Ecological cosmology as an emergent process of love

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest, a paleologist and a mystic. He is known for his theory that man is evolving, mentally and socially, toward spiritual unity. His unique view of the human role in evolution and ecology has become influential, even though he died in 1955. The Catholic Church did not allow his works to be published until after his death. Thomas Berry was influenced by these works.

Teilhard offers a perspective of the unity of life that resituates the human in the whole cosmic order; a similar perspective of many ancient wisdom traditions. He claims that God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being. He believes that we have a shared planetary destiny and that human efforts to create a better world are really ways to further God’s planetary project.

One of Teilhard’s greatest contributions to modern religious thought is his conception of reality as composed of both spirit and matter. He sees evolution as an unfolding of consciousness, an unfolding of spirit in matter. There are what he called the psychic and the physical components, the within and the without of things. This reminds me of Bohm’s implicit and explicit order or Aristotle’s distinction between matter and form or the potential and the actual.  

Teilhard’s concern to activate a zest for life and a will to participate in evolution was one of the major recurring themes in his writings. Our capacity to commune with nature is greatly enlarged and revitalized when we recognize its essential connectedness with ourselves and the cosmos. Surely this has relevant implications for our understandings of spiritual purpose here on earth. “Our spiritual goals are reoriented from a quest toward otherworldly perfection and goodness to a quest toward the dynamic evolutionary process close at hand.” Earth is a crucible for evolution towards complexity and consciousness.  

“Without the struggle of life there would not be the heroic potential of the human to overcome his or her particularity. This drive for communion with the Divine through the Earth lies at the heart of an ecological spirituality. Through the sacrifice of the human in suffering and of the earth itself in physical changes, evolution unfolds.” Teilhard describes its unfolding in terms of the power of human suffering to transform energy into activity, strife into wisdom. “Human suffering, the sum total of suffering poured out at each moment over the whole earth, is like an immeasurable ocean. But what makes up this immensity? Is it blackness, emptiness, barren wastes? No indeed; it is potential energy. Suffering holds hidden within it, in extreme intensity, the ascensional force of the world. The whole point is to set this force free by making it conscious of what it is capable.”

We are totally interrelated and this community of life that we depend upon, but we have affected the environment in a way that does not support life. This is an interdependent world and we recover a depth dimension of ourselves when we recognize our relationship to the earth community. The destiny of earth and man/consciousness are interwoven in a participatory process.

Teilhard has given us some of the early metaphors to describe our role as the consciousness of the earth. His vision provides a means of reciprocity and reverence with the natural world, which our materialistic scientific view of matter does not take into consideration. According to modern science, matter is dead and inert. As Teilhard advises, we can live with the explicit consciousness of being an atom or a citizen of the universe balanced with the implicit connectedness of all things. One aspect of the centering power of nature to draw all elements together is known in the physical order as gravity; its counterpart in the human is love. Both of these become expressions for the attractive forces of centering, individualization, and personalization. He saw evolution as an adventure in love. These ideas bring us closer to an ecological cosmology that unite spirit with science and the cosmos to each individual human being.