course of our week together. In pockets here and there, and in meaningful remarks in the shared communal time, folks have been asking:
- How might each community of Wisdom identify their concrete contributions and possible needs in a way that creates a system of web-relationships with other organizations?
- Where are we blind to our own exclusivity (who are we excluding by the cost and location and format of our schools)?
- How might we begin to do Wisdom School differently in a way that minimizes the stress (and temptation to guru-project) on the “one teacher” but rather works to build the Wisdom of the collective through experimenting with more communal conscious work and shared post-holding?
- How are we meaningfully—as Wisdom communities—engaging in the practical needs of the communities we are gathering in to meet specific needs and interact with those who are in greatest need or are most excluded by our societies? How might we begin to weave in community service and meaningful relationship building with engagement into the rhythm of our Wisdom Schools?
Cynthia’s “8 points” are extremely helpful—they’re a powerful work that needed doing and should be distributed and discussed throughout our network. It’s clarifying to name the particular streams that have formed and influenced this unique river that we are swimming in. Nevertheless, it would be shortsighted to not point out that all these rivers—while representing unique flavors of lineage trajectories—serve to distribute the divine life-giving water by which the entire ecosystem can thrive on our way down to a shared remembrance of oceanic-oneness and collective-belonging.
Jesus declared that the only distinct differentiation that ought to mark us is the quality of our love. As we continue to deepen into the alchemy of this work that seeks to purify our collective heart, may we also feel and feed the reciprocity of inter-abiding that marks the uniqueness of this precious universe, the very structure of which—in the words of Teilhard—is a network of relationships… or… love.
We are in this together.
May we grow to the fullness of the Body of Christ… even as the stretching is uncomfortable, achy, new, strange and unfamiliar. Even if it requires us to ask new questions with hope and an unflinching belief in what might be possible as we continue down this adventure of life together, may we animate the courage to leap from the “mi” to the “fa”… together. Let’s allow the rich heritage of our specific lineage to animate the power of where we can move into as one body of many lineages, into the waters of prophetic imagination and divine possibility seeking to manifest uniquely in our time.
I was an exhausted young mother of two in 2014, a first year student at the Living School for Action and Contemplation, and after reading OF so many of my grey haired cohorts’ luxurious prayer sits and long walks in nature, I had HAD it.
“Where is the icon of the mystic with one baby on her hip, one hand stirring a pot on the stove, and the toddler crying at her feet?!!!” I wailed.
Being a young mother is tough business. Being a young mother seeking to integrate the contemplative path into every day life, is particularly tough. That is, unless you have teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault and Jim Finley to set you straight.
In one session with Jim I asked him how I could keep from being angry at the non-stop interruptions of my life. “How can I possibly have solitude and my prayer practice when I’m surrounded by needs?” He looked at me and said: “here’s the thing. God is so moved by your love and devotion, that he can’t help but interrupt you and run into your arms as your children. Can you not see that God is interrupting you in the shape of your very life?”
This kind of seeing does not come right away. Cynthia challenged us in a similar way during a Wisdom School in Santa Barbara on our definition of solitude and silence. We have a tendency to equate stillness with an outer state, Cynthia explained, characterized by ample time alone and beautiful retreats in nature. We wrongly think that it means “no noise.”
Over the last couple of years however, I’ve discovered, like Cynthia, that stillness is an inner state I live from. Learning to be still enough to be able to welcome the noise and chaos around me has not just affected my own capacity to see my whole life as a prayer, but it has allowed my little ones to begin to grow up knowing that their interruptions are welcome. Most mornings my youngest will get up and climb into my lap saying in a very loud staged whisper, “mama…I gonna just pway with you.” He lasts only a minute at most before his “pway” turns to “play” but now at least I know there is no difference between the two.
So when Cynthia and I first talked about the idea of creating a “family friendly” wisdom school in Maine, I was overjoyed. As young parents, we are desperate for opportunities to be together in intergenerational contexts, and all of us are seeking advice on how to practically integrate wisdom teaching into our kids’ lives.
With great consideration, Wendy Johnston set about to make the accommodations as affordable for families as possible, while Cynthia and I tossed ideas about on how we might make the children feel welcome. Since much of the week and weekend was going to focus on the work of Teilhard de Chardin, we settled on the beloved story of Jean Houston on “Mr. Tayer” as the template.
If you’ve never read this marvelous account, it is the story of young Jean Houston’s encounters with Teilhard in Central Park. The story reads like a movie, and when I first read it I was deeply moved by the account of Teilhard’s vibrancy and personhood, and how deeply in love with the cosmos he truly was. Talking long walks together, Teilhard would stop at a snail or pick up a rock, or point out a game that was being played, always leading Jean into an appreciation and wonder for the marvel of evolution and creation.
Wanting to invoke the same kind of wonder in the children, I broke the story down into four segments, revolving around one particular piece of nature that Teilhard was bringing attention to and embellished the dialogue between them to offer the kids more a story book experience of it. Essentially, I did what Teilhard did: bring attention to an aspect of science in nature and talk about how it is true for our lives as well. We covered metamorphosis, the journey of water, clouds, wind, energy, and how shapes are replicated from the very small to the very large. We had music time and sang songs about taking deep breaths to calm the storms in our hearts, and planting our feet into the ground like trees when we are afraid. We painted butterflies, made wind chimes, and marble mazes.
Other adults join in the fun, taking turns to read the stories or help with the crafts. It was a family wisdom camp….and it was incredible.
Midway through the week we had scheduled a “family fun day” to explore and Cynthia took some of us out to her hermitage on eagle island. My son Søren had already deeply bonded with Becky McDaniel’s beautiful daughter, Lily. The two of them were thick as thieves giggling and conspiring on the boat on the way there. The day was magical: we played, worked, rested….the kids ran around barefooted, their laughter as regular as the bird song around us, insisting on joining the work with us:
“I’ll be kitchen boy!” Søren would exclaim.
“I want to help clean these windows too” Lily would offer.
The children bonded quickly and would spontaneously open profound moments of wisdom transmission during their play. One particular example of this powerful “process led” wisdom was during Matthew Wright’s teaching on the sacred heart tradition. Eager to hear Matthew’s talk, I had planted myself in the front row, ready to catch every word. But just like my own children, I suppose God couldn’t keep his love from bursting on the scene in the shape of precious little 18-month old Raffi who promptly found me, grabbed my hand, and urged me outside. Who could possibly resist that little face that stole all of our hearts that week?
The kids were out there playing with stones when I remembered that I had brought a huge pack of chalk. It didn’t take long for all of us to be coloring the huge parking lot behind the town hall.
“Hey!” said Nane…”What if we make some hearts?”
“Great idea!!!!!” I said…”that’s what the adults are talking about inside.”
“Yeah! ” said Hannah, “ Let’s surprise them….”
“What if we make a PATH of hearts!” Søren said.
And off they went…drawing, coloring, all of us giggling together at our great mischievous surprise. Every now and again I could catch a phrase or two of Matthew’s talk, but by then it didn’t matter: I knew that all of us were co-creating that talk together.
Of course, when the adults stepped out they were not only delighted, they were deeply touched. And it wasn’t just our group that felt the love created that night: a neighbor came by in tears, telling us how this paved parking lot had once been a playground for her children. “We try to color on the pavement as much as possible to remember that the kids used to be welcome here….and I came out and here you were, surrounded by children and chalk. Thank you.” Somehow we all knew that the only right response was to gather our hands and begin chanting as we danced around all those little hearts:
“The heart of the heart of the world….the heart of the heart of the world” we sang together, little voices joining in with the older ones.
What got kicked off in Maine is critical not just to our community, but to the world. When the Wisdom work stops at beautiful retreats where we are comfortably surrounded by our own generation and manicured natural settings, we are continuing to perpetuate the duality that solitude, silence, and wisdom come in beautiful external packages, rather than the internal place we learn to live from in the heart of a busy town and surrounded by the silly sounds of children.
We are ushering the next generation of Wisdom leaders and teachers, and when we welcome little ones into our midst we are not only creating opportunities to teach them, we are reminded that we have a great deal to learn from them.
Here are a couple of Brie’s children’s songs she did in Maine…she’s working on recording all of them and hopes to have them available soon.
“When I’m Scared”
“There is Plenty”
We’ve been exploring the idea that we are in the midst of a Planetary Pentecost: the arrival of a new church that is as big as the cosmos. We’ve also been challenging the perception that rising generations lack an interest in God, but may instead be (as Teilhard describes) “unsatisfied theists.” Humanity, it seems, is ready for a larger, more inclusive, and dynamic language of God.
The fact that this past Sunday was Trinity Sunday illustrates an apt progression in our Teilhardian explorations of a Planetary Pentecost: the Trinity, representing Divinity as a dynamic and creative interdependent community, points us in the direction of how we might begin thinking of world religions in this dawn of the Second Axial age.
If the language of God doesn’t need to be thrown out, but instead evolved, what role – if any – does religion have as we continue toward unification in this Planetary Pentecost? Do we ditch existing religious paths and form a new, global trans-religious amalgam? Or are we being invited into a deeper understanding of the unique role of each spiritual tradition?
This was precisely the topic of Ilia Delio’s talk at the American Teilhard Association gathering: Teilhard de Chardin and World Religions: Ultra Catholic or Ultra Human? In her talk, Delio addressed the questions: Did Teihard have Christian bias?
Did he insist that other religions needed to be Christianized in order to have a role in evolution?
Delio maintained that Teilhard approached world religions primarily as a scientist, interested in the evolutionary role of religions. Teilhard believed that the evolutionary role of religion is to animate the “zest” for life. To that end, Teilhard insisted that we have a critical role to play: we need to be observant of where doctrine and theology have become stuck in outmoded cosmologies and are no longer energizing humanity toward a deeper union with God and with each other.
In other words, we’re being asked – by Teilhard, and perhaps, the Spirit of evolutionary growth herself – not to divest ourselves of the traditions. We’re not being asked to pour all our unique religious colors into one bucket resulting in the murky pigment of the “baby blow-out” variety (if you’re a parent you know the particular glory of this hue). Instead, I believe we are being asked to maintain the essential pigment of each tradition, but bring them all into a greater cohesive wholeness, like that of a vibrant stained glass window.
I would venture to say that each spiritual tradition carries an indispensable “color,” an irreplaceable essence that is integral to the greater whole. Likewise, we could view this transition into the Second Axial Age of religion as the movement out of the individual dye boxes of the traditions, and into the skilled hands of the artist who will sand off rough edges and place us in the same planetary frame, so that we can exist as a collaborative, interdependent whole: forming one vibrant, illuminating vision of God together.
In other words, the key to transcending the cliquishness, strife, and violence that has characterized the worst of humanity’s religious impulse is surrender: It’s the praxis of confidence and humility that says we can be faithful stewards of our revelation while gratefully joining hands with others in theirs.
But imagine, instead, that in the formation of the stained glass masterpiece, the red pieces of glass said “Sorry, our dye requirements insist we remain in our red box forever! We don’t believe in being taken out of our box and certainly don’t believe in working alongside yellow and blue.”
This is where I think we find ourselves in Christian theology; we must introduce dynamism back into our understanding of God to keep us from being stuck in the box.
Did Teilhard have a Christian bias? Undoubtedly!
Could Teilhard have had a more immersive understanding of other religious traditions? Of course!
But he would have had to exist in our time, or had a radically different life, and therefore ceased being Teilhard. Let’s not forget that Teilhard was – gasp! – human, and that all of us are limited by our humanity and the constructs of our particular space/time configuration.
Teilhard worked from within Christianity because this was his tradition.
Enraptured with a mystical understanding of Christ-as-evolver, Teilhard leveled his theological critiques at the church and did so from a scientific lens with eye toward the trajectory of evolution. Teilhard’s heart was able to perceive beyond duality, and intuited the whole image that was wanting to emerge in our consciousness.
If we want to remain faithful to Christianity’s heart and message, we too must begin the sacred labor of setting loose those aspects of the tradition that are simply incompatible with our revealed cosmos. We must be stewards of the evolutionary responsibility that philosopher Ken Wilber describes as transcending and including.
After all, we really only find the depth dimension from within a tradition, not outside it, where we often wind up reinventing the wheel poorly. Kind of like digging to create an artificial pond on a beach so you can swim in water that is “cleaner”: eventually you realize that evolution has been at this a bit longer, so you toss your shovel and plunge into the ocean.
It is up to us to locate and evolve the doctrines in our Christian tradition that continue to create an “intellectual and emotional straight-jacket”[i] within which the creative force of an evolving humanity refuses to be restrained. It is imperative that, as socially responsible, intelligent followers of Christ we ask with Teilhard, “What form must our Christology take if it is to remain itself in a new world?”[ii] What Teilhard meant by this is not that we must be slaves to each new trend, thus trading chains to orthodoxy to the whims of capriciousness, but rather that we must always use evolution itself as the yardstick by which to measure how we define orthodoxy. As Teilhard says, “Nothing can any longer find place in our constructions which does not first satisfy the conditions of a universe in process of transformation.”[iii]
What Teilhard invites us to is into a non-dual dynamic understanding of this next age of religion: one in which we do not simply get together from time to time to show how tolerant we are of one another. Neither are we being asked to dilute the unique gifts of each tradition by giving up on religion, or combining them into an undifferentiated amalgam. We are being invited into an era of understanding our traditions as forming a symbiotic ecosystem, recognizing that our futures are interdependent in forming a new and vibrant whole:
Together we must deepen human consciousness and collaborate to create lasting solutions to the social and ecological crisis of our times.
As T.S. Eliot describes,
“Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion.”
Or as Teilhard would describe it, true union differentiates. The more we enter into an era of religious communion and collaboration, the more the essential pigment of each of our traditions will be distilled, highlighted, and become useful to the evolution of our human family.
Is this the Planetary Pentecost? I believe so. Just as in the early church, the winds of change are afoot, and just like the biblical account, the “birth” of this new church makes us all midwives: we must each seek out how we are being asked to mediate this change in our lives, and as participants in the whole system.
We must be still enough to recognize the wisdom alive in our traditions, and “still moving” in the humility that recognizes the work ahead of refining, clarifying and polishing each unique gift in our lineages. Only then, as we move from the millennia of dye-taking and into our new window “setting,” can we move into another “intensity” and become something entirely new together: a riot of brilliant colors illuminated by the fiery heart of God.
Veni Sancte Espiritus. Veni.
[i] Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, 80.
[ii] Ibid., 76.
[iii] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York: Harcourt, 1971), 78.
(This post is a continuation of “The Planetary Pentecost – Part 1”
Being the good Teilhard-geek that I am, and since I found myself near Teilhard’s NYC stomping grounds this past weekend, I figured it would be a momentous experience for me to celebrate communion and Pentecost at one of the churches where he was in residence, St. Ignatius of Loyola on Park Avenue.
The church building did not disappoint, and housed a clearly seasoned choir taking on some stunning Gregorian chant to boot. I geared myself up for what I expected would be a totally Teilhardian Pentecost celebration.
But that day the NY weather had dropped 20 degrees, and it was cold in that building. Even when the pews filled up more, I still found myself shivering a bit. The priest’s homily was on how Pentecost was the continuation of God’s “sticking it out with us”: “God didn’t give up on the disciples, and God isn’t giving up on us yet.”
The idea brought to mind a parent who is still buying their “goth” daughter preppy clothes with the hope that she’ll come around and remove her piercings and die her hair back to blonde. The country club hasn’t given up on you yet, dear! Or a boyfriend who is sticking to his relationship even though his heart has gone out of it, still going through the motions as though his not leaving is the same thing as deep intimacy. He brings her flowers and a card that reads “don’t worry, I’ve resigned myself to sticking it out with you.”
Shortly after faking being catholic enough to take communion, (which included a nearly empty chalice resulting in a rather difficult time swallowing the wafer) the service concluded. As beautiful as the music and building were, as I walked down the steps of the church I felt somewhat a sense of relief and glad to be back in the fresh air, cold as it was. Teilhard may have once been in residence at St.Ignatius, but his essence was clearly not hanging around inside those marbled walls.
I decided to cut through Central Park, figuring that Teilhard might have also once taken these very paths, wrapping my jean jacket tightly around me and bracing myself against the wind. I wondered what it would be like to walk alongside Teilhard and talk to him about all the thoughts that were swirling around inside me as I walked: the millennial search for language of a God we can believe in, the sad and rather depressing homily, and how I was still trying to swallow bits of that stubborn wafer down…when suddenly I heard sirens up ahead.
From a distance I also started to make out the sounds of chanted phrases, music, and the sound of people—LOTS AND LOTS of people. Finally, as I rounded the bend I saw them in the distance: it was the hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers walking in the AIDS Walk.
The closer I got the louder the roar of human voices became, like the thunderous sound of a waterfall. I picked out English, Spanish, French and possibly Mandarin—and those were just the voices that happened to be walking by me. I saw different ages, ethnicities, races and genders: people singing, laughing, chanting, and talking. Some quietly holding pictures of loved ones lost from AIDS, and some who were celebrating their departed loved one’s lives by dancing their way through the street, and likely some whose lives may not have been directly affected by AIDS but were walking in solidarity all the same.
Memories wafted in of my own Spanish “uncles” who died of AIDS, and how my parents insisted on bringing us to the hospitals to be with them, defying the hospitals which in that time prohibited children from visiting AIDS patients. I remembered being little enough of to be carried on the shoulders of another “uncle” through an AIDS walk in Madrid, and how just a few short years later he too lost his fight with the disease.
I had no idea that there was an AIDS walk that day, but the poignancy of it being held on Pentecost was not lost on me. There may not have been literal tongues of fire above the folks that were in the procession before me, but I promise you, I got swept up in the warmth and light that was cascading off them.
This is the Pentecost that is spreading across the planet: people gathered outside church buildings together in solidarity and action, in remembrance and a shared commitment toward a more loving present and a better future. Men and women, gay, straight, queer, transgender, rich or poor, legal immigrants or not… the vibrancy and beauty of the Divine heart seemed to shine diaphanously through every face, every unique-ness, every “difference”, forming a vibrant whole out of all of the many parts.
We need language for the God that is big enough for this church, I thought to myself.
And then, as if he was standing directly behind me, Teilhard’s words came suddenly rushing through me with the heat of a fiery wind, making my heart burn within me:
“…let there be revealed to us the possibility of believing at the same time and wholly in God and the World, the one through the other; let this belief burst forth, as it is ineluctably in process of doing under the pressure of these seemingly opposed forces, and then, we may be sure of it, a great flame will illumine all things: for a Faith will have been born (or reborn) containing and embracing all others—and, inevitably, it is the strongest Faith which sooner or later must possess the Earth.” [i]
“Veni Sancte Espiritus,” I said quietly in response to Teilhard and the happy crowd before me.
Bring it on.
To read more of Brie’s millennial perspective on Teilhard, check out her blog www.becomingultrahuman.com.
[i] (Teilhard, The Future of Man, 268)
This past weekend I made a brief escapade to the Big Apple for the American Teilhard Association Annual meeting featuring guest speaker, Ilia Delio.
The brief trip was as crammed with experiences as Manhattan is crammed with people and Pentecost Sunday wound up being an unexpected culmination of the three days.
As many of you know, Pentecost is the celebration in the liturgical Christian calendar of the arrival of the Holy Spirit 10 days after the ascension of Jesus and celebrates the “birthday” of the church. According to the gospels, the Holy Spirit came down in forms of tongues of fire that rested above each of the disciples, and in turn gave them the capacity to speak in different “tongues”. People who heard them started gathering and as they heard all these languages being spoken it created a lot of confusion (like it would), and some even chalked up these “fiery fluent crazies” as being drunk (a most rational conclusion.) The traditional phrase that you’ll often hear on Pentecost is “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which translates as “Come Holy Spirit,” an ancient invocation of the “Bring it on” variety.
While I have been following the liturgical calendar a bit more closely this year, I wasn’t thinking particularly about the unique correlation between this special day and the American Teilhard Association gathering. During the question and answer time following Ilia Delio’s address, however, someone raised the question about why young people don’t seem interested in the church, and what that might mean evolutionarily for the future of world religions. Ilia gave a response in which she criticized (as Teilhard did) the outdated theology and doctrine that is simply becoming incompatible with the future generations of humanity.
Mary Evelyn Tucker (a board member of the ATA and one of the hosts of the event) jumped in to add that this is why she, Mary Evelyn believed it was important to just “take the God language out” in projects such as her “The Journey of the Universe” project to make it more appealing to younger generations.
While I do agree that “God language” is often off putting to those of us who might be in the “spiritual not religious” camp, I have to disagree that the answer is to simply take “God language” out of the equation. Omission is not evolution, and while many among us are atheists, there are also many who as Teilhard describes might be more aptly called “unsatisfied theists”:
We are surrounded by a certain sort of pessimists who continually tell us that our world is foundering in atheism. But should we not rather say that what it is suffering from is unsatisfied theism?…are you quite sure that what they are rejecting is not simply the image of a God who is too insignificant to nourish in us this concern to survive and super-live to which the need to worship may ultimately be reduced?[i]
Rather than throwing out “God” with the dirty bathwater of what no longer serves humanity in religion, it is our task to transcend and evolve the language of a “God who is too insignificant for us to worship.” Our ideas must expand and deepen in order touch upon the mystical heart that so enraptured and informed Teilhard,: the fiery center of the universe he called the heart of God, the beating personal center of all traditions and whose fabric we shape with our very lives.
I happen to think that many of us in the Millennial cohort believe in God, just not of the white-bearded-up-in-the-sky variety. What we are leaving behind is tribal exclusionary religion and instead intuiting our way forward into a faith that believes whomever God is, God has to be the dynamism and sum of all relationships in this great system in the process of evolution. Whomever God is, God has to be intimately and inextricably shinning through every facet of this incredible material world. And whatever that faith is, it has to include everyone, everywhere, and must offer us solutions of the salvation of the planet NOW, not later.
Some scholars describe this as the birth of Second Axial age religion, and unsurprisingly, this new vision and language of God is spreading like wildfire and is creating a lot of confusion for those that prefer the older language of God.
Fire, new language, translation issues, confusion.
Now where have we heard that before?
Welcome to the Planetary Pentecost and the birth of a church as big as the cosmos itself.
Veni Sancte Espiritus. Bring it on.
(to be continued…)