by ILIA DELIO, OSF
The world is showing itself to be a very fragile place. Just yesterday a terrorist attack in Istanbul claimed the lives of innocent people; here in the United States we are still reeling from the violent slaughter of lives in Orlando, Florida. Britain voted to leave the European Union on Monday and the stock market plunged to historic lows. As I write, I am sitting by the ocean in Long Branch New Jersey, listening to relentless waves lapping up the shoreline. I am at a retreat house run by Redemptorist priests. Down the block, in the next neighborhood, orthodox Jews are strolling the boardwalk, men with yamulkas and women in black skirts and babushkas. Many are walking two by two, talking about important but mundane topics: family, friends, relationships, children, love lost and love found. Some are small families with infants in strollers, the men quite loquacious and the women listening while pushing baby strollers, as the ocean breezes draw this stream of varied peoples down the boardwalk on a summer’s day.
Yesterday, as I was walking along the shoreline a young Jewish couple was having their picture taken by the ocean, as if they might have been newly engaged or simply deeply in love. They were quite enthralled with the sun and the sea enrapping them with beams of light and life; they kept jumping up and down, trying to get the best pose. The young man’s yamulka kept falling off from the frenzied movement but his beaming smile told me that love is so much deeper and joyful than the little annoyances of life. Summer at the shore is a good reminder that every person belongs to another person in one way or another.
Belonging to another may be the very definition of life itself. When we do not belong to another, then we tend to have power over another. When the other does not belong to me and I do not belong to the other, then the other becomes an object before me; she or he is at the whim of my control. Without real relationship there is no basis for unity; without love, there is no one or nothing to live for. The only thing that remains is the ego and left on its own, the ego will absorb everything into its bottomless pit because without love, the ego cannot be transformed into the fullness of life.
Love is as old as the cosmos itself. The Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, spoke of love as a cosmological force. The fundamental law of attraction in the universe, he wrote, is love. He described love as the primal energy of the universe, the energy of attraction, union and transcendence. “Driven by the forces of love,” he said, “the fragments of the world [continuously] seek each other so that the world may come to being.” Elsewhere he wrote: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces… the physical structure of the universe is love.” Although many scientists and non-scientists balk at the idea of cosmological love, Teilhard thought from a different level of consciousness, one much closer to the medieval writers who had profound views on cosmos, nature, and world soul.
The ancients thought of love as a sublime power, the attractive force of the cosmos. Saint Augustine spoke of love as the “gravity of the soul.” Medieval writers thought of love as the highest good. In the twelfth century William of Thierry held that divine love is the basis of all that exists. God, he said, does not merely love but is love; love is the core of all life because God is the source of all life. Without love, the cosmos would not and could not exist. In the following century, the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure held that love is the highest form of knowledge. Knowledge, he indicated, is not the end of study but the means to love. Knowledge deepened by love is wisdom. The wise person knows by way of love and sees by way of the heart. Love, Teilhard wrote, brings us to the threshold of another universe.
Such talk of love is foreign to our postmodern eyes and ears because we have enervated love of its power to transform life. We have reduced love to sentiment, emotion and the realm of feelings; as such, we have internalized love and confined it to Valentine arrows and broken hearts. Love was sold to the slavery of the senses after the High Middle Ages and the rise of modern science. When the astronomer-mathematician Simon LaPlace was asked by Napoleon about the place of God in his system he replied: “Sir I no longer have need for such a hypothesis.” As God was pushed out of the world by empirical science, so too, the cosmos was drained of its vital unity in love.
Talk of love at the heart of the universe should not be taken lightly. The Omega website has one primary aim, to explore love in its deepest dimensions—philosophical, metaphysical, religious, social, cultural and personal dimensions, seeking to create a cosmic shift in our thinking, knowing, and acting in the world. Unless we change the way we love, we will not change the way we act. This, of course, is the basic message of the New Testament, the law of love: “You are to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31). Love of God, love of neighbor and love of self is one center of love expressed in three dimensions. What is this center in the human person? How is this center related to other centers? What is this center in terms of an evolutionary universe? These questions are part of our explorations. For we cannot say we love the God we cannot see if we do not love the neighbor we see; to love the neighbor is to love God and to love God is to love self and to love self is to love neighbor so that God, self, and neighbor are a trinity of love. This new law of love means living in a different way, from a new center of love where God, self and neighbor are deeply entwined. The great Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel wrote: “A religious person is one who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
Who is this God of love in a world of sorrow? We have insight through the life of Jesus into the mystery of the One who is absolute love, love we name as Trinity meaning that God is personal, communal, self-gifting, humble, all embracing love; a God who stays with us through what is dead and lifeless and experiences our anguish and suffering and loves us in the darkness of our forsakenness and draws us into newness of life full of hope, promise, and future. God is the power of love to change hearts, move mountains and raise the dead to life. God’s love is always the more of what we grasp or imagine because divine love is absolute and unconditional; the love that is the power of the future.
Teilhard de Chardin spoke of love as the primal energy of the universe and the power of attraction within the universe toward greater levels of relatedness and consciousness. Science tells us that we are an emerging species in evolution. Evolution is our meta-narrative. Every single person shares a common history because everyone shares a history of evolution. Teilhard understood the import of evolution for religion, culture, human development and every aspect of life. Evolution he said is a dimension to which all other aspects of life must yield, including our understanding of God. He spent his life trying to reconcile Christian faith and evolution.
As a scientist he felt that our fractured world is the result of division between science and religion. The artificial separation between science and religion, he wrote, lies at the heart of our contemporary moral confusion. He sought to unify these two pillars by developing a new philosophy of love and, correspondingly, a new metaphysics based on love. Science can purify religion from idolatry, the late Pope John Paul II wrote, and religion can purify science from false absolutes.
Bringing together science and religion in a new unity is a way of returning nature to the cosmos, and to see the cosmos in relation to the absolute power of love which is God. This is the primary aim of the Omega Center, to explore love at its deepest levels, informed by science and religion, and then to examine how love can reorient our lives in an age of war, terrorism, distrust and fear.
Every single person on earth desires to love and to be loved; to belong to another in the sharing of life. The power of love to endure pain, suffering and sorrow is so great, that if we lose everything but love we shall possess the fullness of life.
“Do you believe?” Jesus asked his followers. Do we believe in the power of love at the heart of all life? Is this power of love God and, if so, what exactly is the love of God? Is love really the prime energy of existence itself? Are there aspects of science that can help deepen our understanding of the energy of love? Welcome to the Omega Center where the journey into the heart of love will aim to do nothing less than transform our lives, so that our lives may help transform the world. If we are hoping for a more unified world then there is no better place to start than with the power of love.
Ilia Delio, OSF is a Franciscan Sister of Washington, DC and American theologian specializing in the area of science and religion, with interests in evolution, physics, and neuroscience and the import of these for theology. Ilia currently holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University, and is the author of seventeen books. Her full bio and more information about her work can be found HERE.
ILIA’S BLOG TAKEAWAYS
- “Belonging to another may be the very definition of life itself.”
- “Without real relationship there is no basis for unity; without love, there is no one or nothing to live for.”
- Teilhard wrote that the fundamental law of attraction in the universe is love: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces… the physical structure of the universe is love.”
- “Love alone” Teilhard wrote, “brings us to the threshold of another universe.”
ILIA’S QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- Teilhard believed love was a cosmological force (“… the physical structure of the universe is love.” )….and yet, “We have reduced love to sentiment, emotion and the realm of feelings; as such, we have internalized love and confined it…”
How do you understand love? Can you begin to widen your definition of love to include the ways all things are in relationship and combining to form more/new life?
- Abraham Heschel wrote: “A religious person is one who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” The word compassion literally means to “suffer-with”.
How do you limit the breadth of your compassion to only include those in your immediate circle? How can you begin to allow your compassion to include our environment and communities outside your own?
- “Love alone,” Teilhard wrote, “brings us to the threshold of another universe.”
Do you believe that love is at the heart of our universe? How does love compel us to keep exploring/creating? When do we fail in love and why?