Sunday, 27 January 2013

Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin by Ursula King


Book Review


Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What is for lunch? And why do biros keep disappearing?

These questions (or at least the first 3...) have haunted people down through the millennia. This book is about Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) who was a pioneer in integrating spirituality and evolution. He was a Catholic Priest, part of the Jesuits and was born in France.

In essence, he saw humans as part of, and embedded in, the ongoing evolutionary process of our planet.

Whilst I find fascinating ideas and belief systems, I am just as interested in the person expressing those ideas. In the western world, we sometimes separate people and ideas as if they are different entities. But I think a more helpful way is to see the ideas and person as an integrated whole, one without the other is meaningless.

And this is why I like this book so much as I got a real feeling for who he was as a person. Teilhard de Chardin fought in the First World War as a stretcher bearer - gaining recognition for his courage and bravery. He was a prominent scientist with geology being one of his key passions. He read widely and travelled around the world. And, most of all, despite all of the suffering he went through in the First World War and the fact that his ideas and activities were suppressed by a suspicious Catholic Church, he still believed profoundly in what he would describe as the love of God and I would frame as the love of the spirit of the Universe.

People I read - Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, amongst others, have taken up the batten of his ideas and have further developed the ideas of evolutionary spirituality; creating something that is deeply relevant for today.....or at least a spirituality in which I feel very much at home. And as the world creates different peoples and religions, this evolutionary spirituality is for me, a helpful framework to accept people of all faiths and none, as equals.

Possibly his most famous quote is "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience". And here is another quote from him that I like: "Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves".

I cannot add anything more than that.

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