Teilhard in the age of Trump

I was first introduced to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmology at a bar in Wisconsin. I was a recently graduated senior out to eat with my parents, drinking a beer in public for the first time. I was still 18, but in western Wisconsin the legal drinking age is as obfuscated as Teilhard’s arduous writing.

The conversation turned to religion, as it often did in my family. I was raised in a household enmeshed in what Alice McDermott would call a “thick” Catholicism, with parents rooted in a liberal, post-Vatican II religious milieu. I was just beginning to seriously question my faith for the first time and its applicability to the postmodern, spiritual-but-not-religious world in which I was becoming an adult. While this questioning would ebb and flow for years, this conversation over pizza and beer was one of several very subtle and delicate moments that would, in the end, tether my heart to the chaos that is American Catholicism.

In response to my doubting a moral center to our universe and the uncertain state of our country amidst the final years of George Bush’s second term, my Dad pointed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,  Jesuit scientist and evolutionary theologian, as a source for hope. He explained that Teilhard was convinced that evolution was not a random process, and it did not solely point to a biological reality. Instead, it was a way of seeing the entire cosmos that applied to our faith. Since the beginning of time we have been on a collective journey, with the entirety of created matter, toward love, toward total unification with God, toward the Omega Point.

Pierre-Teilhard-de-Chardin
Image of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin courtesy of “Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice”

My dad’s optimism, and subsequently Teilhard de Chardin’s, is now grafted into my worldview. Pierre’s positive understanding of creation and his undying hope in the coming Kingdom of God has proved to be especially important during this past year. Amidst the catastrophes of pending nuclear war and climate change, and the ever-growing wedge between the rich and poor, Americans have elected a white nationalist to the presidency.

Teilhard would understand the rise of Trump to be situated within, if not a culmination of, what he calls “an organic crisis in evolution.” In “The Human Phenomenon” Teilhard explains that, “There is a danger that the elements of the world should refuse to serve the world.” Usually ever-optimistic, he concedes that there is a possibility humans will not travel the course set for us through evolution, the path mapped out for us by God.

To avoid this catastrophe Teilhard argues that we must choose to surrender to the collectivization of consciousness, to fall into unification. Our proper participation in evolution and our arrival at the Omega Point is contingent on a new economic and social order; one that unifies, that eliminates economic and social differentiating and the privileging of certain categories of people. These divisions (facilitated by the interplay between capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy) are an impasse. They are a nonstarter, clogging our evolutionary journey and impeding our salvation. The establishment of a new order, which Teilhard’s work demands, must take on a new sense of urgency given the rise of Donald Trump and the divisions and violence he signifies. In the age of Trump, Teilhard reminds us that the evolutionary journey of the cosmos, which arches toward the unification of matter with God’s love, now lies in our hands.

About the Rabble Rouser:

joe-kruse-jpgJoe Kruse, a friend of Sister Julia through the La Crosse, Wisconsin, community, is one of the founders of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker community in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up around Catholic Workers at the Place of Grace Catholic Worker community his parents helped start in La Crosse. Now he spends most of his time working at Rye House, one of the Minneapolis Catholic Worker hospitality houses. He also has invested a lot of time and energy into anti-frac sand organizing, leading discussions and workshops about structural racism and white privilege, and activism around racial and economic justice in Minneapolis.

sing, blessed women

I have memories of my grandma embarrassing me in church when I was a little girl.  She would sing really loud and off-key.  I couldn’t hear the choir or the piano; I just heard my grandma blurting out hymns like she didn’t care what others thought.  It didn’t make sense to me.  Being my bold little self, I remember telling her so.  In her smiley, matter-of-fact way she would respond: “The Bible says make a joyful noise unto the Lord, it doesn’t say that it has to sound pretty.

Today, December 8, is the 13th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Today my heart honors and praises God for the power of two women who have taught me how to sing “yes” to God with the joyful song of my life.

I am amazed, today, that the psalm I most associate with my grandma is part of the liturgical readings:

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise. -Psalm 98

My grandmother wasn’t a Catholic; she was a faithful Lutheran woman.  I don’t remember her ever talking about Mary and showing any images of her beyond the ones in Christmas scenes. Still, her faith and “yes” to God, like Mary’s, helped Goodness come into the world.

The matriarch of my big family and my rural neighborhood, my Grandmother, was a woman who had a wide open home and big, hospitable arms.  She raised 10 children on a farm in Northeast Iowa and her maternal nature extended into the next two generations.  In her home, children could play and farmers and neighbors could stop by for lunch and snacks.  Myself, my siblings, my cousins and the other neighbor children were empowered.  We would get help with our homework, collect nickels and pennies in payment for chores and learn how to cook.  The house usually smelled like bread and soup and a quilting frame frequently took the place of the dining room table.  The quilts she sewed were mission quilts and we knew that they were going to keep someone poor warm in a far-away land. Prayer books and Bibles were in every room.  In closets there were boxes of Bibles and other treasures waiting to be given away.  The home was warm and cozy and no stomach could ever feel hungry.

Like St. Paul, Grandma wrote important letters.  She would send cards and notes to everyone she knew for every occasion.  Tucked into every card were Bible verses that she hoped the recipient would later look up and study: Psalm 129, 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Psalm 98.  Her practical, generous loving Gospel witness steered many toward faith and trust in God.

In the mystery of faith the power of another woman’s “yes” to God’s goodness lives on and changes lives.  Our mother Mary was amazingly pure with Love and Light. Poor and young, she bowed to the mystery and allowed God’s might to come into her, be birthed through her and bring the universe to redemption.  What she said “yes” to continues to unfold in women today, who sing “yes” to God and let God’s will be done in them.

Like Mary and my grandma, I seek to be the woman I am called to be. I wonder what particular mission I must do, how I must birth life, how I need to listen, how I need to serve and obey.  I am grateful for the witness of Mary, the mother of God, and my beloved grandmother who remind me that my body is sacred and holds great potential for the spreading of God’s love.  Because they said “yes” I have been formed to share and simply give all I can.

In all of our lives and in every place, women continue to sing joyful praise.  Amazingly, diverse languages, tunes and rhythms somehow unite into harmony that helps free us all.   Thanks be to God for the witness, the power, the love.  May God bless women everywhere who work so hard to be free so they may sing more loudly and joyfully, even if it seems out of tune.  May God help us all, women and men, sing our own joyful song!


This is Mary’s song:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  –Luke 1: 46-55

1, 2, 3: eyes on me!

Guest blogger: Steven Cottam

One of my many duties as a religion teacher involves getting the students ready for our monthly school Masses. Despite our preparations together, predictably, some of the younger kids always get anxious. Recently, I was in a pew during Mass in front of a group of first and second graders when I heard a whispered discussion break out:

“Aren’t we supposed to kneel now?”

“No, not yet. We don’t do that til way later.”

“When do we say ‘Alleluia?’ I think it’s soon…”

After bickering quietly, one of the kids hit on what she felt was the perfect solution:

“Look, look, here’s what we’ll do… let’s just watch Mr. Cottam really closely. We’ll just do what he does!”

 
heads in the pews

Suddenly the group went quiet and I could feel 30 pairs of eyes glued to the back of my head. Thirty little sets of eyes following my every move.

Now, I’ve been going to Mass my whole life and know it by heart. Somehow though, with all my actions being scrutinized and dissected by small little souls intent on copying them, I felt a lot of pressure. Everything I did would be imitated. If I did well, thirty little Christians would do well also. If I messed up, thirty little disciples were going to veer off with me.

I was more conscious of my movements than ever before; I went through the rest of the service keenly aware of my participation. I executed every gesture slowly and broadly, so that it could be easily followed. When I raised my hand to cross myself, I heard jackets rustle behind me. When I knelt, I heard kneelers bang down against the floor just a few seconds later. Quickly glancing over my shoulder, I saw that the position I took while praying the Our Father, head knelt and arms out and up, was the exact same position taken by all those in the pew behind me.

I think I did an alright job of showing those kids a good example of theMass.But later, I was reflecting: what if those kids watched my whole Christian life like they watched me during Mass? What if one of them had said, “I don’t know how to be a Christian… I’ll just watch Mr. Cottam really closely and do what he does!” Would I be happy with the Christian that child would become?

 In some ways yes, but in a lot of ways such a thought experiment shows the deficiencies I have in my walk with Christ. I’m lost a lot of the time. I’m confused, too. Sometimes it’s from sin and a personal, conscious failure to live the life I’m called to live. But often, like these kids, I honestly just don’t know what to do—there are competing goods, or confusing situations, and I want to be a good Christian and I just don’t how!

 And it’s times like this that I am thankful for Christ as the one who came to show us how to be (not tell us how to be, but show us). When I am confused about how to live and how to love, when I am bickering with those around me and stressed and distressed, every now and then a moment will break in, and I’ll hear a small voice…

 “Look, look, here’s what you’ll do…just watch Jesus really closely. Just do what he did!”

Ours is not a God who says “do as I say, but not as I do.” Our God came and said, “Love as I have loved! Go forth and do what I have done!”

If someone was watching you today, would they be able to imitate Christ by imitating you? If not, then perhaps it’s time for all of us little children in faith to turn our eyes to the front and watch the motions of the teacher a bit closer.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshpb/4825402841/ 

holy leftovers

Happy Halloween!! It’s the start of a triduum of sorts; three days of praising God for our mortality and the communion of saints.

In the video above, the wise young women on the streets of New York name a Truth that I will reflect on for three days. On November 2 we celebrate the leftovers!

We have nothing to fear. We are all children in God’s family and God’s mercy sets us all free.

Say some prayers, spread some joy and honor the dead. God’s power is greater than anything we might want to fear.  Remember that these days, like all days, are gifts from God and you can use them to give God glory. May it be so. Amen.

Dear Aemiliana, Dear Sarah

Note: Mother Aemiliana Dirr founded the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1849.  After difficulties fulfilling their mission, she and some other sisters left the order in 1860 and lived out the rest of their lives as lay women.  I have written Mother Aemiliana a letter.

July 28, 2011

Dear Aemiliana,

My heart is so tender as I write to you.  It’s been a while.

You came to the states leaving all and you met tragedy and you left all again.  You know renunciation, the acid smell of fear, the biting taste of anger, and His love which propelled you forward.

We are still your daughters.  We have not left.  I think we are faithful to these times.  We are wacky, prayerful, and down-home.  Your daughters spread Franciscan joy, do justice, honor the earth and strive to live authentic relationships with each other.  Your dream has spread.  We have prayed in perpetual adoration for 133 years.  Right now two sisters kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and pray for the needs of the world.  We use email now, to receive intentions from around the whole planet, but you probably knew that.

You may wonder why I am writing after all these years.  In a few weeks, I will profess final vows as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.  My heart is on fire.  I know God calls me here and leads me on to follow my sweet Jesus with my sisters.  I am not alone.  My sisters know me, they love me, forgive me, and have not left me.

Religious life is now beyond what you could ever imagine.  We are a balm to a hurting, searching humanity.  Yes.  We may be prophets of a future not our own.  Yes.  We are faithful and strong and small.  We sit in the dark night and wait.  We tend the fire you left and wait for the breath of the Holy Spirit.  We are singing new songs, one “in love and purpose, with diversity of persons and gifts” as our FSPA constitutions say.

And Aemiliana, with all the challenges the future could hold for us, I stand here on the cusp of my perpetual vows with a question of my own.  Will I be enough?  I am afraid my fragility will overtake my gifts.  I fear even that my gift of self will not be whole enough.  I am sure you may remember that feeling as you first stepped on this soil or when you left in faith.  And yet, God stayed with you.  And in a funny way, you stayed with us too.  Because you let the vision lead you and walked past walls of fear.

I need you to help me do that now.  My sisters walk beside me in love.  They help me name the pain and the joy and place both prayerfully in god’s hands.  I cannot do it alone.  But, somehow, it seems He didn’t ask me too.

May God Bless You,

And know you are in my prayers.

Love,

Sr. Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note: After writing our foundress a letter in preparation for final vows, I journalled back a letter from her.

Dear Sarah,

Fear is not a threat, but can be our friend, when held lightly and placed in God’s hands. I walked through the fire of fear and abandonment, through shame and uncertainty, but never alone.  My future seemed like a failure.

We do not get to choose the circumstances that try our faith, but only our faithfulness to God’s love.  So stop trying to grasp so tightly.

Child, you can let go of your harsh judgments and let the love of your sisters and Jesus into your heart just a little more.  You, my daughter, have an inner strength you do not suspect, and a mission of love to compel you onwards.

And you are right, you are not alone.

May God bless you and your sisters as you continue to build the kingdom.

In the Love of God,

Aemiliana

Poems For Corpus Christi

My Daily Bread

 
Will I grow old alone,
a pitied spinster, the dried-up
nun?
 
Can we grow young,
Like the seaside,
when your first
Kiss taught me justice?
 
Elopement
was never much
of an option.
A slow
steady courtship
has made me yours
a thousand times.
 
My wine-soaked heart
My lungs as
Daily bread
 
My sweet
My love
My Jesus
 
 
 

Real

presence
 
can I slip my fingers through yours
one last time, don’t stop,
my Lover has me
all the time
 
blessed, broken
and shared
 
my heart
and your
Body

freely united lenten grumbling

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”    –Ex 17:3-7

They’re full of doubt, confusion and despair.  Many are thirsty for the meeting of basic needs and justice: the Israelites in the desert, Christians in our modern world, and all of humanity who has been impacted by oppression, natural disasters, war, violence, greed and all sin.

I wonder who is thirsty today?  Who may feel abandoned and doubt if God is in their midst?   I remember the union workers in Wisconsin.  Their story and struggle has been swept behind Japan and Libya in the news headlines, but still has great meaning.  If you haven’t heard, the law that prevents the Wisconsin civil workers from maintaining their bargaining rights was due to go into effect last weekend.  Instead, the law is stalled in the courts, creating confusion about whether it has been enacted or not.

Madison Wisconsin Protest
Scene from Wisconsin's Capitol

Like the Israelites, the unions of history were able to escape from slavery.  We’ve all been liberated by God and unions for fair pay and hours, safe working conditions and proper benefits.  I am so thankful for the justice that we have inherited from our union grandparents. The heroes and saints who freed us are not individuals, but entire communities.

Now our generation is wandering in the desert, not really sure what God is up to. The union story is not unlike our faith story.  Although it sometimes takes a long time for things to be as they should, it doesn’t take long for us to take things for granted.  It doesn’t take long for us to grumble against our leaders.

It’s easy to do this in political life and it’s very tempting to do this in faith life.  When we’re faithful citizens, the messes mix together.  The history of the union struggle reminds me I am proud to be Christian, specifically a Catholic.  Sure our Church is a community diseased by our human sinfulness. But we are also a community of saints.  I feel very grateful for the service and leadership of our bishops, especially in the labor struggle.  I am delighted by the statements that have been made against oppression.  And, in regard to the ongoing struggle in Wisconsin, my favorite part of the story is that the Catholic bishops made a public statement in support of the unions.

Madison Protest
Inside Wisconsin's Capitol

The Lenten season challenges us all. We realize our need for redemption, for Jesus and justice. We look in the mirror and read the news and then thirst for clarity, strong faith and strength.  Our social sins are just as ugly as our personal ones.

In community we approach our dark struggles with actions of prayer, fasting and alms-giving.  In our politics and faith, we wake up and notice that we have much to be grateful for, and this feeds us with hope.  We thirst for justice and then we remember we’ve been redeemed before, so we trust.  The ugly shall turn into Alleluias, and we’ll have joy all around.

A version of this post was previously published on the Young Adult Catholics blog.

Photo credit: Inside Wisconsin’s Capitol http://www.flickr.com/photos/52421717@N00/5454861442/

 

Sorry, I Didn’t Recognize You (part two)

Guest blogger, Amy Nee, part two of two (here’s part one)

I caught that train and took it to Cermak-Chinatown. The Congress on Urban Ministry had converged on the Hyatt at McCormick Place (a hotel and convention center the size of a neighborhood) and was hosting free “Words and Worship” services in the evenings. That night Shane Claiborne was scheduled to speak. He is an author and activist and part of “The Simple Way,” a community that calls for a way that is both simple and profound. The residents recognize people around them as neighbors—whether those people are gang members, prostitutes, school children, investment bankers or Iraqi citizens on the other side of the world. Shane is a representative of people who take seriously Jesus’ advocacy of neighbor-love, and enemy-love. He talked that night about grace as the backdrop for peace.  Grace, he said, is seeing the same things, the same people, with new eyes; it is seeing beyond surface and assumptions.

Closing his talk, Shane shared a video clip filmed during his time in India working with Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity. The camera holds closely the image of a child shaking with terror from an accident he has just survived. Malnourished, the boy’s skin is stretched tightly over his bones. His head appears too large for his birdlike body which convulses in the arms of a Catholic sister who is leaning over his railed bed. She firmly but gently rubs his fragile frame, over and over. Her hands transfer compassion and healing and gradually his tremors still. The boy’s body becomes loose and limp, his angular head tips toward the sister. His eyes, deep, dark pools, meet hers. The hospital is crowded with children no doubt in equal need, but she holds him.  Infinity in their gaze. A look of recognition.

My heart stirs, a desire rising. I want to go to India, to be her, to hold him. But there is something beyond this want. I desire that type of engagement—with the afflicted, with my Mom, with the woman behind the cash register, with the man asking me for change and the prisoner I can’t see—awareness, presence, compassion. I want to recognize people and to give people the opportunity to recognize each other. If not to see Christ in the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, the loved and the unlovely; to see ourselves.

How can we “satisfy the desire of the afflicted,” when we move through life like casually skipped stones, skimming the surface, making occasional, brief contact—splish, what they seem to want—splash, what we think they need—plunk, deep, drinking desire.  We are awestruck out of our element there.  It is a scary thing to sink into the unknown.  I can say that I am called to this as a Christian, and I am.  But I want to clarify that I think Jesus’ mission was not to make a Church but to teach us to be whole humans, to restore the earth and its residents to life.  Thus, whatever my religion, I am called to this as a living being.  Waking life requires it.

instruments of peace

At the high school where I work we begin we begin every day with prayer.

On Fridays the entire school says the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

The words weren’t written by St. Francis. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis was written in the 1900s and became popular during World War II. The words remain bold and powerful for the wars of our time.

God bless us, and may we truly be peacemakers. Amen.