I’ve wondered about this question as we recently watched COP26, the Global Climate Summit end in much the same way. No war time effort to resolve this freight train bearing down on the earth and all her inhabitants. Only a few half hearted attempts by top negotiators to reign in coal and receive a scolding by grassroots organizers, largely marginalized to the edges of COP26. The main game seems to be keeping the Developed Countries happily consuming and their economies booming while continuing with their lifestyles and fossil fuel appetite.
While this heedless folly will continue us down a path of playing with millions of lives and species decimation, corporate powers represented there were satisfied with their ongoing hegemony and continuing subsidies.
Despite this gloom and doom, spirituality is booming on the internet. People download TikTok meditation apps and are hungry to know how to live in the face of these times that demand so much of our souls. There is no ready appeasement for what we are facing. No reassurances that “all will be fine” in the outer world, even as the middle class becomes extinct and the tide of suffering humanity is flowing across borders. Facism and autocratic dictators arise in times like this as people are terrified, grasping for easy answers and anyone who claims they know what to do. Unequipped to deal with such primal fear for our survival, such levels of suffering clawing at our borders, such anguish over what is to come, we are longing for spiritual insight and practices. It is easy to glom onto intact spiritual traditions and pirate the riches of others who have suffered greatly and know how to endure.
I found the Catholic Franciscan scholar and sister, Ilia Delio, to be very clear as she responds to “what is” these days. It begs us to leave our screens behind and seek truer engagement, starting with with our our own inner world, before we strike out at the borders we create around our bodies, our physical safety and the scary political strife. She talks about becoming a scholar of the great classics of art, history, science, literature, religion, economics and other disciplines, rather than eating at the fast food trough of Facebook and whatever might come to us on social media.
While spiritual paths abound today, what is lacking is deep thought and a reasonable pursuit of truth. Knowledge is not information alone but the work of the mind creatively forming new insights. In his book Where is Knowing Going?, the late John Haughey SJ distinguished between concepts and notions. When we rely on concepts, he wrote, we let ideas spawned by other minds do our thinking for us. Today, information-loaded concepts dominate the internet, to the extent that our devices have become intellectual crutches. On the one hand, Haughey said, notions are ideas gradually forming in us in which we encounter reality with unrestricted wonder and attend to “the real” as an act of engagement. Notions undergird the life of the scholar whereby the mind engages reality in its manifold expressions of art, history, science, literature, economics and other disciplines, forming new unities and new insights. While spirituality may connect us to the world, scholarship in its many forms, shapes the world by creatively engaging ideas. The scholar is to be an artisan of the future…Today, our world is large and complex, and the manipulation of information across the web makes it difficult to engage in meaningful discussions. In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr suggests that the internet is making us shallow and dumb. We are losing the capacity to think and to feel. The infinite amount of information has induced a type of cognitive coma because the human brain cannot process the overabundance of input. We are like mental couch-potatoes, exporting our minds onto the internet because our brain circuits are overloaded or jammed. Hence, we capture and hold tight to ideas and beliefs which keep us breathing and upright and perhaps inspire us to live for a better world beyond this one. Frozen brain circuits prevent new thinking because they block any new input. Fear, anxiety and distrust swiftly emerge in fight or flight mode when the brain is confronted with new ideas, evoking existential fear and, for some religious people, the possibility of sin.
The truth is…the world is out of control and has been for some time.Ilia Delio, OSF, “The Time to Change is Now”. (https://christogenesis.org/now-is-the-time-to-change/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=1156e47a-deb2-4716-9aa2-d95fed63dad0)
In a world out of control, the person of faith digs deeper, finds a well of love and charity, seeks the warming fires of community in which to ride out the storms. Teilhard de Chardin, (1888-1955) Jesuit paleontologist and brilliant heart centered mystic says it all. He weds science and religion together in a seamless garment, finding that they are both ever evolving. Any rigidity or fear that inhibits our ability to grow our faith and examine our ever evolving reality, leaves our faith impotent.
He wrote Hymn to the Universe, The Divine Millieu, The Phenomenon of Man and the Future of Man. In these books, it is as though he were peering into our 21st century and seeing exactly what we will grapple with as a human community. His preordained words still land brilliantly. He wrote, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Love is a verb. An action. It cannot remain in a petrified idea. Love must become like the force of fire in it’s purifying, nourishing and warming elemental nature.
Thank you Teilhard, for your purity of heart and insights shared in a time where you were seen as scandalous and threatening to the church hierarchy.
And finally he wrote the following. May it be so.
Teilhard de Chardin saw our predicament almost a hundred years. In a 1931 essay on the “Spirit of the Earth,” he wrote that “the age of the nations is now past, and our task, if we are to survive and not perish, is to build the earth.” To “build the earth” is to recognize the divine depth of all reality, urging us to come together and emerge in a new whole of co-reflective consciousness, where love shapes all that we do, including the pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of science.Ilia Delio, OSF, “The Time to Change is Now”