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Wagner, Einstein, and Teilhard

Dr. Rudy Hwa Rudy is an emeritus professor of Physics at the University of Oregon as well one of my one of my senior Wisdom Students, both chronologically (we’ve been traveling this path together for nearly two decades now) and in his recognized eldership in the scientific and Wisdom communities. This delightful blog post seamlessly weaves together his scientific rigor with his passion for music. It’s a delight and a privilege to share it with you here.

~ Cynthia Bourgeault


At a symposium held many years ago on a day between the performances of the third and fourth operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the musical director of the Ring said in answer to a question about Wagner, “Music without Wagner is like physics without Einstein.” That statement struck such a chord in me that I have been exploring its implications ever since. As a physicist I know Einstein’s work more than I do about the works of Wagner and Teilhard [de Chardin]. But my love for music, especially for Wagner’s operas, and my journey in spirituality put me at a place where I can enjoy a panoramic view of all three. My words to describe that view, however, will be inadequate, like any description of something beautiful or profound.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was not just a musical genius but also a unique dramatist. He described the realm beyond worldly experiences through his musical dramas in ways that have never been done by anyone before nor afterwards. He wrote the poetic libretto of his operas himself. His Ring of the Nibelung, which consists of four operas that add up to more than sixteen hours, is conceptually connected to his last opera Parsifal in the context of redemption. The Ring is about the greed for power and the cleansing of that corruptive human inclination by love through self-sacrifice, but the redemptive process is not completed until the fool Parsifal gains wisdom through compassion in the next opera. Parsifal is a mystical journey of deep spirituality described in ethereal sublime music. The transformation that occurs in the five-opera sequence Ring/Parsifal is an outward manifestation of the change in Wagner’s own inner life, at the later stage of which he turned favorably to the Christian belief in redemption through suffering and love. Actually, he was more influenced by Buddhism than by the traditional Christianity ruled by a hierarchical church: he saw the failure of nineteenth-century Christianity in restraining industrial Europe from its greed for power. Wagner used art to rescue religion by creating a musical cathedral on the theme of suffering and compassion in the spirit of the Gospels. He willed that Parsifal not be performed outside of Bayreuth because he did not want this opera that he regarded as sacred to become a theatric amusement. Thirty years after his death Wagner’s family finally authorized its performance elsewhere, and more than 50 opera houses in Europe put it on in the first eight months of 1914 before WWI temporarily ended its universal appeal.

Einstein is probably best known for his energy-mass equation, E=mc2, the significance of which is transformative in physics. At the root of that equation is the theory of relativity, whose role in revealing the nature of the universe has cosmic and religious implications. In simple terms Einstein unified time and space. Energy and momentum are similarly unified in such a way that mass may turn into both energy and momentum. More difficult to imagine is that large massive stars can warp space-time. Without Einstein’s fundamental contribution to our understanding of nature, cosmologists would not have been able to determine from modern observations the properties of the universe at its beginning when even the notion of space and time is not well defined.

Concerning space-time, it is interesting to note that in Act I of Parsifal, the young fool who does not even know his own name finds himself in the forest of the knights of the Grail without feeling that he has trekked a long distance. The wise old man, Gurnemanz, explains to him, “You see, my son, time here becomes space.” It is amazing that Wagner thought of the unification of time-space thirty years before Einstein, though for a different reason. He wanted to lead his followers on a redemptive journey to a realm beyond ordinary consciousness in ordinary space-time. One has to be like Parsifal in not knowing anything to enter the domain that is timeless and of no specific space. It is not self-degradation here to become a fool. In wisdom tradition that means one empties the mind in order to be open to transcendent consciousness. Wagner dared to compose music that represents timelessness on a stage that offers nearly no motion for long periods (in theater time), yet holds the audience spellbound and transported to a realm where suffering is not just feeling of pain, but a part of the kenotic process of redemption.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Whereas both Wagner and Einstein were broadly recognized in their lifetimes for their achievements, Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, was forbidden by his Jesuit superiors to publish his anti-establishment writings. He was a paleontologist and theologian, and saw the necessity to synthesize Christian faith with evolution because he did not believe in the literal interpretation of the Genesis story of creation. That did not go well with the Roman Church, and many philosophers and most scientists on both sides of the schism. In his view spiritual and physical evolutions are not in conflict but follow the same movement in consonance with each other, so he unified incarnation and cosmic/biological evolution in his Christogenesis through four phases, which Cynthia Bourgeault calls the four Cs: cosmogenesis, complexifcation-consciousness, convergence, and Christ-Omega. To a reductionist Teilhard’s work may sound as repugnant as what the music of Ring-Parsifal does to a non-Wagnerian. But for one who is on a spiritual quest, the Teilhardian synthesis provides a refreshing alternative to the traditional dogmatic theology; more significantly, it offers a pathway to the mystical field of unitive awareness of the Oneness beyond space and time. That is transformational. It has been suggested that Teilhard is the fourth major thinker of the western Christian tradition, after St. Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas.

Teilhard did not build a bridge between science and religion that leaves the schism as deep as it ever has been. Like the unification of space and time, he amalgamated the physical and spiritual realities such that a seeker from either side cannot find a clear line separating the empirical and the transcendent. But one has to want to seek in order to find what he offers. Teilhard said it better:

You are not a human being in search of spiritual experience.
You are a spiritual being immersed in human experience.

The amazing feeling I get in reading Teilhard’s writing is that he was so immersed in the wholeness that he could move effortlessly from space-time to non-space-time to describe that intimate union at the gut level where the mind is truly in the heart. In his treatise The Human Phenomenon the word God cannot be found anywhere until the epilogue. Yet the universality of the love he envisioned is clear in his statement, “A love that embraces the entire universe is not only something psychologically possible; it is also the only complete and final way in which we can love.”

That’s great, but how do you do that? This question reveals my awareness of my being at a particular point in space-time attempting to do something. Loving in finite space-time will always be contingent. To transcend that one has to love not as an act of doing, but as a state of being. Doing is carried out by the mind; being resides in the heart. In all wisdom traditions the practice is to let go of thinking through contemplation. That is to become like Parsifal, the innocent fool, who responds to suffering. In a loose analogy that compromises the rigor of physics thinking, it is like mass in matter converting to kinetic energy that transmutes into love energy.

With Wagner’s music I can be passionate; with Einstein’s physics I can be dispassionate and explain what I know. But with Teilhard’s theology I can do neither. It requires both thinking and believing, which are hard to do simultaneously, much like particle-wave duality. Indeed, the Teilhardian synthesis is just like quantum physics, that unifies seemingly incompatible classical properties. I admire his passion and ability to use love energy to integrate his profound thoughts and experiences into one coherent description of the Wholeness.

Wagner, Einstein, and Teilhard: all three of them were visionaries, using different languages to express different yet similar transformative experiences. Feeling, thinking, and believing are what mathematicians would call orthogonal functions, which all of us have in varying degrees. The world has been enriched gloriously by what these three giants have shown us on how these three functions can harmoniously be combined to beautify the Whole.

Rudy Hwa – Eugene, OR

That’s How the Light Gets In (by Matthew Wright)

Dear Wisdom seekers,

I’d like to share with you some reflections on what’s happening in this (post-) election cycle here in the United States. There has been so much pain and confusion these last few days and, at the same time, I have felt an amazing upsurge of deeply grounded, newly energized, committed and emboldened hope, rising up through my heart as if from the heart of the earth itself – and I see it rising up and radiating out through so many others as well. I’m naming it an upsurge of “bodhisattva consciousness” – a deep and resolved commitment to work in the world for the liberation of all beings, and particularly for the most silenced and oppressed among us.

After December 19th, when the Electoral College electors cast their ballots, it is almost certain that Donald Trump will be our president-elect. How did we get here, and what is happening? First, let’s scale way back and take the big-picture, long-range view (or, at least, MY big-picture view!): this planet, this entire cosmos, is the unfolding and awakening of God-Incarnate, God-embodied, God-in-form. For those of us who work in a Christian stream, there is the particular point of Incarnate-awakening and initiation that begins and unfolds from the heart of Jesus, and we take our stand and work in that lineage.

incarnationAt the same time, there is a cosmic dimension to Incarnation – the universe itself, the whole shebang of material existence, is God-Incarnate – and through a fourteen-billion-year process of unfolding, God has been evolving outlets with the capacity for self-reflexive consciousness. That’s us. Through us, evolution is awakening to itself. As our hearts stretch, expand, grow, we’re developing the capacity to bear and express, to speak into being the very names, the qualities, closest to the Heart of God – universal love, infinite mercy, tender compassion. Through us, the Heart of God is speaking itself into form. And through our very bearing of those names – in and as that bearing – we awaken in Love, and Love awakens in us, to the absolute unity of all that is. This has been the goal of the entire fourteen-billion-year unfolding.

We, along with this planet, are the deepening self-disclosure of God-in-form. We are the revelation of the Heart of God. We are the manifest, incarnate life of God – ever-moving, through evolution, towards a deeper, fuller, and more conscious expression of Incarnation, of oneness and love awakened-in-form. And for the past 100 years, through the process of globalization, that process has been accelerating, as our hearts grow to embrace a deepening experience of unity-in-diversity (religious, ethnic, cultural, sexual), and a softening or erasure of old boundary lines.

At the same time, fear arises. We feel safer behind our old lines. They are comfortable, familiar. The forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia – they are the denying forces pushing back against the arising unity. These forces experience themselves as “protecting” the world-as-it-has-been. When that world feels threatened, these forces express themselves as fear, dig in, and work to maintain the old boundary-lines at all cost. THIS IS A NATURAL AND UNAVOIDABLE PROCESS. It is the road by which evolution winds. While taking our clear stand with the forward movement, can we hold even these denying forces in compassion as they enter their death throes – yes, even as they inflict violence and pain on others in the process? It is a high calling to hold to this kind of seeing, and it cannot always be maintained. But simply knowing that it’s possible is an achievement.

As for where we are now: over the past decade, following the election of a (fairly) progressive president, progressive, global values have been the affirming force within our wider culture – resulting in marriage equality, increased climate change awareness, etc. Conservative values have been the denying force, pushing back and resisting (Read Cynthia Bourgeault’s post on the Law of Three and the election). That grinding, painful process is simply the way a gradual, growing shift in consciousness takes place.Trinity-300x300

With progressive values in the ascendant these past eight years, the fear-based currents of racism, homophobia, etc. have been pushed underground – where they’ve been brewing and building. And now, with the advent of this election cycle – and it must be seen and named clearly: through the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign – those forces, previously suppressed, have been given voice and hope: “Yes, we can take the world back to what it was! We can maintain the old lines!”

This, however, isn’t possible. The evolution of consciousness and the forces of globalization are simply a rising tide. The current of evolution can be resisted, but not ultimately prevented or diverted (short of global, nuclear destruction) – quite simply because God is the One driving it (and to be clear: from WITHIN, not from “above”), not us. We awaken into and serve the current that is already coursing through the planet. Or we resist it. But it is building.

This is seen both in Hillary Clinton’s staggering win in the popular vote (well over one million now and continuing to grow as absentee votes are counted) and (even more so) in the profound surge of energy from Millennials around Bernie Sanders’ campaign. And to be honest, a great deal of the denying force comes from an older generation that is dying out, and from a privileged white population that is rapidly losing sway as our country’s demographics shift. Given time, it will quite simply fall away.

As for those of us standing with the rising tide of global, progressive values, we have in many ways become complacent – and many of us (mostly white) naïve as to the degree to which regressive values are still alive, well, and entrenched within the wider culture. And now with this flip in the affirming/denying poles seen with the rise of Trump, all of that changes.

light-and-shadow-kumi-yamashita-10Now our collective shadow has been unleashed and brought clearly into the light. That shadow includes, yes, the forces of conscious racism, etc. but also unconscious, systemic racism bolstered by white privilege not consciously wielded for the good. It includes complacency hidden behind self-righteousness, blame, and judgment. While this shadow remained hidden, lurking, it was easy enough to ignore. But now that we are seeing it, WE MUST KEEP SEEING IT. We must keep shining clear, clear light. There are constant siren calls now for “peace” and “unity” – which are really calls to silence the oppressed. A “unity” achieved by pushing the oppressed back into silence is no kind of unity at all.

We must be clear: minority populations are not in a state of denial because “their candidate lost” – they are in deep fear because Donald Trump won. We have seen a massive rise in hate-crimes since election night, and this is tied directly to the hate-rhetoric used by the Trump campaign. These suppressed forces have now been given permission to come into the public discourse and are fighting to be normalized.

We have unleashed our shadow. In one sense, this is necessary – because it’s happening. It’s easy to point fingers and find someone to blame (out-of-touch liberal elites! racist homophobes!), but can we instead step back and see this as life unfolding, as God awakening, through a very painful and messy evolutionary process? The gift is that now we are SEEING. Seeing what’s been there all along. Seeing our shadow. And so our work now is to simply keep shining light where it needs to be shined. We must not let this rhetoric become normalized, and we must not let it go back into hiding.

Two-thousand years ago Jesus said, “There is light within a person of light, and it enlightens the whole world. But if you fail to become light, there is darkness.” We must hold in light and clear-seeing the forces at play, not backing down but also remaining grounded deeply in love and in our own contemplative hearts. When truly seen, darkness cannot long survive.

Anti-Semitism was a powerful undercurrent within Christian thought and theology for almost 2,000 years – and it is still not dead. But following the horrors of the Holocaust during the 20th century (lest we forget, THIS PAST CENTURY), a bright and terrifying light was shined on where those forces can and WILL take us. And almost overnight, in response, the mainstream Christian traditions worked to expunge anti-Semitism from their theologies. It took truly seeing. Would the churches have done this work if both the light and the terror had not reached such intensity? While the transformation can in no way justify the immense pain and suffering, it does show us how we can harness our moments of clear and terrifying seeing and use them as opportunities for change.

img_0682-3We are being called out of our complacency. Bodhisattva consciousness is rising. And without this flip of poles, that might never have happened. This moment is a terrifying gift. In the words of my friend Bob Sabath, posted the morning after: “Trump does not know it yet, but he just gave birth to a movement, just not the movement that he thinks. I imagine that a lot of people woke up this morning, got down on their knees, and asked what is theirs to do at this time. Business as usual is over. Time to weep. Time to dig deep and find ways to connect our lives more fully with what is broken in the world. Time for risk-taking in our own lives. Time to quiet our fears and panic and despair, and listen deeply for the third force needed in our own lives and in the world.”

Listen deeply, friends. I am no fan of militaristic metaphors used for the spiritual life. Nevertheless, a battle is coming, and is now here. Our weapons are light (sharp, clear-seeing), love (non-judging, compassionate awareness), resistance (refusing to fall backwards into complacency, instead joining the forward movement of evolution on its messy way through struggle and pain), and relationship (holding our hearts open – within our capacity – so as to allow for authentic connection, born of deep and vulnerable listening). As Jesus constantly says in the Gospels: be sober, be vigilant, be watchful. But do not fear.

I’m reminded of the assurance given by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the shepherd children at Fatima at the onset of WWII: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Yes, in the end the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the One Heart of God – the One Heart of Humanity – will triumph, and is triumphing even now. Truly, I feel it as an immense hope surging through our planet. Breathe into and through that hope, and let it take flesh in your life. The work ahead of us will not be without pain and struggle. In the face of it all, let us speak into being the names of God: mercy, compassion, and love.

Ring out the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

(Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016)

Love,

Matthew

The Planetary Pentecost – Part III

BONUS! Gabrielle (Brie) Stoner contributes a third installment in her series, inspired by her trip to New York City for the American Teilhard Association’s annual meeting, in which she ties together the liturgical holiday with the dawning of a new “Church”. See Part I and Part II for more.


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.

Trinity-300x300The fact that this Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost 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 question, “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.

Church-shadows-223x300In 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”¹ 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?”² 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.”³

What Teilhard invites us into is 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.

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  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York, NY: Harcourt, 1971), 80.
  2. Ibid., 76.
  3. Ibid., 78.