January 4, 2015 – Letter from Cynthia Bourgeault
Dear Wisdom Friends,
Here’s an unusual New Year’s resolution! I’d like to propose that all of us in the Wisdom network declare 2015 THE YEAR OF TEILHARD DE CHARDIN and take on the collective task of getting to know his work better.
There’s no specific milestone to celebrate here. This year will mark the 60th anniversary of his death, but that’s probably looking in the wrong direction. The important thing is that Teilhard’s star is now rising powerfully on the horizon, heralding the dawn of an entirely new kind of Christian theology. Misunderstood in his own times, silenced and exiled by his Jesuit superiors, he is finally coming into his own as the most extraordinary mystical genius of our century and the linchpin connecting scientific cosmology and Christian mystical experience on a dynamic new evolutionary ground.
Teilhard is not easy, but there are very good guides out there who will ease the entry shock. My recommendation is that you begin with Ursula King’s Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin. King is probably the foremost Teilhard scholar of our times, and her very well-written biography gives a good overview of Teilhard’s developing vision and an useful way of keeping track of the chronology of his works.
Kathleen Duffy’s Teilhard’s Mysticism is also an insightful introductory guide, introducing the major phases and themes of Teilhard’s work in five expanding “circles.” And of course, for a succinct and clear overview, you can hardly do better than Ilia Delio’s chapter on Teilhard in her Christ in Evolution.
From there, I’d dive directly into Teilhard by way of Ursula King’s stellar anthology, Pierre Teilhardde Chardin (in the Modern Spiritual Masters series, Orbis Books, 1999). King’s well-chosen selections and helpful introductory commentary will help get you up to speed as painlessly as possible.
From there, go to The Heart of Matter, Teilhard’s magnificent spiritual autobiography, written near the end of his life, which offers a moving recapitulation of his lifelong themes as well as a reflection on his earlier work.
From there, wander as you will. Those of more devotional temperament will find his The Divine Milieu, Hymn of the Universe, and “The Mass on the World” moving and accessible. Those of more scientific temperament may gravitate toward Christianity and Evolution and The Future of Man. His magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, is notoriously challenging, but if you’ve worked your way up to it gradually, you’ll be more able to take it in stride.
Most of these volumes are easily available at amazon.com and other internet websites, and Hymn of the Universe, officially out of print, is available for download.
During my upcoming Wisdom Schools this year, I will be intending to “ease in” some Teilhard where appropriate: particularly in our Glastonbury Ascensiontide retreat and our Advanced Wisdom School in North Carolina this April—so if you’re signed up for either of those schools, be sure to get an early jump of the reading trajectory I’ve just laid out. I’ll also be introducing these materials in the some of the “Communities of Practice” sessions in New England later this year, and in an official Teilhard Wisdom School hosted by Wisdom Southeast at Valle Crucis in 2016. So be sure to stay tuned.
I’m a relative newcomer to Teilhard myself, still working my way through this remarkable corpus like a neophyte spelunker in a vast crystal cave. Not surprisingly, it’s “the kids” in the Wisdom Network—Matthew Wright, Brie Stoner, and Josh Tysinger—who seem to have the best handle on the material and are already grasping its implications for the future (their future!) and unlocking its potential in sermon, song, and drama. I mention this simply to encourage you not to be intimidated by the material, or the apparent lack of an authority figure to interpret it for you. Form a reading group, use your well-patterned lectio divina method to break open a short section of text, and dive in with your energy, your insights, and your questions. How you get there is where you’ll arrive.
Okay, who wants to take me up on this New Year’s Challenge?
Love and blessing,
Here are links to either purchase the books Cynthia mentions, in the order she recommends, or to download a free pdf file of four of the books
- Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin
- Teilhard’s Mysticism
- Christ in Evolution
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
- The Heart of Matter (free download)
- The Divine Milieu (free download)
- Hymn of the Universe (free download)
- Christianity and Evolution
- The Future of Man
- The Phenomenon of Man (free download)
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