One year before Teilhard de Chardin died, his nephew heard Teilhard say that, “I should like to die on the day of Resurrection.” A year later, on April 10th, 1955 Chardin did die. It was Easter Sunday.
That day, Teilhard had attended Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and later that afternoon at a friend’s house, standing by the window looking out at the city, Teilhard fell back to the floor. He finally had collapsed out of this life, into the next – his mystic heart giving out, making its final journey into The Omega Teilhard so incisively perceived and articulated in his writings.
Rarely has humankind had, as we have in Teilhard’s writings, such a clear and creative witness to the necessity of the quantum and pithy enfoldment of matter and spirit. One instance will illustrate. Ponder Teilhard’s prayer in his famous essay, “The Heart of Matter”:
“Lord, since with every instinct of my being and through all the changing fortunes of my life, it is you whom I have ever sought, you whom I have set at the heart of universal matter, it will be in a resplendence which shines through all things and in which all things are ablaze, that I shall have the felicity of closing my eyes.”
With Christ, Teilhard believed and now knows, that at death we find our fortune. At death, it is so very safe to close our eyes, forever. Perhaps this is one reason why fifteen hundred years prior to Teilhard, St. Augustine reminded the world that “one can know something only insofar as one loves it.” At death, we finally know what and whom we have loved.
Thinking spiritually, as we approach the subject of death and resurrection, we can begin to discover that if we love God and the resurrection of Christ, we will know that death is not the enemy, but the flourishing of life by way of the threshold of spiritual and physical surrender. Such logic of the Spirit inspired the genius composer and organist J.S. Bach to write such compelling pieces as, “Come sweet death,” as well as inspiring countless martyrs of the faith throughout the centuries to joyfully surrender their self not for what they intellectually knew for certain, but for what they loved. And in loving, knew by faith.
This is different from naivete or denial. It is said of Teilhard de Chardin that he was as conscious as any of us of the tragedies that threaten the world and our human journeys. Nevertheless, despite great personal suffering as a stretcher-bearer in the major battles of World War I and in his hardships as a persecuted Roman Catholic priest / paleontologist, Teilhard looked both ahead of humankind and above humankind. His prayers bear witness to this. Here is an example:
“Lord of my childhood and Lord of my end – God complete in [Itself] and yet, for us, continually being born…”
If God is continually being born, why do we think it will be any different for us? Surely this is one way of understanding the biblical imperative to “be born from above” (John 3.3) – meaning not just spatially, but in time and quality of Being, again and again; that is to say, born from and indeed even for and on behalf of the future development of humankind and our planet by way of our own ongoing consent and participation in the evolution of a more complete creation as the Body of Christ. Recall that it is the voice of God in scripture that says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21.5), which beautifully echoes the Eucharist manifesto: “Behold, the Body of Christ. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
To the point: in part, the essence of resurrection is the presence of the future and all its possibilities in our very midst, right now in this moment. Resurrection reminds us that we are not locked into the past, not limited by recurrence, nor even constrained to the imperative to be present in the present moment. Resurrection invites us to recognize that Reality isn’t limited to three dimensions. As important as this present moment is, especially in the silence, even the present moment isn’t all of God or all of Reality. No one is locked into just the present moment. Even the most conscious present moment. There is always more to God and Reality beyond time and human consciousness – and, to my understanding, that experience beyond time is resurrection.
The resurrection of Christ can open the door of our imagination ajar. We can begin to see the Miracle beyond time peeking through. Reality is never contingent upon our perception or experience of the dimensions of time or space. Any Ultimate Reality worthy of our attention is always more than, and resplendent to any of our very human perceptions, experiences or limited planetary dimensions.
As for us and our journeys, something can be gained by remembering an insight novelist George Bernanos once penned: “every spiritual adventure is a Calvary.” Bernanos’ sentiment is understood, yet can also be expanded: Every spiritual journey is a recurring sequence of Calvary and resurrection. This is a grace, because through the patterned sequence of cross and resurrection, we are again and again lifted up and out of the ruts of our own making, and the pains of our lifetime.
Our hope isn’t in the past, nor the present, and not even in the future. It seems to me our deepest hope is beyond all time, in the energetic wave of the resurrection, still cresting over each of our lives like a half-formed chrysalis. The poet Robinson Jeffers reminds us that, “pained thoughts find the honey of peace in old poems.” I like that line very much, and also expand it to encompass something even deeper: pain finds the honey of peace in the empty tomb and full heart. Like Mary Magdalene’s passionate embrace of consolation and love. My Lord! My mind thought you were someone else! But my body remembers and knows…it’s really you!
When it comes to the honey of peace found in the empty tomb, and all that the resurrection of Christ points us toward in our hearts and minds, Wendell Berry reminds us that, “the mind that comes to rest is tended in ways that it does not intend. Is borne, possessed and comprehended by what it cannot comprehend.”
This Holy Week and Easter season let the mind be comprehended by what it cannot comprehend. With Teilhard de Chardin, join in the heart-wish to die on the day of resurrection. Die to the mind that thinks such miracles can’t be. Die to any resistance to arising out of the tombs of your addiction, shame, fear or unfruitful choices. Die to a way of life that tells God what is possible and leaves the self in full control. Die to the jaded cynic who long ago gave up on the possibility of any new future for humankind and let Spirit rebirth you more fully into the Body of Christ, the joy of the journey and the magic moments of Magdalene Understanding.