by PAUL SMITH
I have been invited to reflect here on my experience at Ilia Delio’s Omega Center Conference in Kansas City in July of 2018. I arrived there eager to thank Ilia again for her endorsement of my most recent book. When I saw her I also thanked her for her brand-new, beautiful, and concise little book, A Hunger for Wholeness which may be my favorite of her many books.
In the conference, Ilia wowed us again with the brilliance of Teilhard de Chardin’s evolutionary message illumined by her own passion and brilliance. And with a few others at dinner the next evening, I was charmed by her personal sharing and openness.
I explored Teilhard de Chardin forty years ago, before my embrace of Ken Wilber’s Integral Philosophy twenty years ago. I consider the integral worldview to be a basic framing of the next stage of human evolution, following the current postmodern stage of today’s cultural creatives. Now, reinvigorated by Ilia’s talks, I decided to dig deeper into Teilhard—this time in the light of the liberating wisdom of an Integral approach to Christianity. Rather than using extensive footnotes here, I refer you to Kathleen Duffy’s Teilhard’s Mysticism (which Ilia considers “probably the best book on Teilhard de Chardin available today”), a paper by David Grumett, Christ in the World of Matter: Teilhard de Chardin’s Religious Experience and Vision, and other writings by and about Teilhard.
TWELVE WORDS THAT CHANGED MY SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING AND PRACTICE
One day I was reading the four canonical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas for the zillionth time. But this time, with an Integral framework in mind, twelve simple, transforming words popped into my mind. Jesus talked about God, to God, and as God. We can too!
Jesus modeled a key dimension in my understanding of Integral Christianity—the vision and practice of the Three Faces of God. I now bring with me to every setting my understanding of Integral Theory as applied to Christianity.
Jesus talked about God, to God, and as God. We can too!
THE THREE FACES OF GOD
When Jesus talked about God, to God, and as God, he was viewing God from the three perspectives from which every situation can be observed. We learned this in grade school as third person, second person, and first person. We can talk about someone or something using third person forms such as “he/she/it.” We can talk to someone or something using second person pronouns such as “you.” We can talk as someone or something using first person pronouns such as “I.” The most complete picture of any situation includes a balanced version of all three of these perspectives. Applied to God, this reveals the three faces of God.
- God has a third-person face that we can talk about. It is an objective, transpersonal, nontheistic, cosmic face of God that we make attempts to reflect about. This is the “I AM” face of Infinite Being and Transcendent Consciousness that God revealed to Moses. This is the Apostle Paul’s “God in who we live, and move, and have our being.” This is God-beyond-us.
- God has a second-person face that we can talk to. This is the intersubjective, personal, and theistic face of God that comes in a myriad of forms (God, Jesus, the saints, nature, a friend, etc.) that we may talk to. This is the Immanent Presence of God as a “Someone,” to use Teilhard’s word. God loves to be everywhere at the same time! This is God beside us.
- God has a first-person face which is the subjective, mystical, inner face of God which we may call our True Self or Christ Consciousness. To the degree that we lose our identification with our egoic personality and instead identify with our God-Self, to that degree we walk and talk like Jesus did as God in healing the world. This is what Jesus called losing our self to save our Self (Matt: 16:24-26). The more we look at the world and act from this place of deep inner divine Light, the more we are manifesting what Jesus was talking about when he made the audacious claim that we are each the light of the world. This is God-being-us.
These Three Faces of God also give us three spiritual practice spaces—an IT Space in which we reflect, a WE Space in which we relate, and an I Space in which we rest. Teilhard lived in all three of these spaces which we explore now:
GOD-BEYOND-US: IT SPACE REFECTION
The IT Space of God arises when we reflect about God in everyday, thoughtful, mindful consciousness such as seeing the beauty of God revealed in nature, reading, and talking with others about the spiritual dimensions of life. Teilhard’s writings majored in brilliant reflecting about God in the IT Space of basic consciousness, and have enriched the world beyond measure. He has expanded our thinking about Jesus into cosmic dimensions.
GOD-BESIDE-US: WE SPACE RELATING
The WE Space of God arises whenever we commune with and relate to God, Jesus, and /or other saints in awakened (subtle) mystical consciousness. Often called prayer, when entered with a non-ordinary state of consciousness this is a vibrant relational field of divine/human energy. In addition to times of prayer, it also occurs when we gather to authentically worship, reflect, and meditate. This WE Space is full of spiritual beings and energy fields such as the Risen Jesus, God’s palpable presence, cosmic images, and vast information fields.
Teilhard personally modeled relating to God in the sacred WE Space of awakened consciousness. Going beyond many other giant intellects, he experienced a deep mystical relationship to God. Since this area is lost to many of Teilhard’s interpreters, and by postmoderns in general, I will explore this in greater depth.
While Teilhard introduces us to a Universal Cosmic Christ (God-beyond-us), he refuses to leave behind the personal Jesus, his beloved Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist (God-beside-us). He continues to pray to the “Lord Jesus.” (see Teilhard, The Heart of the Matter)
WE Space mystical consciousness is an awakened or subtle level of non-ordinary awareness. Teilhard’s mystical journey began with an awareness of a subtle Presence pervading the atmosphere in which he lived. Teilhard says:
“Mysticism is a science that requires a sixth sense, one that opens to a dimension of the world that is available to all, yet not easily accessed by many. To practice this science is to learn to discern more than that which the eye can see, the ear can hear, the nose can smell, the tongue can taste, and the skin can feel—more than what our best scientific instruments can detect.” (Duffy, Teilhard’s Mysticism)
Since beginning to “practice this science” twenty years ago, I, Paul, have had and continue to have numerous experiences of both awakened visionary experience and transcendent union dimensions of mystical events. These two kinds of heightened consciousness are truly different from one another. Awakened visionary experiences are very real to me. When I am seeing something with my eyes open that I suspect is visionary, I have to put out my hand in front of me to determine if it is a physical reality or a spiritual reality. If my hand goes through the object, it is a vision. However, in transcendent consciousness, there are no images, only bliss-filled emptiness of infinite joy and love in union with God.
Postmoderns are often reluctant to embrace God-Beside-Us WE Space encounters with God. Perhaps it reminds them of the often habit-filled, pleading, projection-packed “praying” in traditional Christianity that they have well left behind. Many people in the world today admire Jesus. They find Jesus’ wisdom and penetrating critique of the religious, social, and political world of his day relevant to our day. They respect his willingness to live and die for his liberating beliefs. However, sometimes these same people ignore or dismiss Jesus’ own understanding and intimate personal experience of God. They seem to think he was both brilliant and delusional. Any reading of the life and teaching of Jesus shows that he believed the source of his wisdom and liberating acts came from his deep communion and personal relationship with God.
“Once he was able to see in this inner dimensional way, which he refers to as the ‘within’ of things, Teilhard’s world caught fire. Seeing the inner face of the world was critical for Teilhard. In fact, he was convinced that unless the citizens of the future learn to see this way, humanity will perish.” (Duffy, Teilhard’s Mysticism)
Teilhard embraced the visions and intimacy of the spiritual WE Space. One of his first mystical WE Space experiences, called “The Picture,” took place in a church where Teilhard was gazing at a portrait of Jesus offering his heart to humankind. Teilhard recounts that the outlines of Jesus’ figure, although originally solid, gradually seemed to dissolve, and all seemed to merge as it were (though without vanishing away) into the rest of the picture. It was as though the planes which marked off the figure of Jesus, now as the Christ, from the world surrounding it were melting into a single vibrant surface where all demarcations and separations vanished. Here was a vision that began with the image and presence of Jesus and ended with an image of the Cosmic Christ
In another of Teilhard’s visions, a shadow appeared, and the figure of Sophia emerged from the mists. She was radiant; her facial expression comforting. Teilhard recognized her as “beauty running through the world, to make it associate in ordered groups: the ideal held up before the world to make it ascend.” It is through her power, the power of love, that all things come together. She is “the bond that thus held together the foundations of the universe,” and she continually draws Earth into “passionate union” with the Divine. (Teilhard, Writings in a Time of War)
“Then, up ahead, the person of Christ was coming into view … his presence became ‘as immediate and all – embracing as Life.’ The charm of his person, the tenderness of his glance, the embrace of his ‘more than human arms,’ the gentle touch of his ‘two marvelous hands,’ hands that by the slightest pressure are capable of shaping the cosmos as if it were as pliable as clay—all of these attracted Teilhard to him. The warmth of his person, the radiance of his countenance, the attractive power of his soul, drew Teilhard so profoundly that he longed to be possessed.” (Duffy, Teilhard’s Mysticism)
This is a passionate description of the WE Space and a personal communion with Jesus himself!
Because the world is becoming Christ’s body, Teilhard was even able to love the universe as “Person.” At long last, “the God of Spirit” was woven together with “the Crimson of Matter” and appeared to him as “the Incandescence of Some One.” Viewing the Incarnation through the double lens of scripture and evolution, Teilhard came to recognize the Cosmic Christ as both immanent (God-beside-us) and transcendent (God-beyond-us). These WE Space mystical experiences where the Cosmic Christ was immanent—that is personal, as in Jesus’ presence—were an experience of God beside him.
As Duffy says:
“He [Teilhard] knew that he was no longer capable of loving and surrendering to anything less than a person. In fact, captured by the beauty of the person of Christ at the heart of a glowing universe and by the Divine Presence radiating from the depths of blazing matter, he became convinced that the universe is evolving into a Person whom he could love.”
There is a biblical and theological distinction between Jesus and Christ. One must read Teilhard closely since he, like the Apostle Paul uses the word “Christ” to sometimes mean both the person of the historical Risen Jesus and the expanded Cosmic Christ who is the Christian symbol for everything held in Oneness. Paul, in his many mystical visions, talked to the Risen Jesus (Acts 9:4-7; Acts 22:17; Gal. 1:11–17; 2 Cor. 12:1–4; 1 Cor. 15:8; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). He spoke personally and specifically to Jesus, and not the Cosmic Christ as such.
Jesus and Christ are connected but not the same. To borrow from Richard Rohr, it’s like a man flying a kite. Jesus is the person holding the kite string, keeping it from escaping away into invisibility. Christ is a cosmic banner flying over all as the Christian symbol for all of reality held together in Oneness. It is the Christ banner from whom all can draw life—even if they do not see or recognize the one flying the kite. The kite soars into the heights, anchored to the ground by the man holding the kite string. Jesus does not hold the string to keep the kite to himself as much as he wants to keep the kite grounded to the human heart and tethered to earthly reality. That’s what God-beside-us brings to God-beyond-us and God-being-us.
GOD-BEING-US: I SPACE RESTING AS GOD
The I Space of God occurs in transcendent (causal/nondual) mystical consciousness when we rest as God in our deepest divine identity. All thoughts and images leave, the mind is still, and the heart is full of bliss and love. When we look at the world from this highest dimension of divine/human I Space, we see that no one is separate from God or from one another.
Teilhard says, “Through grace, through that single and identical life we become much more than kinsmen, much more that even brothers: we become identified with one and the same higher reality which is Jesus Christ.” (Writings in a Time of War) Deification—becoming one with God like Jesus was one with God—is completely synonymous with the historical process of the world for Teilhard—natural fulfillment and spiritual fulfillment are one and the same event. Deification is the theological word Christians use to describe the process of identifying with our deepest divine Self which is divine like Jesus was divine—owning our divinity, resting in it, and more and more manifesting it by contributing to the evolution of the world. The more evolved one is, the fuller deification is. Teilhard believed that all of creation was headed towards deification.
Teilhard’s experiences of ecstasy are the mark of his resting as God in divine union.
“And when he [Teilhard] saw, ‘as though in ecstasy, that through all of nature I was immersed in God . . .’ He now became fully aware of a deeply pantheistic and mystical inclination in him. This vibrant sense of a strong nature mysticism was to remain with him all his life.” (Ursula King, Spirit of Fire)
Duffy says, “Moments of ecstasy blurred the boundaries of his being, engulfed him in feelings that were oceanic and revealed his bonds to the larger world.” The transcendent consciousness of resting in our own divinity really is, in fact, marked by ecstasy, blurred boundaries, and oneness with the world.
The more evolved one is, the more consciousness one has, then the more united to God one is, and the more that one can experience the supernatural end to evolution. The more evolved creation becomes, the closer to deification it becomes, and the greater the ability to “see” the world for what it truly is. The mystical activity of recognizing the supernatural end of life in the here and now actually fastens the “Omega Point.”
“As Teilhard puts it, ‘evolution is holy’—evolution ends in salvation, or more precisely, deification, the fulfillment of the universe’s spiritual life.” (David Brown, Christ and Evolution: A Reinterpretation of Teilhard de Chardin’s Christology After Neo-Darwinism)
We need a God that is big enough for our minds, close enough for our hearts, and us enough for our deepest identification.
Teilhard models Wilber’s view that we don’t need a new religion but rather a more evolved version of our old religion. We don’t need to get rid of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam. We just need new, more evolved versions of them. We do not want to lose the rich depth of the historic traditions while we transcend their culturally limited and sometimes abusive practices. This involves including the best of the past and transcending the worst. This is precisely what Teilhard offers Christianity. He remained a deeply spiritual Catholic Christian while moving Christianity to a magnificent cosmic place of highly evolved insight and mystical consciousness!
I offer Teilhard’s evolved Three Faces of God for your own understanding and spiritual practice in whatever forms fit for you. I especially encourage my postmodern readers to not lose Jesus in the glory of the Cosmic Christ or dismiss a personal friendship with the spiritual presence of the Risen Jesus. Christianity was born out of friendship with Jesus, first in his historical physical body with a few others, and now in his risen spiritual body with all who would enter that transforming friendship. We need a God that is big enough for our minds, close enough for our hearts, and us enough for our deepest identification.
Paul Smith is a retired progressive Baptist pastor and international teacher of Integral Christianity. He has written several books, including Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve and Is Your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough? Jesus and the Three Faces of God. His website is www.revpaulsmith.com
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