I’m reading Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955) in which he describes life transforming to more and more complexity and shows that life continues to grow beyond the outward form. As a prominent paleontologist and naturalist as well as Jesuit priest he believed life sciences should explore not only the outer forms – the skeletons that remain, the physical effects, the material world – but include the “within” – the imagination, consciousness, the spiritual.
How is life developing forward spiritually?
I have long believed that “progress” must be much more than material growth, and that the ultimate state of being is the union of material and spiritual. I view Jesus as one who demonstrated such union in the circumstances of his day. So, I do not hold with those who have in various ways emphasized the material either by denial or by greed. Both extremes divide the spirit from the material instead of envisioning the beauty of union.
Life is choosing whether to be only material or the spiritual-material creature I believe we are becoming. Not only the people of power in society make decisions of great consequence. Every living person known or unknown is deciding moment by moment, in minute increments, how humanity grows into the Body that is developing.
This is why I so appreciate the people who, in the 3rd to 4th centuries, left for the desert when the Roman Empire made Christianity the state religion. We call them the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They did not set up alternative institutions, or teach doctrines, but lived a devotion to that Unknown which is beckoning us to union. To them prayer was to ponder God the Origin and then to walk their daily routine as the manifestation of God in the moment. Their spiritual communion with God influenced the rhythm of material life, the Creation progressing toward that beautiful merging of spiritual and material.*
That was a long time ago to us, but just a little skip in the total expanse of life on earth.
Abraham felt the call to come out from among the structures and obligations of his society, sensing there was something much bigger for humanity; and he associated that destiny with the countless stars. His descendants multiplied and eventually were enslaved by another society. They too were called out again to the wilderness to remember they were meant for much more than building someone else’s pyramids.
I heard a good sermon last Sunday about Peter choosing whether to get out of the boat when Jesus called him to walk on the water with him. The preacher asked us what boat we may be in, beyond which we are being called.
How can I think that humanity is advancing toward that new kind of creature when there are so many trying to go back to pure materialism, or at least stay in the comfort of the status quo?
How can I even imagine there will be that new creature? Just the thought of it is evidence that there is some greater reality. Imagining such a reality is part of the call toward it. For some thousands of years humanity has been conscious of this and it has caused many to step out. Those seem to have been the exceptions while many more have fought it.
And what about the pyramids you are working on?
For my part I will dance around the obstacles and celebrate in my daily routines the growing new creature.
*Three helpful books about the Desert Fathers and Mothers have been recommended to me:
Roberta C. Bondi, To Pray and to Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church (Fortress Press: 1991)
Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Harper One: 2010)
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward, rev. ed. (Cistercian Publications: 1984, ©1975)