Teilhard de Chardin

Launching The Year Of Teilhard by Cynthia Bourgeault

A letter from Cynthia Bourgeault, January 3, 2015


Dear Wisdom Friends,

Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Renowned scientist, theologian, writer, mystic. 1881-1955

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 a 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 Teilhard de Chardin (in the Modern SpiPierre Teilhard de Chardin by Ursula Kingritual 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 probably in an official Teilhard Wisdom School in 2016. So be sure to stay tuned.

 “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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,






19 replies
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  2. don salmon
    don salmon says:

    regarding understanding Sri Aurobindo, you might also look at Rod Hemsell’s ebook (available at auro ebooks) on “The Philosophy of Religion.” He explains the parallels in the understanding of the Trinity in Sri Aurobindo and Christianity (though I find the multi-dimensional, dynamic evolutionary view of the trinity in Sri Aurobindo’s writings more appropriate to the 21st century than anything I’ve come across in Christian writings).

  3. don salmon
    don salmon says:

    I just came across some writings by Cynthia and also Ursula King which helped me understand the profound misunderstanding they both seem to have of Sri Aurobindo.

    Ursula King wrote that Sri Aurobindo’s vision of evolution was typical of the Indian view (in the course of which she misrepresented the indian view, probably on the basis of the common modern misunderstanding of Neo-Vedanta which turns traditional Indian philosophy upside down and inside out), that it is somehow static, unlike de Chardin’s (implicitly superior) view which is modern, progressive, etc. Putting aside the extent de Chardin’s views are riddled with flatland, monological physicalist confusion, Sri Aurobindo’s entire work, decades of it, culminating in the longest epic poem in English, is about the coming of something utterly new, not only in human history, not only on earth, but in the entire universe, something involving a transformation utterly beyond anything conceived of by some who claim to understand his work, such as Bede Griffiths.

    I was stunned some time back to see Cynthia lump Ramana Maharshi’s advaita with Sri Aurobindo, who himself would have got a hearty laugh from this (as would have Maharshi!). The Mother (Sri Aurobindo’s colleague) used to joke with disciples, “If you want a little peace and quiet, go up the road to the Maharshi Ashram (it’s about a 2 hour trip from Pondicherry to the Maharshi ashram). If you’re interested in radical evolutionary transformation, you’re going to work very hard here!

    I’m not aware of anything in the current non dual movement – Wilberian, Christian contemplative, Sufi, Buddhist Dzogchen/Mahamudra – etc – that even barely resembles the radical and utter “newness” of the Integral yoga.

    By the way, I’m guessing that Cynthia (and perhaps Ursula?) gets her view of Sri Aurobindo from Ken Wilber, who by his own admission (or least, when he’s being honest; otherwise you can check with John White, who introduced Sri Aurobindo to him) has never actually read Sri Aurobindo. As far as Wilber’s understanding goes, I sometimes say, only partly in jest, if you want an easy introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s writings, look at the appendix in Wilber’s “Eye of Spirit,” in which he defends himself from critics who actually have read Sri Aurobindo. Wilber says that others have accused him of misunderstanding Sri Aurobindo in general, and his terminology in particular.

    In the course of just 3 pages, Wilber manages to get the meaning of virtually every term wrong – including his infamous ‘vision logic.’

    I was asked, back in 2003, by a group of 15 folks who had become disenchanted with Ken Wilber, to help them understand Sri Aurobindo. In order to avoid the kind of conflict that I’ve seen when people try to talk to Wilberites about Sri Aurobindo, I suggested taking one term (we started with “psychic being”) and looking at what Sri Aurobindo said about it, then looking at Wilber, then, if we wanted, we could have a debate after that.

    I presented an overview of Sri Aurobindo’s view of the psychic being, and everyone was happy with that.

    The next week, I spent a few hours looking at virtually every reference to the psychic being in Wilber’s writings. I wrote back something like this: “I’m sorry. I had a feeling it would result in this, but I never looked quite so carefully at Wilber’s writing about Aurobindonian ideas and terms. His writing on the psychic being is, much like almost everything else he’s written on Sri Aurobindo, a completely confused melange of contradictions and utter incoherencies.”

    come to think of it, probably better to start with Satprem’s “Adventure of Consciousness.” Satprem comes down a little too hard on traditional religious forms, but he was doing so in the attempt to get people to be willing to think in radically different ways. I used to think he tried to hard to do this, but seeing what Wilber and others have done in fusing Sri Aurobindo with other concepts and boxes that he spent his life attempting to deconstruct and transform, perhaps Satprem didn’t try hard enough!

  4. don salmon
    don salmon says:

    ( to Barbara Marcel)

    Hi Barbara:

    In answer to your question about Teilhard and Sri Aurobindo, from my many years of study of Sri Aurobindo I’m quite sure he was not aware of Teilhard’s writings. I don’t think Teilhard knew of him either, and his few comments on Eastern spirituality are mostly rather harsh and negative, taking it be largely about denying the value of the world. I imagine he would have been delighted to have discovered Sri Aurobindo’s world-positive evolutionary vision. One of Sri Aurobindo’s disciples, Amal Kiran, has written a book comparing the two, which I believe can be found on Amazon. Beatrice Bruteau, who Cynthia has written about, also wrote about the two of them.

    don salmon

  5. David Orth
    David Orth says:

    The Mennonite church I attended for 20 years made a banner for Ordinary Time (we were “half Anglican”) and used Teilhard’s quote as I remember, “Nothing is profane for those who know how to see.” Before that, I “had” to read a good bit of Teilhard in the 1970s when I was a philosophy student in a conservative Midwestern college (before the culture wars hit the place and much was ruined). I understand now that he was my first exposure to Christian Hermeticism – he reframed the whole thing for me. Grateful to tears.

    The Year of Teilhard!

  6. Parker Stafford
    Parker Stafford says:

    I have been entirely ignorant of Teilhard’s work until the universe conspired to bring him into my cosmic orbit in a way that can only be described as miraculous by those vivified by faith and impossible by those captured by the rational.

    This encounter was itself an effort to make clear my own charge in putting together a book about my own awakening experience and the one big lingering question was answered in a remarkable series of synchronicities over a three hour period that placed his message-a very specific one-directly in my path repeatedly until I hit the jackpot and was left amazed and awestruck.

    So yes! This man certainly lifted the dialog significantly!

    ….But to be true, I came here to tell you how happy I am to have read your article in Parabola on Mary Magdeline…Teilhard was himself a lovely serendipity! I am so glad that this story is being told since when I read Mary, Philip, and Thomas I knew that this represented the deeper teaching of a man whose followers had trouble getting. You did this with such sensitivity and grace; thank you.

  7. Marty Schmidt
    Marty Schmidt says:

    I’m halfway through Spirit of Fire, and it has me! Somehow I feel like his story in some way is related to my/our story. If the search for the presence of God was his deepest desire, then his love of the world of matter was always a contender for that top spot. The two jockey for Teilhard’s mind and heart early on, but in time they meld into one and the same. His engagement in China not only parallels my own time in Hong Kong, but also the influence of the ‘East’ on the ‘West,’ so ably told in the book American Veda. Those of us from Western Christian background experience Eastern religion in Western culture. Thomas Berry has said that he turned from a “theologian” to a “geologian”, as he came to see the spiritual message in matter. This book prophetically describes what an incarnational theology-geology of the future looks like. I’m taken by this material. Kathleen Duffy will probably be next.

  8. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    How wonderful that I found your website. More than 40 years ago I used to read and read struggle to understand Teilhard’s book The Divine Milieu and used it daily as a prayer focus. I remember the beauty of the words.
    Yes I will be following this journey with you with great delight.

  9. Barbara L. Marcel
    Barbara L. Marcel says:

    P.S. Does anyone know if Teilhard knew or knew of, Sri Aurobindo? Their visions are so similar!

  10. Barbara L. Marcel
    Barbara L. Marcel says:

    Really excited to be joining in this pursuit of Teilhard and his vision….Have read Ursula King, Kathleen Duffy, Ilia Delio et al.. King’s lecture on YouTube interesting and informative; Ilio Delio’s even more fiery and delighting. Dom Don Goergen, O.P. spirited talk on Teilhard (YouTube video by Teresa Schmidt) How privileged I feel to have access to such a broad enobling vision….and what responsibility to the whole of creation! Exciting to be alive in these evolving times! Yes! Thank you, Cynthia!

  11. Sandra Logan
    Sandra Logan says:

    Can’t wait to learn and go one this journey. Already ordered the first book. Thank you Cynthia !

  12. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Cynthia and all, I’m honored to be with you in holding this space and participating in what evolves in our collective body-mind-heart-soul.

    With gratitude, love, joy, and wonder, from Houston.

  13. Genny Genevich
    Genny Genevich says:

    Being immersed in the journey of “conscious evolution” and “the divine human”, this path has led me INTO
    the life and works of Teilhard de Chardin.
    His visionary teachings and commentary on creation, the divinization of matter, the “Christification” of the Earth, the Omega Point, etc. continue to move my being at deeper and deeper levels.

    What a delight to find Cynthia’s “Launching the Year of Teilhard” … and YES! … I accept this challenge and join in the collective field with all of you as we seek “to see” with the eyes and heart of this profound mystic and prophet, Teilhard de Chardin.

    Thank you, Cynthia, for opening the way …

  14. Joan Fothergill
    Joan Fothergill says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes!

    And when we grow faint of heart…

    “Explain to them…the greatness of the current of which they are part. Make them feel the immense weight of committed efforts for which they are responsible. Compel them to see themselves as conscious elements in the complete mass of beings, inheritors of a labour as old as the world, and charged with transmitting the accumulated capital to all those who are to come. Then, at the same time, you will have overcome their tendency to inertia and disorder, and shown them what they perhaps worshiped without giving it a name.
    For this is the supreme purpose for the present human phase of terrestrial history; that the normal crisis which has struck us shall be compensated by the renewal and growth of our beings, in the double form of a necessity and an attraction, of a divine pressure emanating from the Absolute.”
    Teilhard de Chardin The Vision of the Past (translated by J.M.Cohen, 1966, p77)

    So let’s gather ourselves and give it all we’ve got. So glad to be doing this together(very Teihardian!)

    ps. Most of Teilhard’s work is available online at archive.org
    pps Cynthia, you’re something else!
    ppps. Posted per Cynthia’s request

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